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Basic Types of Beer

Basic Types of Beer
Basic Types of Beer

Beer drinking is in no way limited to the Homer Simpsons of this world, nor is it merely a modern pursuit. Brewing and drinking beer dates back to ancient times, evidenced by primitive Sumerian writings on rock tablets. During the Middle Ages in England, water was seldom regulated for purity and safety, and as such beer provided a viable alternative. In fact, beer was commonly drunk within all social classes, often with every meal. Beer has been brewed all over the world for centuries, and although the argument for the healthfulness of beer over water may not fly today, there are still plenty of beer and beer drinkers to be found.

Beers are typically categorized by their appearance, flavor, aroma, alcoholic content and mouthfeel.

Overflowing pitchers of beer under the tap

How Beer is Made

Entire books, even careers, are devoted to making beer. Beer has been around for centuries, with beer-making processes and techniques unique to different countries around the world. To speak generally, beer is made using a process of malting and brewing. The four major ingredients are malt, water, yeast and hops, each of which has an important role to play in how the beer tastes.

Basic Types of Beer

The basic types of beers include ales and lagers. These beers are similar in brewing methods and basic ingredients, but they require different types of yeast to ferment the beer. This list breaks down basic beers into each category.


Ales date back to ancient times, and are brewed all over the world, although they are known for being widely produced and consumed in England. Ales tend to be sweet, full-bodied beers. They can be anywhere from a pale gold to dark, rich brown in color, depending on the grains used in the brewing process. Ales use what is known as “top-fermenting” yeast, or yeast that rises to the surface of the beer during fermentation. This yeast ferments best at temperatures between approximately 55°F and 75°F. Most of these beers are served in pint glasses, unless otherwise specified due to their body or flavor.

Amber Ale.

Amber ales are similar to pale ales but slightly sweeter, from the excess malt. They are also darker in color; hence the name “amber” in place of “pale.” Fat Tire Amber Ale from New Belgium Brewing Inc, and Budweiser American Ale are popular varieties of amber ales.

Recommended Glassware: The traditional pub glass is ideal for serving an amber ale, which is a popular, easy sipping brew.


One of the most popular ales in England, bitter contains hops but more for a pleasant aroma than for bitterness. Bitter can have flavors reminiscent of fruits and caramel, depending on the yeast and grain type. Typically it is a light, drinkable beer, but it can be strong and heavy-bodied; then it is called an extra special bitter, or ESB. Bitters range from golden to dark red in color. A more common bitter is Foster’s Special Bitter from the Foster’s Group Limited Brewery.

Recommended Glassware: Just like the amber ale, the bitter is best served in a traditional pub glass

Pale Ale.

Pale ale is light-colored beer that is both malty and hoppy. Pale ales from England are often hoppier and even spicy, whereas American pale ales are a little lighter, sometimes with fruity aromas. A well-known example of a pale ale is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

Recommended Glassware: The pale ale is often served in a traditional pub glass, but can also be served in a brandy snifter, which has a wide bowl and narrow top. This shape is ideal for capturing the ale's aroma and presents a stronger bouquet.

India Pale Ale (IPA).

India Pale Ale, known to many as simple IPA, is an English ale that dates back to the 1800s, when British brewers produced beers with strong amounts of hops in order to help preserve the beer during long shipping times overseas. At the time, much of this beer was destined for India, hence the name. These beers are typically golden or amber in color, and are known for their bitter aroma and flavor. Shipyard Brewing Company’s IPA is a favorite for those who enjoy this hoppy flavor.

Recommended Glassware: The full variety of IPA's can be served in a choice of three glasses: beer glasses, snifter glasses and beer mugs. The choice simply lies in what the beer drinker prefers, a strong aroma or greater volume of beverage per order.

Irish Ale.

Ireland has a long tradition of brewing ales, which tend to be deep red in color with a malty or sweet flavor profile. These beers are not aggressively hopped. A popular Irish Ale is Killian’s Irish Red.

Recommended Glassware: An Irish ale is ideally served in a pub glass and beer mug. This is a drinkable beer due to the sweet, malty flavor.


Stouts are distinguished by the use of unmalted, dark-roasted barley, low amount of hops, and often sweet, carmel or chocolate aromas. There are several styles, including dry stouts, cream stouts and oatmeal stouts. The most famous dry stout is Guinness, and it is termed a “dry” stout because most of the sugars are eaten up during fermentation, leaving the stout with a crisp, minimally sweet flavor. Dry stouts are also slightly more hoppy, or bitter, than other stouts.

Recommended Glassware: Irish stouts are best served in either a pub glass or beer mug. These beers are considered very drinkable due to their smooth creaminess. Because of this, heftier glasses are appropriate.


