The term "beer," like "wine," "whiskey," and many other things, is a very broad, general label that encompasses a wide variety of different types of this brewed beverage.
The real beer novice may be content with categorizing beer in two fundamental categories: light beer and dark beer. But for those who care to know a bit more about the types of beer that are now available – the specific makeup of the beer, the beer's flavor and taste characteristics, and the color of the brew – a quick study of different beer types can get them up to speed a bit quicker. The next time they go to the store, or view a beverage menu at the sports bar, they may have a better understanding of what they're looking at and what they may like to try.
Just to get started, it's good to know what beer is made of. Essentially, in its most basic form, beer is water, hops, malt and yeast.
Different types and varieties of beer will have varying levels of these ingredients in their formulas, which is how they are classified as a certain type of beer.
There are essentially two main categories of beer – lager and ale.
Probably the most common type of beer worldwide, lagers are bottom-fermented, the yeast culture fermenting at the bottom of the vessel. They are cold-stored for a period of time, enabling them to acquire mellowness and increased carbon dioxide. Most are light in color, high in carbonation, with a mild hop flavor. Lagers are in general lighter than ales, crisper and cleaner in taste. They are most flavorful if served very cold. Styles of lagers include the following:
Bock – This has a more robust malt character than the typical lager, and is stronger. Its medium malt heavy body is brown to dark black, with little hop character. It has a rich and malty flavor, with just a slight hint of bitterness.
Pale lager – Light in color and body, it has a more hoppy composition and is well carbonated.
Dark lager – It is darker than pale lagers, but by no means very heavy, despite the darker color. It is lighter-hopped than pale lagers.
Tending to be sweet and more full in body than lagers, they are generally more aromatic and maltier than lagers. Some varieties include the following:
Porter – It is very dark, consisting of malts or barley, roasted to enhance body. Typically brewed with yeast slowly fermented, it has a mild flavor, with hints of roasted grains, toffee and chocolate.
Stout – Roasted, dark and heavy, it is made with black unmalted barley. Its flavor is of a heavily roasted brew, with suggestions of licorice, coffee, chocolate and molasses, with no detectable hops flavor.
Pale ale – This is a newer brew that has gained a great deal of popularity recently. Made with the use of pale malt, it interestingly enough is different on different continents. In the U.K., it has a strong woody, malty flavor. In the U.S., hops are increased during brewing, making it a spicy beer.