|Primer on Beer Styles
With the popularity of craft beer on the (quickly growing) rise, it’s painfully clear
that beer is not just beer anymore. There are different brewing techniques and
ingredients, which can be classified into main types of beer. This knowledge
can come in quite handy when selecting your brew from a long menu of micro-
brews that are now common at many pubs. Here is a very basic primer for
those just entering the world of craft beer.
Beer types can be roughly subdivided into three main categories: ales, lagers,
To be an ale, the brew will have a higher concentration of yeast, which is
caused by warmer temperatures during fermentation. Because of the higher
yeast content, there is also a higher alcohol content. A lot of ales are fuller and
“breadier,” and many types have a wheatier tone.
Here are a only a few of many that fit into the ale category:
1. Barley Wine - a barley wine is called so because its alcohol content is like
that of wine. Barley wines are usually darker and fuller, and balance a sweet,
malted flavor with a hoppy, bready bitterness.
2. English Bitter - the English bitter is not really "bitter' to a palate used to
American pale ales or IPAs though they might seem so to a light beer drinker.
There is a higher hops content than many English style beers which makes the
flavor less sweet and more biting. The English bitter is most often brewed with
one of only a few types of hops, mostly English in origin.
3. Pale Ale - the pale ale is one of the hoppiest of all beers – the most
common type of pale ale is the India Pale Ale, or IPA. Because of the high
concentration of hops, the pale ale is wheaty and somewhat bitter. This is
often balanced out by the addition of more malt to bring out some sweeter
4. Belgian Ale -many Belgian ales are low on hops and use special types of
yeast to achieve a bready, spicy flavor – full of different notes ranging from
sweet to bitter. Some Belgian ales have a higher alcohol content than other
5. Porter - the Porter is a dark, rich, full brew that often blends different ale
components (hops and yeasts) together. It spawned the stout, and is very
similar. The main difference in taste is that the porter has less bitterness than
a stout and can be perceived as lighter.
5. Imperial Stout - an Imperial stout is basically an amplified stout: it has a
higher alcohol content, it has a stronger bitter, barley flavor, it is darker, and
richer. It can have heavy chocolate and have espresso notes.
A lager is what you think of when you think of basic beer. It ferments in cooler
temperatures, with less yeast. It has a lower alcohol content, less complex
flavoring, and is lighter and crisper.
Here a few lager types:
1. American Lager- in general, but not always, think Bud/Miller/Coors. No
additional flavors, no notes, lots of water. Need we say more?
2. Pilsner- take a good American lager and add more hops – now you’ve got
a crisp, snappy beer. Then, add flavor and sweetness to complete the
process. The world's most famous pilsner comes from it's place of origin,
3. Bock- this lager keeps that sweetness of a Pilsner and has a complex malty
flavors that contribute toasty flavors. It has a low hop bitterness, usually enough
to not overwhelm the malt, allowing a slight sweetness to linger into the finish.
The original Bocks were dark beers, brewed from high-colored malts. Modern
Bocks can be dark, amber, red or pale in color
4. Helles- this lager was a response to the popularity of the Pils style beers by
Munich brewers. It is distinctive from Pilsners in that it has a noticeable malt
sweetness, with a delicate balance of spicy hops.
5. Dunkel - this beer is a Helles with a higher content of roasted malts – the
result is a chocolatey, coffee-esque brew.Essentially it is a dark German beer
characterized by a smooth malty flavour.
Wheat, White, or Weissbier is wheaty and light. It often has wheaty, crisp,
sweet flavorings – like hops, banana, and spices. Yeast and wheat malt also
play a predominant role in the flavoring.
A smoked beer is often a darker, fuller beer like a stout. However, instead of
the malts tasting roasted, they taste smoked – which is how they are prepared
For a Rye Beer take a beer with barley malt, replace the barley malt with rye
malt. Expect a crisp, dry finish with some snap.
A lambic is brewed with spontaneous fermentation instead of manipulated
fermentation, meaning it’s exposed to natural yeasts and bacteria. It sounds
gross, but it’s a perfected process from Belgium that leaves us with sour,
cidery, crisp, beer.
So there you have a brief and admittedly incomplete look at a few of the many
styles of beer. For the record the most popular craft beer style in the USA
today is one I didn't mention earlier - India Pale Ale. Basically it's a pale ale
that makes prominent use of hops.
In future articles I'll discuss many other styles but until them just remember
there are more styles of beer than there are of wine! My advice is simply to
taste as many as possible to see which is your favorite.