Do you know how many distinct styles of beer there are around the world? Over 100. There are over 70 ales, 25 lagers, and several hybridized styles to try. That is a lot of beer. But what is a beer style, anyway? And where does your favorite type of beer fit into these styles?
We’re going to fill you in, so keep reading.
What are Styles of Beer?
As you may be aware, all beers are either ales or lagers (or both). That distinction is determined by the kind of yeast used with fermentation. Ales are born when yeast ferments at the top of the brew, while lagers are made when yeast ferments from the bottom. Wild and sour ales, however, are made from spontaneously fermenting yeasts.
This is the reason why Porters and Stouts are considered ales instead of a dark lager, for instance.
If that sounds confusing, get this: beers are further divided up by color, aroma, and flavor. These factors determine which style a beer may be. And within every single style family, there are variants.
Since a beer style is often grouped by flavor, it makes sense that mass produced beers like Miller, Budweiser, and Coors all taste the same—light, watery, and crisp. They are all made with similar ingredients and use the same brewing method. As such, they are known as light or pale lagers.
The Many Styles of Beer
With so many beers out there, figuring out which beer is which style can be a real challenge. We have put together a list of common beer styles to help you comprehend that beer is so much more than lagers and ales.
Take a look at popular styles of beer:
- Amber / Red / Dark Ale
- Pale Ale
- India Pale Ale
- Belgian IPA / White India Pale Ale
- Double IPA / Imperial IPA
- Strong Ale
- Sour/Wild Ale
- Amber / Dark Lager
- Berliner Weisse
- Golden Lager / Pale Lager
- Belgian Styles
- Brown Ale
- Wheat Beer
Amber / Red / Dark Ale
Red, amber, and dark ales are all offshoots of the American version of England’s pale ale. The reason the beer is called an “amber” ale is due to the reddish hue, which is from the caramel and special malts used.
Although the beer is often called an American amber ale, there are also English, Irish, and Belgian red ales. The flavor of any amber or dark ale is complex, malty, and bald. This style of beer pairs well with cheeses and meats.
You can sometimes consider a pale ale an offshoot of an amber or red ale. Generally, pale ales contain a significant amount of hops, but they have less alcohol than an IPA.
Different beers types that are commonly called pale ales include American pale ale, blond ale (known as summer ale in the UK), English bitter, and English pale ale.
India Pale Ale
So, what’s the difference between an IPA and a pale ale? The hops. IPAs are known for their bitterness and high ABV. IPAs are either clear amber or golden in color and maintain a full head when poured. Most IPAs also have a fair amount of carbonation.
Belgian IPA / White India Pale Ale
Although Belgian is in the name, these IPAs were made in America. They are made with Belgian beers in mind and have a deep gold color that is one the hazy side. Within Belgian or White IPAs, there is a bready aroma that is followed by hints of apricot, citrus, banana, and spices, including pepper or clove. Usually, that is to hide the bitterness of hops.
Some refer to Belgian IPAs as the cross between a Belgian Wit and an American IPA.
Double IPA / Imperial IPA
Many people think that Double IPAs (IIPA) and Imperial IPAs are different, but they are one in the same. The usage of “Imperial” designates a beer as having a bold, hoppy flavor with a dash of sweetness, due to the double or triple amount of malt and hops used when brewing. Because of that, these beers generally have 7-14% ABV.
Some beers are classified by their color and aroma, but strong ales are a style dependent on the amount of alcohol by volume, which can be anywhere from 8-15%. A strong ale may be gold, amber, copper, or chocolaty in color and can also come from North America, England, or Belgium. The flavors are spicy or fruity, due to a high amount of yeast, and the malt often stands out.
Sour / Wild Ale
This one is a more complicated style, and we could talk at length about it. For brevity, know this: not all sour ales are wild ales and vice versa. When bacteria is added to the brewing process, you get a sour ale. Add Brettanomyces (British fungus) yeast will produce wild ale. If you make it acidic with bacteria and add the Brettanomyces, you get a sour and wild ale.
