Navigate the world of ales with The Pocket Guide to Beer

To help navigate through the bewildering choice of craft beers, Edinburgh drinks writers Joe Dick and Nikki Welch have compiled The Pocket Guide to Beer.

Published 18th Jun 2018
Updated 8 th Aug 2023

In this extract they introduce the concept of the Beer Tube Map, where you will find the Lager, Epicurean and Aromatic Lines.

The map arranges beer styles on tube lines according to flavour so that the adventurous drinker can travel all the way from light to strong along the Lager Line, or connect at the Old Ale interchange for the more indulgent realm of stouts.

On our journey here travel the Aromatic Line from Kölsch to American IPA through the Belgian style Saison and Tripel and it’s just a short hop onto the Epicurean Line where you’ll find Gueuze, the king of beers.

The Aromatic Line (green) makes for a perfect, refreshing, summer excursion. These beers sit on the lighter side of the spectrum in terms of body, but not in flavour. Beers on the Aromatic Line are all fresh, with a healthy dollop of carbonation which kick-starts the palate.

Start at the northern end for lighter, drier styles which are less ‘in-your-face’ and then feel the intensity of the flavour increase as you travel down. The ales are perfect for watching the world go by and as you reach the bottom you come to the food-friendly Belgian beers, which will complement almost anything you eat with them.


A real wolf in sheep’s clothing, Kölsch is a top-fermented ale capable of sneaking into a lager drinker’s favourites. From Köln (Cologne), it sits at the interchange of the Lager and the Aromatic Lines, making it a great starting point if you want more than a lager but not quite an ale.

What you need to know: Golden in colour, bright, clear and divinely refreshing. Kölsch is fermented to the point that almost all the sugars are consumed, using a top-fermenting yeast that throws off juicy fruit aromas of apple and grape.

This is then lagered (stored) cold for a short period of time to soften off any bold flavours and ensure your Kölsch is clean on the nose and totally thirst-quenching.
Although this should be very clean in flavour, you should expect German hops to take the lead here and contribute to the orchard fruit character, without being overly bitter.

Best enjoyed: Kölsch beers have a natural affinity with cured pork and bread products, which makes it a great partner to one of those evenings where you graze a charcuterie board, or two, with a few friends and a lot of chat. The light acidity will balance the fat in the meats and the orchard fruit flavours are a great foil to the salt.

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Beers to look out for: Früh Kölsch, Thornbridge Tzara, Sion Kölsch, Gaffel Kölsch, Left Hand Travelin’ Light.

After more of the same? Travel the Lager Line and try Helles and Kellerbier for more refreshing but tasty light beers.

Want something a bit punchier? Head south on the Aromatic Line towards Pale Ales and IPAs.

Want something a bit more robust? Change onto the Central Line for the maltier ales and bitters.

American IPA

In modern ‘craft’ beer terms this is the widely brewed style that launched an entire flavour revolution in beer.

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What you need to know: American IPA is the true home station of any hophead. Built to be extremely bitter and extremely aromatic, these beers are usually dosed with an enormous charge of American hops.

You should expect deep resinous notes, sticky pine, and a rasping bitterness, all weighed up against punchy New World hop aromas of citrus pith, and even a herbal character often linked to marijuana (a close cousin of the humble hop).

Although labelled here for simplicity as American IPA, there is a distinction to be made between East Coast and West Coast styles. East Coast-style IPAs will express a little more balance, with a touch more malt, in comparison to the all out hoppiness on the West Coast.

However, New England-style IPA has begun to spread beyond the leafy north-east. This new substyle is focused on extremes of flavour and aroma, at the sacrifice of clarity and appearance, producing beers that are full of flavour but extremely cloudy and murky in the glass.

Despite this peculiar new look, they have a tendency to be delicious. Many of them are made at breweries who sell almost all of their stock straight from the brewery door to long lines of thirsty customers.

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Best enjoyed: Young and fresh! Despite its distinct, hoppy flavour American IPA has captured the hearts, and tastebuds, of thousands who can’t get enough of its herbaceous, bitter notes. These deteriorate from the minute they develop so you should always check the date on your label and buy the youngest you can.

Beers to look out for: Stone IPA, Lagunitas IPA, Magic Rock Cannonball, The Kernel IPA (various), Thornbridge Huck, Redchurch Great Eastern IPA, Fallen Platform C, Tempest Brave New World, Cromarty AKA IPA, Buxton Axe Edge.

Want something a bit lighter? Head north towards the less hoppy pale ales and lagers.

Love that aromatic hit? Head south towards the Belgian and wheat beers or east towards Double IPA for more hop action.

Want something with more oomph? Head west on the Discovery Line towards Amber Ale and Red Ale.


Often referred to as ‘the champagne of beer’, it could be argued that champagne was the Gueuze of wine. Gueuze blends different vintages of spontaneously fermented lambic to create a complex and delicious beer.

What you need to know: Gueuze is a funky, sour blend capable of displaying a wide variety of flavours and aromas. One of the most peculiar tasting notes found in beer is the ‘aroma of horse blanket’, and arguably Gueuze is the prime example of this. It has a musty, earthy, farmyard note that combines the smell of saddles and horse sweat with that of baked fruit and nuts. This, when balanced against delicate acidity and effervescence, amounts to a beautiful experience.

Like many whiskies and wines, it can elicit a spiritual response from beer lovers, who often describe it as the result of a confluence of art, science and faith because of the complex production which, unlike many beers produced commercially, relies on nature and time.

Old lambic (typically three years old) that still contains live but dormant yeast and bacteria, is blended with young lambic (usually one year old, but quite often some two years old) that still contains fermentable sugars. This blend will then naturally re-ferment in the bottle, producing bubbles and a yeast sediment that requires the bottles to be served from a basket in order to keep the yeast from ending up in the glass.

Although Gueuze tastes exceptional when it is fresh, it can benefit from additional periods of ageing. This has led to a trend of people visiting producers and buying as much stock as they can, and then hoarding the bottles for many years.

Best enjoyed: One of the best places to experience Gueuze is at the Brussels Gueuze Museum, AKA Brasserie Cantillon. Here you can take a self-guided tour of one of the world’s best producers, wander through their vast barrel stores, and admire the spiders that carefully guard the fermenting barrels from flies and other creatures.

Once finished, take a seat in the bar area and work your way through an incredible list of rarities for consumption on-site only.

Beers to look out for: Boon Geuze, Cantillon Gueuze, 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze, De Cam Oude Geuze, Hanssens Oude Gueuze, Gueuze Lindemans Cuvée René, Timmermans Oude Gueuze, Tilquin Oude Gueuze.

>• The Pocket Guide to Beer by Joe Dick and Nikki Welch is published this week by Birlinn (£7.99, paperback);

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