A porter is a very dark ale, made from heavy roasted malt. Porters can taste sweet or very hoppy, since the amount of malt and hops is variable. Typically this type of ale is medium bodied with a crisp finish. There are many porters, and Black Jack Porter from Left Hand Brewing Company is one of the more well-known varieties.

Recommended Glassware: Enjoy a porter from a beer mug, also known as a stein. These glasses are easy to drink from and usually hold a generous amount of beer.

Wheat Beer.

Wheat beers are found under many different names, such as weissbier or hefeweizen, but always have wheat included in their grain profile. These beers are refreshing, pale in color, sometimes cloudy and unfiltered, and highly carbonated. Fruity flavors are common. A well-known wheat beer is the In-Heat Wheat, from Flying Dog Brewery.

Recommended Glassware: Wheat beer serves well pilsner glasses, where carbonation can be confined to the narrowness of the glass. The overall shape of these glasses guide bubbles and aromas straight to the top, lifting a full bouquet to the drinker's nose.

The right glassware can make all the difference in the taste and presentation for each type of beer. In the video below, you can learn about the different types of beer glasses as well as how to pull the perfect pour!


The lager is known for its crisp, clean taste. This is in large part due to the fermentation process, which involves “bottom-fermenting yeast,” or yeasts that tend to settle on the bottom of the fermenter. This is due to the fact that lager beers ferment at lower temperatures, from about 45°F to 59°F. As a result of these lower temperatures, the fermentation process takes much longer. In addition, lagers go through a low-temperature aging process known as “lagering.” This helps mellow the beer to create a smoother taste.

Pouring a glass of beer from the tap


A bock is a sweet, dark lager with roots in Germany as a seasonal, springtime beer. Bocks can range from malty in flavor, which is more traditional, to paler, more hoppy-flavored bocks, often known as Helles bocks. Shiner Bock from Spoetzl Brewery, or Michelob Amber Bock from Anheuser-Busch, Inc, are two more well-known bocks.

Recommended Glassware: Bocks are routinely served in beer glasses called a stange or kolsch glass. These glasses are tall cylinders that are narrow and allow the beer's aromas to rise to the opening of the glass. When stange and kolsch glasses aren't available, consider using a fluted glass or a pilsner glass for the same aromatic lifting effect. For bars working with high-volume pouts, bocks still taste great when served in a beer mug.


Dunkel beer is the original style of a German lager beer. Dunkels are dark amber in color, with moderate alcoholic strength and flavors often reminiscent of coffee, chocolate and licorice. St Pauli Girl Special Dark is considered a dunkel Lager.

Recommended Glassware: Dunkel lagers are best served out of fluted glasses, such as champagne glasses, pilsner glasses or footed beer glass with a tapered shape. The silhouette of these glasses assists in lifting the carbonation and aroma of a dunkel to the drinker's nose as the glass is tipped for a drink.


Also spelled Mäerzen, this type of beer is sometimes called Oktoberfest beer. Märzen has origins in Munich during the 1400s and 1500s, before refrigeration. At this time, most beers were brewed in March (Märzen) and then kept in naturally cold storage places like cellars and caves during the warmer months of the year until being served at Oktoberfest in September and October. Märzen beer, or Märzenbier, is full-bodied, rich and dark copper in color. Samuel Adams Octoberfest is a popular style of Märzen beer.

Recommended Glassware: Märzen beer is typically served in a beer mug, since these beers are often drunk in larger amounts during autumn celebrations. However, it is fine to serve this beer in a pub glass as well.

Pale Lager.

Pales lagers are a very popular style of beer worldwide. These beers are straw-colored and have a mild to medium hop character, although many preserve a malty taste in addition to being clean and crisp. These beers are usually highly carbonated but not high in alcohol content. This is the most common commercially-brewed beers. Pilsner lagers are a type of pale lager. The name originated in the town of Pilzen in what is now the Czech Republic. These beers are light in color, higher in hops than pale lagers and not typically high in alcohol. Michelob is an example of a pale lager, while the Sierra Nevada Summerfest Lager is an example of a Czech-style pilsner.

Recommended Glassware: Many pale lagers, including the pilsner, are ideally served in pilsner glasses. These are tall, slender, tapered glasses that are often shaped like trumpets. This type of glass helps confine the effervescence while still allowing a foamy head.

Offering a wide variety of beer in your bar or restaurant may draw a larger customer base, but it also depends on your concept. An Italian-style wine bar might only need one Italian beer on tap and still get the guests it needs, while an American sports bar would do well to have both big name drafts as well as intriguing microbrews on tap. Bartenders should have a solid knowledge of what beers taste like so they can help their customers find a new favorite.

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