With all the different beer styles out there, it can be overwhelming to sort through the vocab and understand what makes one beer distinct from another. Sure, you probably know the difference in taste between a pale ale and a porter, but when your overly curious work buddy asks you if a stout is a lager, your beer brain suddenly fizzes out. So, we’ve decided to break down the ABC’s of beer to help you understand the complexities of each style. Consider this your Rosetta Stone for speaking the language of craft beer.
Ale or Lager?
To start, there are two main types of beer: ales and lagers. And the difference between these two brews is yeast. Ales are brewed with yeast that stays at the top of the fermenting vessel, while the yeast in lagers ferments at the bottom.
The yeast in ales is typically fermented around room temperature and is fermented for around a week. In lagers, yeast is fermented cool, usually just above freezing, and therefore takes slightly longer to ferment.
One bonus for ale yeast is that it releases esters, which can contribute greatly to the fruity or flowery aroma of beers. To learn more about the importance of smell in the beer-tasting process, check out another post in our Craft 101 series here.
Popular Ale Styles
This list is far from comprehensive, but it highlights some of the most popular ale styles. Even within each style listed below there is a wide variety of taste and aroma, so for simplicity’s sake we’ve outlined the most common qualities of these brews.
As noted above this style is a generalization because there are many sub-styles from Belgium, but for the most part, Belgian brews have a heavy emphasis on malts and fruity yeast flavors. After you’ve sampled a few, you’ll have a great sense of what “Belgian” tastes like.
This style features roasted malt flavors, often containing hints of chocolate, caramel, coffee or nuts. For the most part, brown ales tend to be less dark than porters and stouts.
India Pale Ales:
This style features a heavy hop profile, with flavors of citrus, fruit, flowers, pine or resin. IPAs are often bitter due to their high hop content. IPAs were first created by England because hops, which are a natural preservative, allow the beer to be shipped long distances without spoiling. This allowed tasty beer to be shipped all the way to India.
This style is the little brother of the IPA. Pale ales tend to encompass the same flavor profile, but are less bitter and have lower alcohol content, making them easier to drink.
This is a dark beer that’s often confused with a stout. There are a wide variety of porter styles, including high hop content, smoked, barrel aged, or other flavor varieties like coffee or chocolate, which are added using malts.
This style differs from porters in that it uses un-malted roasted barley, whereas porters use malted barley. The un-malted roasted barley often contributes to the coffee flavor that is associated with stouts. Oatmeal is often a flavor included in stouts.
This style includes American wheat ales and German Hefeweizen style ales. Wheat brews have a lighter color, ranging from pale to golden or light amber. Most have a high percentage of wheat malt, which characterizes the brew’s flavor.
This style includes a wide variety of tastes and aromas, but they have an emphasis on sour and fruity flavors. You’re better off trying one than reading about it.
Popular Lager Styles
This style, which originated in Germany, has a lighter color and often contains bread or biscuit-like aroma and flavors.
Depending on the country of origin (the Czech Republic and Germany are two popular pilsner destinations) this style can vary slightly. The Czech variety has a slight hop bitterness, while German pilsners have a more malty, sweet taste.
If you’re interested in learning more about different beer styles or hearing about the complexities of our beer, feel free to stop by the tap room to speak to our brewers and try some samples.
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