While craft brewing has experienced a surge in popularity recently, beer ultimately consists of a few fundamental styles. Learn about the common styles of beer to enhance your comfort and familiarity with one of the oldest beverages in the world.
Ale is a general category of beer that encompasses sub-categories such as brown ales and pale ales. This style of beer dates back to ancient times and is the oldest. What sets ale apart—and makes it accessible for home brewers—is its warm-temperature fermentation for a relatively short period. During the brewing process, top-fermenting yeasts are introduced, which ferment at the top of the brew. This fermentation process transforms the barley and malt mixture into an alcoholic beverage.
Lagers are a newer style of beer with two key differences from ales. Lagers undergo a long fermentation period at a low temperature and rely on bottom-fermenting yeasts, which sink to the bottom of the fermentation tank. Lagers are common in European countries like Czechia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada, where they make up over half of all beer sales.
Porter beers are a type of ale known for their dark black color and aroma and flavor of roasted malt. The flavor of porters can range from fruity to dry, depending on the variety of roasted malt used in the brewing process.
Stouts, like porters, are dark and roasted ales. They have a less sweet taste compared to porters and often feature a bitter coffee flavor, which comes from the addition of unmalted roasted barley to the wort. Stouts are characterized by their thick, creamy head, and Ireland’s Guinness is one of the most well-known stouts in the world.
This light and easy-drinking ale is a popular choice for summer. Blonde ales have a pale color and clear body, with a slight malt sweetness and a hint of hop aroma. They are crisp, dry, and generally low in bitterness.
Brown ales range in color from amber to brown and offer flavors such as chocolate, caramel, citrus, or nuttiness. The taste and aroma of brown ales can vary significantly based on the different malts used and the country of origin.
Pale ales, originating from England, are known for their copper color and fruity aroma. Despite their name, pale ales are strong enough to pair well with spicy foods. American Pale Ales (APA) are a variation of the traditional English pale ale, featuring more hops and American two-row malt.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
Originally brewed in Britain, India Pale Ale (IPA) is a pale ale with extra hops. The high hop content preserved the beer during the long journey to India, giving IPAs their characteristic bitter taste. Depending on the type of hops used, IPAs can have citrusy or resinous flavors. American brewers have embraced the IPA style, introducing unique flavors and ingredients to cater to the preferences of US beer enthusiasts.
Wheat beers are light and easy to drink, with a soft and smooth flavor and a hazy appearance. They often have hints of spices or citrus, and one popular variety is the hefeweizen or unfiltered wheat beer.
A subspecies of lager, pilsner beers are distinguished by their water, which can range from neutral to hard. Pilsners are known for their hoppy character and typically have a dry, slightly bitter flavor. With their light golden color, clear body, and crisp finish, pilsners are a popular choice for the summer.
Sour ales are an ancient beer style that has gained popularity in recent years. They are crafted using wild yeasts, similar to sourdough bread. Sour ales have a tart and tangy taste that pairs well with tropical fruits and spices. Within the sour beer category, you’ll find lambics (Belgian sour beers mixed with fruit), goses (German sour beers flavored with coriander and sea salt), and Flanders (Belgian sour beers fermented in wood tanks).
We hope this guide to beer styles has whetted your appetite!