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The Types of Beer (Essential List for Beer Drinkers)

Craft beer is all the rage these days, with a new type or flavor seemingly coming out every month or so.  And with so many new types and styles of beers, it can often be difficult to keep track of all of them.

So, just how many types of beer are there?  This is a question we will attempt to answer in detail in the types of beer list below.

Most (but not all) beers can be typically placed into two very general categories:  Ales and Lagers.

Within each of these categories are a number of different subcategories and styles, each boasting its own unique body and flavor.  Here is a basic list describing the different types of Ales and Lagers currently available for purchase.

Types of Ales

The term ale is used to describe a type of beer in which the yeast gathers and ferments near or at the top of the brewing vessel.  Because of that, ale is known as a top-fermented style of beer.

Ale also brews at a high temperature so that the yeast can act quickly.  Some ales can finish fermenting in less than 14 days, while others take somewhat longer to finish the fermenting process.

Ales are rich and complex, with more yeast-based flavors than lagers—the other types of beer we will list in this article.

Within the category known as ales there are several sub-categories.  These include Pale Ale, India Pale Ale (IPA). Brown Ale, Stout, Porter, Wheat Beer, and Hefeweizen.

Pale Ale

Whether you select an American Pale Ale or an English Pale Ale, you should know that the term “pale” in this case was added quite some time ago to differentiate these types of beers from the darker Porter styles.

American and English pale ales have many factors that distinguish them from the other, but generally they tend to be gold or copper in coloring and possess a dry and crisp hop taste.

Some of the beers in this category include:

  • American Amber Ale.  American amber ale is named after the golden to amber color it exhibits.
  • American Pale Ale.  Characterized by floral, fruity, citrus-like, piney, resinous American hops, the American pale ale is a medium-bodied beer with low to medium caramel.
  • Blond Ale.  A golden or blonde ale is an easy-drinking beer that looks very appealing and has no particularly dominating characteristics of malt or hop.
  • English-Style Bitter.  The English-Style Bitter ale is a lower-alcohol, malt-driven style of beer.
  • English-Style Pale Ale (ESB).  Important to know with the English-style Pale Ales is that the ESB stands for “extra special bitter.”
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India Pale Ale

The India Pale Ale has a slightly higher alcohol content than regular pale ale.  It also boasts an intensely hoppy taste and aroma.

Some of the beers in this category include the American IPA, the English-style IPA, and the two we have listed below:

  • Imperial IPA.  The Imperial India Pale Ale features a hint of high hop bitterness, taste and nose.  The alcohol content is medium-high to high and the beer has a medium to full body.
  • New England IPA.  The New England IPA relies heavily on late and dry hopping techniques to deliver a juicy, almost tropically-flavored beer.

Brown Ale

Made in the traditional English style, brown ales have a robust, malty flavor and can be very nutty and sweet.  They generally have a medium body and their name perfectly describes the color of these ales.

Some of the beers in this class include:

  • American Brown Ale.  The American Brown Ale has roasted malt, caramel-like and chocolate-like characters that make it very tasty to drink.
  • English-Style Brown Ale.  A heavy beer, the English-Style Brown Ale is toasty, strong and features a bit of chocolate maltiness.
  • English-Style Mild.  The English-Style Mild is similar to the Brown Ale, only with licorice and roast malt tones to complete its profile.

Stout

When you think of stout you should consider the Irish beers Guinness and Murphy’s, both of which fall into this category.  These beers are thick, almost black in color, rich and opaque.

Stouts get their flavor and color from roasted barley, and they often have a taste of malt and caramel, with little to no hop smell or taste.

Here are a just a few beers in this popular category:

  • American Imperial Stout. Black in color, the American Imperial Stout is the strongest in alcohol and body of all the stouts.
  • English-Style Oatmeal Stout. With the very unique English-Style Oatmeal Stout, the addition of oatmeal adds a smooth, rich body and a great, sweet taste.
  • Irish-Style Dry Stout.  Irish-Style Dry Stout (like Guinness) is a black beer with a dry-roasted character thanks to the use of roasted barley.

Porter

Porters are very similar to stouts in taste and aroma, but these beers are made from “unroasted’ barley rather than the roasted variety of the grain.  Porters are dark in color, fairly sweet in flavor, with hints of chocolate and sometimes a sharp bitterness.

Some of the beers in the porter category include:

  • American Imperial Porter.  The American Imperial Porter is distinctively American, with no roasted barley flavors or strong burnt/black malt character. It also has a medium caramel and cocoa-like sweetness.
  • Baltic-Style Porter.  The Baltic-style Porter is a smooth, cold-fermented and cold-lager beer brewed with lager yeast.
  • English-Style Brown Porter.  The English-Style Brown Porter has low to medium malt sweetness, and a caramel and/or chocolate flavor.
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Wheat Beer

Distinctively German, all wheat beer uses top-fermenting yeast.  According to brewing laws, it must be made from at least 50 percent wheat malt, which contributes to its hazy, cloudy appearance and the unfiltered yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

Wheat beers are very light in color, full-flavored and possess a one-of-a-kind taste with hints of banana, clove and vanilla.

