A Question of Style
There are so many styles of beer; its hard to know where to begin. There is a lot more to a style than just whether its light or dark. Each beer style has a characteristic taste, imparted by either the yeast, the malts, the hops, the water, or all four. A style is best defined by naming all the ingredients, and the fermentation particulars. Change any one item, and you have probably hopped into another style category (no pun intended). Each country, each geographic region, even each town, can have its own style of beer. In fact, you may be starting to realize by now that many beer styles originate from local brewing conditions. Access to ingredients, the local water profile, the climate-- all of these elements combine to dictate the character of the best beer that the brewer can produce. To a certain extent, your success and satisfaction as a homebrewer is going to depend on understanding what style(s) your local conditions will allow you to best produce.
The place to start when defining a style is the yeast. Is it an ale or a lager strain that is used? What is the temperature profile of the fermentation? The next important aspect is the malt. Each of the specialty grains listed in Chapter 12 has a unique taste that it contributes to the beer. As an example, stouts are defined in part by the flavor of roasted unmalted barley. The hop variety plays a part too. The difference between English pale ale and American pale ale is predominantly due to the differences in flavor between English and American hops. Even the same variety of hop, grown in different regions, will have a different character.