Have you ever walked into a bar or brasserie not knowing what to order? Maybe there are so many different types of beer on the menu, and you haven’t heard of them. We are here to help you. This story breaks down all of the most common types of beer so you’ll be better equipped the next time you’re looking for a new beer to try.
There are over 100 styles of beer in the world. The problem is that it can be hard to keep up with them because there are so many new variations and experimental beers popping up every year. The lines can get blurry when it comes to naming and categorizing new beers.
In 2021, there were 9,247 breweries in the United States, according to the Brewers Association. “Because of the craft brewing explosion we’ve seen, many American brewers have embraced styles of beer […] and made their own interpretations with them,” said Cole Provence, a Central Washington University Craft Brewing lecturer and beer judge certification program judge. “The problem we see is that when you start putting some of these style labels on these commercial beers, the consumer doesn’t necessarily know what beer they’re actually getting because it doesn’t fit within certain parameters.”
We’ve done our best to demystify all the beer jargon and break down the types for you. We consulted expert brewers and cicerones and referred to the guidelines of the Brewers Association and the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). Because there are so many obscure flavors, this is by no means an exhaustive list of every type of beer on the planet.
The history of beer styles
“Historically, beer styles grew where they were because of the ingredients people had access to,” said Chris Cohen, cicerone and founder of beer education company Beer Scholar. “Water, for example, can contain all sorts of salts and compounds that make it ideal for brewing some styles but not others.”
According to Cohen, technologies such as the drum roaster, affordable thermometers, and advances in microbiology have had a huge impact on the development of beer styles. “In our modern world, styles are completely separated from their historic home; they can all be made anywhere now,” he said.
What makes a brewer’s variation an officially recognized style? “The styles themselves have to be around long enough and brewed in a wide enough geographic area,” Provence said. “They need to be in the market and have something that sets them apart from what’s already in the style guidelines.” For example, the New England IPA began gaining popularity on the East Coast around 2011 and is now considered its own subcategory by the BJCP.
Every Beer Is Either An Ale Or A Lager
Every beer, more or less, can be classified as either an ale or a lager. “The average person on hearing the words blond beers and beers will have a number of assumptions about them, none of which are true,” said Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver.
Some people may think that ales are darker and stronger than lagers. It’s not always the case. “The difference between a beer and a lager is the type of yeast used and the temperature of the fermentation,” he said. Beers ferment at a higher temperature, usually between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and they can be ready in about 10 hours. Lagers, on the other hand, ferment at a cooler temperature, around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but they can take weeks or months to age.
“The practical difference between lagers and ales is that ales tend to have spicy and fruity flavors that come from fermentation,” Oliver said. “And lagers, which are cold fermented, tend to be simpler. They taste like their ingredients.”
Hoppy, medium-bodied American amber ale is a modern style of craft beer that was created in the 1980s as a variant of lager, according to the BJCP.
Easy to drink, crisp and refreshing, the highly carbonated cream beer has low bitterness and a hoppy flavor.
German for “wheat beer”, hefeweizen is made from at least 50% wheat. The highly carbonated beer has a light, refreshing taste with notes of banana, clove and vanilla, according to the Brewers Association.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
The hop-rich IPA has had a moment in the US for a while. The traditionally bright, clear beer with a dry, bitter taste has evolved into a cloudy, mineral drink with elements of fruit and sweetness, according to Oliver. “It’s a trend, and I think these things come in waves, but it’s a bigger, longer trend than we’ve seen in a long time,” Oliver said. “I think it’s part of the democratization of the IPA.”
Many IPA subcategories have been categorized based on their specialty ingredients or color, depending on Provence.
- Black IPA: La Provence said the addition of dark roast malts gives black IPA its color.
- Juicy, Hazy Imperial and Double IPA: The Brewers Association groups these hop-heavy beers, which often have fruity, tropical, and juicy characteristics.
- New England IPA: The New England IPA has a cloudy appearance and uses hops that are generally more tropical and fruity than other IPAs, which tend to be more piney and flowery.
Like American cream ale, German kölsch is a smooth, easy-drinking lagered beer. “They’re fermented at a cooler temperature than normal brewer’s yeast, but they’re still classified as a beer,” Provence said.
“Simple lagering means cold aging,” said Cohen, who noted that most lagers and some beers are kept for a period of time before being packaged and distributed.
The medium-bodied pale ale has minimal malt, but a strong flavor and hop aroma, according to the Brewers Association. Lagers can have a variety of notes, including citrus, floral, pine, and sulfur.
“Goses and all sour wing, including lambics, are all things that have a bacterial part of their fermentation, which gives them sourness, just like yogurt,” Oliver said.
- Gose: Native to Germany, gose is brewed with lactic acid-producing bacteria and salt, which gives it a sweet, sour and salty flavor, according to Provence. It is considered a refreshing beer for the summer.
- Geuze: Belgian gueuze is a combination of new and aged lambics.
- Lambic: Also from Belgium, spontaneously fermented lambic is a sour beer rich in fruity esters and bacteria, according to the Brewers Association.
“Overall, my favorite style, when it’s done really well, is probably a saison, which is an old Belgian farmhouse style,” Oliver said. The yeast gives the saison a spicy, peppery flavor, which is also highlighted by a warmer fermentation – around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stouts and Carriers
Stouts and porters are full-bodied beers made from roasted malts that not only taste like coffee and chocolate, but are also roasted the same way, according to Oliver. “The difference between a porter and a stout is something that people will argue over much like they might argue over what is an orange wine and what is a rosé,” he said. “It really is a question of intensity. The more intense the roast, the more everyone will agree that it is a stout and not a porter.”
While many may think that dark beers like stouts and porters are strong, that’s often not the case. “We drink with our eyes first. This causes people to make assumptions about a beer before they even smell or taste it,” Cohen said. Guinness, for example, is only 4.2% ABV, similar to Bud Light.
- Stout with cream: Black and opaque, this stout is full-bodied and may contain lactose or milk sugar, according to the Brewers Association.
- Oat Stout: This stout is, you guessed it, brewed with rolled oats.
- English carrier: Softer and softer than the American porter, the English porter has a medium-light to medium body.
We’ve all heard of Oktoberfest. German beer has a light golden color with a clean, bready taste. American versions, however, are amber in color with more bitterness and hops, according to the Brewers Association.
According to Oliver, the most popular type of beer in the United States is pilsner. He was born in 1842 in the small Bohemian town of Pilsen, in what is now the Czech Republic. Barley, Saaz hops and fresh Pilsen water have combined to create what we call Pilsner Urquell. Classic European versions are a bit bitter and full of flavor, while many US pilsners are lighter and simpler, like Budweiser or Coors Lite.
“It’s easy to make fun of pilsners because they’ve been watered down so much by a lot of big companies, but at its core, a really good pilsner is a beautiful piece of work. It sounds simple, but it’s not the case,” Oliver said. . “Whether [a brewery] has excellent pilsner, you can be sure the rest of their products will be good.”
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