Some of the beers that fall into the wheat beer category include:

  • American-Style Wheat Wine Ale.  Very sweet like wine, the American-Style Wheat Wine Ale uses 50 percent wheat malt and has hints of candy.
  • Belgian-Style Witbier.  Belgian-style Witbier is brewed using un-malted wheat, sometimes oats and malted barley. Witbiers are spiced with coriander and orange peel.
  • Berliner-Style Weisse. Low in alcohol, refreshingly tart, and often served with a flavored syrup or raspberry, the Berliner-style Weisse presents a harmony between yeast and lactic acid.

Hefeweizen

Last but not least in the Ale category of beers is Hefeweizen, the most commercially successful type of wheat beer.

In the United States, these beers are regularly served with a lemon wedge to cut down on the intense yeast flavorings.

Here is just one of the beers that falls into this category:

  • German-Style Hefeweizen.  This wheat beer breaks from the typical German beer mold, showcasing yeast-driven fruit and spice as well as having a distinctive appearance.

Types of Lagers

Unlike the top-fermenting ales, in lagers the yeast sinks to the bottom of the vessel and ferments at a much colder temperature than its ale yeast counterpart. This slows the beer-making process down, sometimes considerably.

At colder temperatures, the bottom-fermenting yeast produces fewer esters (flavor compounds, basically). This creates a mild, crisp and clean tasting beer.

Below we will take a look at some of the sub-categories of lagers—Pale Lagers, Dark Lagers, Bock, Doppelbock and Oktoberfest—as well as a couple of the beers in each of these sub-categories.

Pale Lagers

Pale lagers are very well known, with names like Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Michelob, Pabst and others.  These beers, which are also known as American lagers, are light in color and alcohol content.

Some of the beers in this category include:

  • Bohemian-Style Pilsner. The Bohemian-Style Pilsner has a slightly sweet and very noticeable malt character and a toasted, biscuit-like, bready malt character. The hop bitterness can be described as a low to medium-low level of noble-type hop aroma and flavor.
  • European-Style Export.  Sometimes referred to as a “Dortmunder export,” the European-Style Export has the malty flavor and sweetness of a German-style Helles (also a Pale Lager), but the bitterness of a German-style pilsner.
  • German-Style Pilsner.  A classic German-style pilsner is straw to pale in color with a malty sweetness that can be perceived in both nose and taste.
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Dark Lagers

Darker and with more malt than their pale lager counterparts, dark lagers come in a variety of tastes, alcohol contents and aromas.

Some of the beers in the dark lager category include:

  • American Amber Lager. A widely available craft beer style that showcases both malt and hops. Amber lagers are a medium-bodied lager with a toasty or caramel-like taste and an amber or red appearance.
  • German-Style Dunkel. The word “dunkel” is German for “dark,” and this dark beer style offers beer enthusiasts a great combination of chocolate, bread crust and caramel flavors.
  • German-Style Marzen.  The German-Style Marzen is a beer rich in malt with a balance of clean, hop bitterness.  With this beer, bread or biscuit-like malt aroma and flavor is common.

Bock

The bock style of beer comes from Germany and is typically brewed in the fall so as to be enjoyed in the colder winter months.  The bock style is a stronger lager, with heavy malt, a medium to full-body, light hos and a dark amber to brown color.

Here are just a couple of beers that fall into this category:

  • German-Style Bock. These traditional bock beers are all-malt brews and are high in malt sweetness. The malt character is usually a balance of sweetness and has a toasted or nut-like malt.
  • German-Style Maibock. Also called “heller bock” (meaning “pale bock”), the German-style Maibock is paler in color and more hop-centered than traditional bock beers.

Doppelbock

Meaning “double bock” in German, the Doppelbock style of beer is stronger and darker than bock.  It is also sweeter with more malt and a slightly higher alcohol content.

The lone beer in this category is the:

  • German-Style Doppelbock.  This style is a bigger and stronger version of the lower-gravity German-style bock beers. Originally made by monks in Munich, the doppelbock beer style is very food-friendly and rich in flavors that are reminiscent of toasted bread.

Oktoberfest

Last but not least we get to the category known as Oktoberfest, which is also the name of the beer festival.  This label is indicative of a Vienna style of “Marzen” beer, the German word for “March”.

This popular beer is brewed in the spring and stored to serve in autumn. It has a toasted quality with a sweet hint of robust malt flavors, and a deep amber appearance.

Now you know your ales from your lagers, did you know, that different types of beers tend to be poured in a certain type of beer glass? Our beer glass guide can help. So go on, grab your favorite keg of ale or lager, connect it to your home kegerator and pour a pint of ale in your own beer glass.

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