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A few years ago I moved to a bigger city where the craft beer selection got quite a bit broader from where I was living previously. For a while it was like being a kid in a candy store with so many different beers to choose from.

Then as I got more experienced with beer I started getting more of an idea of the different styles that are out there, and what each of these styles tends to be like. What I noticed after a while was that if I tried 2-3 different examples of the same style, while I could quantitatively say that one was better than another, for the most part they would all taste similar.

So this brought into question the 'craft beer obsession' that I had been riding for a while. I began to think that, maybe, at some point a chocolate stout is pretty much just a chocolate stout, an ipa is pretty much just an ipa, and whether you're drinking an ipa from here or there, you're basically getting the same experience.

So with that said I wonder:

  • is there any type of objective measure of the variation amongst specific styles?
  • outside of esoteric beers that aren't commonly available, is 'trying as many as you can' really worth it?
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When you're designing a recipe in software like Beersmith or Brewtoad they give you ranges for each style, so when you select a style you can tailor your recipe to be in the "acceptable range" for that style. Obviously just hitting the numbers isn't going to make the correct beer, but these are quantitative numeric measures of variation over a style.

These dimensions are:

  • Original/Final Gravity (Sugar in the beer before and after fermentation)
  • SRM (Measure of Color)
  • ABV
  • IBU (International Bitterness Units)

These don't describe a ton about the actual flavor of the beer, just things like color, strength, body/sweetness, bitterness. Note that while the ABV is tied to the difference between gravities, final gravity is and independent measure of the "dryness" of the beer. Color and Bitterness are also totally independent of the others so you can have beers at the light color and bitter end but sweet, or dry and dark.

You can also check the BJCP guides which are for competitions to see what the "ideal" qualities of a given style are and then numerically grade a beer based on how well it meets those descriptions. But they do describe what's allowed as variance for being considered "on style".

Of course plenty of brewers just don't care about that sort of thing and make beers how they like.

It's obviously opinion at this point but I think there's value in trying many different beers even though they may be in a style you've had a ton of before. Each beer is different and those subtle differences may be the differences that really make you like one beer over another. Maybe not a ton of the same thing in the same session...

According to untapp'd I've tried 85 IPAs, though the actual number is much higher than that. Some have tasted like feet and onions, some have tasted amazing. But as many as I've had if I see some IPAs on a menu and kind of want to drink an IPA, I've got nothing to lose by trying the one I've never had before...it might be really good.

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Absolutely there is. It's an extraordinarily difficult task to even get a single recipe to taste the same when produced in different locations, such as when Sierra Nevada expanded and added an east coast brewery in North Carolina last year. Different recipes, different ingredients, different water all effect the end result in ways that you can taste. While some beers in a given style will absolutely end up tasting quite similarly, there will always be plenty of variation for you to pick up on and enjoy, particularly when tasting beers of a given style from different regions.

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