When It Comes to Beer, What's in a Style?

Oh Kriekey from Uhl's Brewing Company.
Oh Kriekey from Uhl's Brewing Company. David Wang
Many beer drinkers are familiar with a wide variety of beer styles, from hazy IPAs to German pilsners. But what happens when a beer doesn't really fit a typical beer style? What motivated the brewer to create something different, and how do they convey the essence of the beer to the drinker?

Exploring these four beers sheds some light on those questions:

Uhl's Brewing: Oh Kriekey
5460 Conestoga Court, Boulder
For owner and head brewer Aaron Uhl, the inspiration for Oh Kriekey began in 2012. That's when Uhl began brewing beer with the sole purpose of putting a high-alcohol stout into a bourbon barrel. When he saw that Goose Island had released King Henry, a barleywine aged in barrels previously used to age a stout, he knew that he would do the same thing. Uhl reused that barrel several times over the years, the last iteration being a Belgian dubbel with a fresh dose of Lambic culture racked onto cherries — a beer that would become the basis for Oh Kriekey.

"This time around, we used a freshly dumped Breckenridge Bourbon barrel for more pronounced barrel notes," says Uhl. He explains that a traditional oud bruin (old brown) is a blend of old wood-aged beer with new beer of the same variety. "Our [beer] incorporates all aspects of a blended beer; we used stainless steel for primary, wood for secondary, and then aged the beer on cherries to incorporate the flavor of the fruit and give the beer the time it needed." The entire process took over two and a half years.

Uhl Brewing has released almost twenty barrel-aged beers in its two-year run. The brewery is no stranger to beers that don't fit traditional styles, from barrel-aged barleywines with an intentional amount of stout left behind in the barrel to various takes on pastry sours. With this type of creativity taking place, Uhl is no stranger to customer education, noting that, "We incorporate the story of the beer into the projection of its flavors. That way the customer can really understand the style, what went into it, and how special it is to get a chance at trying something like that."
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Muffin Heist by Lady Justice, was inspired by a literal muffin heist.
Shandell Clutter
Lady Justice Brewing: Muffin Heist
9735 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora
Lady Justice's Muffin Heist beer was inspired by literal muffin heists. Head brewer and former pastry chef Jamie Lee Gonzalez explains it best: "At Lady J, each of the beertenders gets their own brew day where they develop a beer of their own. Miles loves muffins so much that he has recruited everyone on our team to grab as many Otis Spunkmeyer muffins as they can every time they stay at a hotel," she says. "In our slack chat was a gorgeous picture of a recent haul of muffins promised to Miles. I immediately I knew what Miles's brew day was going to be."

The base of Muffin Heist is a biscuity amber ale with a distinct hoppiness from centennial hops and pastry tart ("not sour tart," notes Gonzalez), brewed with nearly 100 pounds of blueberries and two quarts of whole lemon purée.
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Unfiltered lager off the fermenter tanks at Cohesion Brewing.
Ryan Pachmayer
Cohesion Brewing: Zlaté 10°
3851 Steele Street

Co-owner and brewer Eric Larkin found great success last winter with his Polotmavy beer, an amber beer that translates to "half dark" in Czech. He wanted to create a lighter beer for the summer, but with a goal of retaining the malt-forwardness of that winter beer. The problem was, the Czechs don't have a word for quarter dark — at least not in the beer world. So he created his own beer and named it Zlaté 10°, or golden draft lager.

"People that like this style like something that is maltier — something a little more devoid of hops," explains Larkin, contrasting the Zlaté 10° to Cohesion's hoppier, pale lagers. "I feel like we were missing an amber spot on our menu, but I didn't want to put one out until the colder season, so I was trying to get some of that malt sweetness and full character without all the color," he continues.

The beer is made with a single decoction mash, using grain from local maltster Troubadour Maltings, including a custom malt specifically for this beer as well as whole-cone saaz and harmonie hops from the Czech Republic. Zlaté 10° should last through the summer.
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Comrade's award-winning Superpower IPA.
Comrade Brewing
Comrade Brewing: Superpower IPA
7667 East Iliff Avenue
If you ask a group of Colorado beer enthusiasts for IPA recommendations, chances are Comrade's Superpower IPA will be brought up early and often. The beer was developed by brewer Mark Lanham and is well decorated, including 2019 gold and 2020 silver medals in the Great American Beer Festival's American-style strong pale ale category. That last part, strong pale ale, may raise some eyebrows. "It's more balanced than an American IPA, which has a more assertive bitterness," says co-founder David Lin.

Lin says that the focus of the beer is really on that bitterness. "When you see the trend of hazy or juicy IPAs, where absolutely no bitterness is the selling point, you just have to have something to balance the malt out, or the beer becomes undrinkable and too sweet," he says. "But it's not really about putting as many IBUs and maxing out the bitterness as it used to be, either."

The resulting beer is one that even non-IPA drinkers often find enjoyable, a balance of bitterness and tropical hop flavor, with a touch of malt sweetness underneath. The beer finishes drier than most typical IPAs or strong ales, adding a surprising amount of drinkability for one with so much flavor.

Lin says that the team describes this beer as a really balanced, clear IPA with a lot of hop flavor and a clear yet restrained bitterness. In the end, Lin can always fall back on one simple description for this award-winning beer. "We just kind of say that it's the best IPA in Colorado," he says with a chuckle.
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Ryan Pachmayer is a beer writer living in Arvada. He has written for publications such as Craft Beer & Brewing, Zymurgy, Porch Drinking, Homebrewing DIY and Punch. He is also the head brewer at Yak & Yeti Brewpub, marketing director at New Image Brewing and a BJCP Certified Judge.