Did you know that some types of beer predate written language? Lucky for you, this article exists in the modern age, so you can learn all about them.
When you know your beer styles, you elevate yourself from casual drinker to beer aficionado. You will be able to make educated choices about your choice of beer the next time you’re out with friends. You may even impress a few people along the way.
The art of brewing has created so many types of beer that learning them can be mind-boggling. Where do you take your first sip?
We can help you there. Pull up a seat, pour your favorite, and let’s learn about beer!
In this article
The Two Main Types of Beer: Lager and Ale
Beer styles differ on an axis of brewing techniques, ingredients, and flavor. This divide falls into two main categories. Most of the types of beer in this article are either lagers or ales.
Lager brewing uses a type of yeast called Saccharomyces pastorianus, a bottom-forming type of yeast that, like ale yeast, creates alcohol as a byproduct of sugar digestion.
Lager yeast needs to brew between 35 to 50 50°F for best results. The primary fermentation takes 1 to 3 weeks, but the lager must then be stored for 6 to 8 weeks in the lagering process. The origin of the word lager is the translation of the German word meaning to store.
Ale yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is top-forming. It is tougher than lager yeast, and its brewing temperature can vary from 60 to 80°F. Speaking of tough, ale yeast still thrives in high levels of alcohol, allowing ale brewers to craft stronger brews.
Levels of hops tend to be higher in ales than lagers. This leads to bitter, floral flavors like those found in an IPA, but we’ll get to that later. Lagers on the other hand use fewer hops for a crisp, clean taste.
Hybrids and Craft Beers
Hybrid beers exist too but do not confuse them with craft beers. Hybrid beers, like German Kölsch and Altbier, brew with ale yeast at higher temperatures, but then condition them in the cold like lagers.
Craft beers refer to artisan beers brewed in small batches with creative ingredients. You can find almost any flavor imaginable in craft beers, from fruit to chocolate to milkshakes. Hmm, unsure about that last one.
Craft brewers are pushing the limits of beer styles. Their experiments will make your tastebuds take note. Check out craft beer near me.
Okay, the science lesson is over. Let’s get down to the tastiest types of beer!
Pilsner puts the classic, crisp refreshment of a lager into your glass. Brewed in Pilsen, in the Czech Republic, pilsner was first sold in 1842. Pilsner Urquell Brewery crafted it with bottom-forming yeast, malted barley, Saaz hops, and pure water from the river Plzeň.
Many of the most popular lagers are derivatives of pilsner. You can find most of them on tap in your local bar.
IPAs date back to the time of the British Empire. Ships carrying supplies would stock milder ales like stouts onboard, but these beers would spoil on the long journey over rough seas. Sad faces all around!
Experimentation led to the inclusion of a far higher number of hops than normal. This, along with higher alcohol content, helped keep IPAs fresh until they arrived at their final port. Hops have antibacterial properties which explains why this worked.
Upon arrival, the beer drinkers in India found the flavor of IPAs so delicious that they refused to drink anything else upon return to Britain.
Helles is a type of German pale lager – in fact, Helles means bright – that began production in the 20th century. Munich is the primary home of Helles in the beer-haven region of Bavaria, Germany.
Helles has a mild malty flavor with Noble hops and a crisp finish. Fuller-bodied than pilsner, Helles maintains the refreshment of a lager with a moreish flavor that may fill a second glass.
Pale ales are amber or straw-colored beers brewed with top-forming yeast, pale malt, and plenty of hops. They balance refreshment with lip-smacking flavor and are typically around 4% ABV. You might call the pale ale the perfect session beer for long afternoons with friends.
First brewed in England, pale ales are now popular in America and Canada, where the inclusion of greater varieties of hops has led to an explosion of flavor that will put a smile on your lips!
Bocks are strong lagers and one of the oldest types of beer in the world. Bock’s true home is rumored to be Einbeck, Germany, and its conception could go back to the 13th century!
Bottom-forming yeast paired with Vienna and Munich malts put malty flavors at the front with mild hoppiness at the back. A longer brew and the addition of roasted malts create a dark color and a caramelized flavor. Served in small glasses, bocks are a perfect winter sipping beer near an open fire.
Wheat beer, or Weizenbier, comes from Bavaria, Southern Germany. Can you see a pattern here? Wheat beers brew with top-forming ale yeast, few to zero hops, and at least 30% wheat grains.
The wheat gives wheat beers a cloudy, pale yellow color, and a creamy taste. They tend to have low alcohol content and little bitterness, making them one of the most refreshing beers to drink on a hot day.
Porter and Stout
Porters and stouts are dark beers brewed with ale yeast from England. They first poured in the 18th century, filling glasses with ruby black colors and deep, dark, malty flavors. Tastes of chocolate, caramel, and even mild coffee flow from these beers, and they are among the most flavorful on this list.
Note: although most porters and stouts use ale yeast, Baltic porter uses bottom-forming yeast to work its magic due to the cold Baltic climate.
Speaking of dark beers, Munich Dunkel is probably lager’s answer to porters and stouts. Dunkel, meaning dark in German, is ruby in color with a smooth chocolatey flavor and a little bitterness. Try one at your next craft beer bar!
Which Types of Beer Are Your Favorites?
We bet you’re ready for one after that flash lesson in types of beer. Keep in mind that the two main types are ale and lager, but these two form the grains of a world of flavor to suit any palette.
Be sure to experiment. Never be afraid to try a new beer style. Sure, you may shun a few, but eventually, you will find the right beer for you.
We hope you enjoyed our guide to types of beer. For more food, drink, and lifestyle tips, check out the rest of our site!