Flavors are an array, depending on the recipe used. Classifying sour or wild ales often comes down to the mouthfeel, which is light and crisp.
These German-style beers are characterized by a due reddish-brown color, white head, and chocolaty aromas and flavors. The texture is smooth, and the beer goes down easy. You will sometimes hear darker lagers called dunkels, which is German for dark.
Hailing from Berlin, Germany, this wheat beer is known for its sour notes despite a lack of hops. A Berliner Weisse is crafted with about 25% pale malted wheat, producing a dark yellow color. The citrus tang is what separates a Berliner Weisse from other German beers.
Nutty and sweet, thanks to the malt, a bock is a German beer. Bocks generally have a lower amount of alcohol by volume (6.3-7.5%), but weizenbocks, maibocks, and doppelbocks have elevated amounts.
The traditional bock is sweet, toasted, and malty; and it has a rich copper color. The Samuel Adams Winter Lager is a great example. A doppelbock has slightly more ABV (6.6-7.9%) than a traditional. Its flavor is stronger, and the body is full.
Then there is the weizenbock, which is golden in color from the wheat. Rather than having the toasted notes, it is more fruity. A maibock looks similar, but the flavor is rather hoppy.
Golden Lager/Pale Lager
Clear golden beers with decent head retention—that’s a pale or golden lager. With the use of hops, these beers have an herbal bite amid malty sweetness. Pale and golden lagers are a bit watery and have high carbonation. Common examples include Heineken, Stella Artois, and Budweiser.
Although a pilsner is technically a pale lager, these refreshing beers have become a style all of their own. This style includes German Helles, German Pilsner, and a Bohemian or Czech Pilsner.
Czech pilsners are all-malt and use Saaz hops. A German pils was adapted from Bohemian pilsners, but the recipe was adjusted to suit German water and hops, such as Hallertauer or Tettanger hops.
There are also American pilsners, which are separated from pale lagers by their use of specialized hosp and grains.
The lovely porter is one of the darkest of all beers. The richness of the color also lends itself to the flavors, which are an array of coffee, caramel, and chocolate. Porters tend to find balance between the chocolaty brown ale and punch of coffee in stouts.
An American imperial porter (7.0-12% ABV) has more sweetness than other porters, as well as less of a burned malt flavor. English brown porters have less alcohol (4.5-6.0% ABV) and malt.
Similar to a porter in color, the dark stout has the strongest roasted taste of all beers. Stouts also have a relatively high level of alcohol. One variant is the American stout, which includes some malt, coffee, and notes of chocolate. Since there is no bitterness from hops, it tends to go down smooth. An American imperial stout is stronger in both flavor and ABV than a regular stout. The color is almost black.
Perhaps one of the most famous stouts is the Irish dry stout, also known as Guinness Draught. The defining ingredient is the roasted barley.
But there are other forms of stout, such as the milk stout, which contains lactose from dairy to add a bit of sweetness. Oatmeal stouts use oatmeal in the malt, giving it a smooth flavor and lower ABV than other stouts.
Belgian beers are often grouped together as a style. You could do the same for German, American, and English beers, too. Within this category, we have Belgian pale ales, Belgian dubbels, Belgian trippels, Belgian strong dark ales, Belgian quadrupels, and the farmhouse ale known as a Saison.
There are both American and English brown ales. Unlike red or dark ales, a brown ale is more malty and has hints of caramel. There is a bite from hops, too. The American brown ale is stronger than its English cousin, but both have a full body and deep caramel color.
Primarily brewed in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, this beer is aptly named for its use of wheat instead of malted barley. Recipes may call for 30-70% wheat malt, which gives the beer a pale color and unique tang. Wheat beer is bubbly, aromatic, and just a bit cloudy when poured.
Now, as we mentioned in the beginning, there are over 100 styles of beer. We listed a mere 17. Consider these styles a snapshot of all the different types of beer you can sample and savor! You should be able to talk about beer styles with your friends now; soon, you will also be able to recognize which glasses or food pairings match different styles of beer. Your beer-drinking experience will rise to new heights!