One of the brands we’ve been busy with lately is Heineken. With its distinct red star and green bottle, this internationally sold beer is arguably the pinnacle of marketing in the beer world. However, many people struggle with classifying the beer itself and wonder it is a pilsner, lager, or maybe even a light beer? Let’s start with a quick answer:
Heineken Original is best classified as an international pale lager because of its high bitterness (IBU of 23), high carbonization, light gold color (SRM of 3), the alcohol content of 5%, and the fact that Heineken is bottom-fermented instead of top-fermented.
However, that certainly doesn’t answer the question entirely. Below, we’ll discuss why Heineken is classified as a lager and not as an ale. Furthermore, we’ll discuss five main criteria that will explain to you exactly why there’s one category that fits best for Heineken. We’ll also look at Heineken Light and Heineken 0.0% and see how these are best classified. Read on!
Is Heineken A Lager Or Ale?
First of all, it’s essential to know that there are two general categories of beers: lager or ale. These types of beers have different sub-categories. However, all beers fall into either one of the two categories.
The difference between these two beers is how the beer is made and what kind of ingredients are used. The main difference is the brewing process. Beers are either made with a top-fermenting or bottom-fermenting process.
In a nutshell, this means that beer is either fermented at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F), in which case it’s top-fermenting, which classifies it as an ale. The other option is bottom-fermenting the yeast at colder temperatures (35˚–50˚F) which ranks it as a lager.
Heineken is made with a bottom-fermenting process which means it’s officially classified as a lager.
What Kind Of Lager Is Heineken?
At this point, we need to clarify what kind of lager Heineken is. There are multiple different sub-categories of this beer, and each one has its distinct features. In the case of Heineken, many people wonder if it’s a pale lager or a pilsner.
To make a distinction, we’ll use the scale of the Beer Judge Certification Program, which classifies beers based on many factors, including their IBU (the bitterness of the beer). The reason for doing this is that this seems to be the only organization that made an effort in classifying beers effectively.
According to this organization, the term pilsner is entirely incorrect. This is because this term originates from the Czech city Plzeň, which was later turned into ‘pilsner’ by foreigners.
Beers commonly classified as pilsners are better classified as ‘international pale lagers’. Therefore, Heineken is best classified as an international pale lager. This is a different type of beer than an American lager which, for example, is why Budweiser and Heineken taste so different. Below, we’ll dive deeper into the details of what this means.
Why Is Heineken An International Pale Lager?
International pale lagers have particular characteristics that make them different from other types of beers. First, Heineken has an IBU of 21 – 23, and international pale lagers have an IBU between 18 – 25, which means Heineken fits this criterion perfectly.
Furthermore, there’s the SRM of a beer. In a nutshell, the SRM is the Standard Reference Method for measuring the color intensity of a beer. Heineken has an SRM of 3, whereas international pale lagers fall into the 2 – 6 range.
Another aspect of classifying beer is the Original Gravity of the beer, also referred to as OG. OG measures the solids’ content that’s initially in the wort. This is before alcoholic fermentation has started to produce the beer. Heineken has an OG of 1.044 – 1.048. International pale lagers have an OG between 1.042 – 1.050, which means Heineken also fits this criterion.
The fourth factor is the Final Gravity, referred to as FG, which measures the amount of sugar left after fermentation. International pale lagers have an FG of 1.008 – 1.012.
Using an online calculator, you can calculate the FG of Heineken based on the ABV of 5% and the earlier mentioned OG. In doing so, we learned that Heineken has an FG of 1.0059 – 1.0099. This means Heineken falls slightly inside and slightly outside of the classic range.
Finally, international pale lagers have an ABV (alcohol content) of 4.6% – 6%. Heineken has an ABV of 5%, which means it fits this criterion perfectly.
If you enjoy Heineken and are interested in trying out some lagers with a similar profile, here are 7 options.
Are All Heineken Pale Lagers?
Besides the decently tasting Heineken Original that has 142 calories per 12fl. Oz, it’s also a good idea to talk about a few variations of Heineken that are currently on the market. In this case, we want to talk about how Heineken Light and Heineken 0.0% are best classified. Because these beers have different measurements of the above-stated specifications, they are classified as other beers.
Heineken Light is best classified as an ‘American light lager’. This is because Heineken Light fits the characteristics of an American light lager. Furthermore, Heineken Light was specially made for the American market to compete with other light beers such as Bud Light and Coors Light. Even though Heineken is made in the Netherlands, Heineken Light is still classified as an American light lager.
This is because American light lagers have an IBU of 8 – 12, an SRM of 2-3, an OG of 1.028 – 1.040, an FG of 0.998 – 1.008, and an ABV of 2.8% – 4.2%.
Heineken Light has an IBU of 12, which means it’s on the higher end of the bitterness spectrum for a light beer but still within it. The SRM of Heineken Light is unknown, but by looking at it, we can say it’s on the lighter end of the spectrum, making an SRM of 2-3 very likely.
The OG and FG of Heineken are unknown. However, we do know that the ABV is 3.3%. Using an online calculator, we can estimate that Heineken Light has an OG between 1.028 with an FG of 1.00289 on the low end and an OG of 1.0331 with an FG of 1.008 on the high end.
These measurements indicate that Heineken Light is best classified as an American light lager and that no category comes close to it. Furthermore, Heineken Light is made explicitly for the American market, increasing the likelihood of this beer fitting this category.
Heineken 0.0% (also referred to as Heineken Zero, which doesn’t taste that good) is officially classified as an alcohol-free beer because it contains 0.01 to 0.03%, which is less than the accepted maximum of 0.05%, which beers need to fall into this category.
Because this beer doesn’t contain a substantial amount of alcohol, some measurements that we’ve used previously do not apply correctly. For example, OG, FG, and ABV aren’t applicable here because this beer is not fermented.
Therefore, we would classify this beer as an alcohol-free lager. Typing it any further would be without purpose because there’s no foundation for doing so. However, this 0.0% is the alcohol-free version of regular Heineken, and the light gold color doesn’t make it an ale, so alcohol-free lager it is.
Did you know that even if you drank one hundred Heineken Zero you still wouldn’t be tipsy? Read more about that in this blog post we wrote earlier!
Has Heineken Always Been A Lager?
Heineken has been an international pale lager since 1869. Before that, there was a five-year period in which the founder of Heineken (Gerard Adriaan Heineken) brewed different kinds of beer. This was because he took over another brewery in 1864 that had its own types of beers based on its 300-years of history.
However, with the increasing popularity of bottom-fermenting beer, Heineken decided to move to this process from 1869 onwards. This hasn’t changed since.