Different Types of Beer

Beer is one of the world’s oldest prepared beverages. Most historians think that the first fermented beverages came about around the time people started farming grain, roughly 12,000 years ago. Archaeologists studying the Sumerians in the Mesopotamia area have found evidence of beer production dating back to 5,000 B.C. We also know that the Egyptians drank plenty of beer.

These ancient brews probably tasted a lot different than what we’re used to today, and were flavored with all sorts of unusual ingredients. More modern-style beer came about during the Middle Ages, when Christian monks and other brewers started adding hops to their brews. To this day, the basic ingredients of any beer are water, a starch source, hops, and yeast.


Water

Water used to make beerMineral content and hardness or softness varies by region; certain varieties of beer have developed a bit of regional character from this.


Dublin’s hard water is great for making stout like Guinness.

The soft water in the Plzen (Pilsen) Region in the Czech Republic is especially suitable for making Pilsner.


Starch

Beer StarchProvides fuel for fermentation and contributes to final strength and flavor; malting the grain (soaking it, then kiln drying) starts a chemical process that changes its starches into fermentable sugars.


Adjusting the roasting time and temperature produces different colors; darker malt makes for a darker beer.
Most beer uses barley malt, but wheat, rice, oats, and rye may be used depending on the variety.
Mass-produced beers may use corn, rice, or sugar as a secondary, or adjunct, starch source to save costs and mellow the final flavor profile.


Hops

Beer HopsProvide bitterness that helps balance out the sweetness of the malt.


Floral, citrus, and herbal aromas come from the hops, plus their acidity level helps preserve the beer longer.
The India Pale Ale (IPA) variety got its name back in the 1800s when British brewers added more hops to their ales to help preserve the beer during the long sea voyage to India.


Yeast

Beer YeastCauses fermentation to take place by metabolizing the sugars; alcohol and carbon dioxide are the byproducts of the yeast’s process. Yeast also impacts the taste.


Ales use a type of yeast that ferment at the top of the fermentation vessel, at a higher temperature than a lager (between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
The types of yeast used in ales produce byproducts called esters, which help contribute to the “flowery” or “fruity” aroma common to many varieties of ale.
Lagers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeasts that work at lower temperatures, usually 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Lagers are often stored at these cool temperatures for a period of time after brewing to fully mature. In fact, the word lager comes from the German word lagern which means “to store”.
Lager yeast doesn’t result in as many byproducts when compared to ale, which allows different flavors and aromas to develop. Lagers typically have a smoother taste than ales.


Serving Temperature

Bartender dispensing beer from a tap

A good rule of thumb is the higher the alcohol content, the warmer the beer should be served at.

Beer that’s served too cold won’t release enough carbonation, limiting the aroma and flavors. Plus it will numb the drinker’s palate to the point where they won’t be able to taste it properly... unless that is what you’re going for with a particular brew!


Glassware

The size and shape of the beer glass has an impact on the beer’s head, which in turn has a strong influence on the flavor and aroma. Not to mention it helps with the presentation. Check out our beer glass guide for more details!

Now that we’ve hit some of the basics, check out the charts below to learn a bit more about some different types of beer!


Ales

Variety Characteristics Examples Serving Temp. Glassware
American Pale Ale Good balance of malt and hops. Much regional variation due to use of local ingredients. American versions hoppier, British more malty. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Dale’s Pale Ale, Stone Pale Ale 40-45 Pint glass, mug
India Pale Ale (IPA) More hops, big herbal or citrus flavor, high bitterness compared to pale ale. Often a slightly higher alcohol content than a pale ale. “English” style often has a lower alcohol content than an “American” style. American: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Lagunitas IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA; English: Goose Island India Pale Ale, Shipyard IPA, Samuel Smith’s India Ale 40-45 Pint glass Pint glass, mug
Double / Imperial IPA An IPA on “steroids”; more robust, malty, higher alcohol content, higher hop levels. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Stone Ruination IPA, Bell’s Hopslam Ale 50-55 Snifter glass Snifter, Tulip, Oversized wine glass
Barleywine Very strong, lively with an intensely fruity or hoppy note; can be thick with a very high alcohol content. English styles often more balanced between malt and hops. Can be cellared and aged like wine. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale, Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley Wine, Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) Griffin’s Bow 50-55 Pint glass Pint glass, Snifter
Porter Dark, complex due to heavily roasted or smoked malts. Flavors range from sweet to hoppy, often with notes of chocolate or even coffee depending on what else is added. Some porters may be barrel aged. Samuel Smith’s The Famous Taddy Porter, Fuller’s London Porter, Founders Porter 50-55 Beer Mug Pint glass, mug
Stout Sweet, carmel, or chocolate aromas. Dark roasted, unmalted barley. Many variations including oatmeal stouts, cream, dry. Smooth and creamy, often served on nitro. Guiness Extra Stout, Murphy’s Irish Stout, Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout, Rogue Ales Chocolate Stout 45-50 Beer Mug Pint glass, mug
Belgian Dubbel Rich, malty with a spicy or dark fruity note. Chimay Premiere, Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale, Flying Fish Abbey Dubbel 45-50 Goblet glass Goblet
Witbier Pale and cloudy due to being unfiltered and high level of wheat. Often spiced with a crisp tanginess and high carbonation level. Blue Moon Belgian White, Hoegaarden Original White Ale, Shock Top Belgian White 45-50 Pilsner Glass Pint glass, pilsner glass, mug
Hefeweizen Another wheat style whose yeast produces a distincive banana and clove flavor, with a spicy, fruity note. Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Troegs DreamWeaver Wheat, Paulaner Heve-Weissbier Naturtrub 45-50 Weizen Glass Weizen Glass
Kolsch Very pale color, light bodied, with medium to high hoppiness. Somewhat dry and grape-like flavors common as well. Samuel Adams East-West Kolsch, Goose Island Summertime, Harpoon Summer Beer 40-45 Stange glass Stange


Lagers

Variety Characteristics Examples Serving Temp. Glassware
American Adjunct Light bodied, pale, fizzy. Low bitterness and alcohol content. Made popular by large American breweries post-prohibition. Budweiser, Miller High Life, Coors, Rolling Rock Extra Pale, Molson Canadian 35-40 Pint glass, Pilsner glass
American Amber/Red Usually a bit more malt and flavor than the lighter styles. Yuengling Traditional Lager, George Killian’s Irish Red, Budweiser Black Crown 40-45 Pint glass, pilsner glass, mug
Light Lager Low malt flavor, light and dry body, often a lighter version of a brewery’s premium lager. Generally the least amount of flavor of any type of beer. Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light 40-45 Pilsner Glass Pilsner glass
Czech Pilsner Clear, light golden color. Hoppy, smooth, crisp. Pilsner Urquell, Samuel Adams Noble Pils, Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager 40-45 Flute glass Flute, pilsner glass
German Pilsner Light straw or golden color, hoppy, dense head, with a spicy, herbal, or floral flavor. Beck’s, Carlsberg, Victory Prima Pils 40-45 Pilsner Glass Flute, pilsner glass
Euro Pale Lager Hoppy, with moderate bitterness with a malty body and sweet. Stella Artois, Heinekin, Harp Lager, Grolsch 40-45 Pilsner Glass Pilsner glass
Marzen/Oktoberfest full-bodied, rich, with a toasted flavor, often dark copper in color. Samuel Adams Octoberest, Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Marzen, Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen 45-50 Pint glass Pint glass, mug
Vienna Lager Subtle hops, with a crispness and lasting sweet flavor. Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Negra Modelo, Dos Equis Amber Lager 40-45 Flute glass Flute, Pilsner glass, mug

Related resources:

Beer Clean

Beer Glass

How to Become a Certified Cicerone

Beer Dispenser Installation and Maintenance