When it comes to beer, my preferences are pretty simple:
- Is it cold? Check.
- Is it fizzy? Check.
- Is it beer? Check and check!
I like a good, crisp IPA - that hoppy flavor can't be beat! For those days where I just want to sit back and relax, I'll grab a stout. But the extent of my knowledge of beers starts and stops at my own tastebuds and how I feel when I'm drinking.
So it got me wondering if I wasn't missing something...
Ale, Lager, Stout: What's It All About?
Beer is categorized by a whole bunch of different things: color, flavor, strength, ingredients, production method, recipe, history, or origin. It's actually quite a complex undertaking because there are so many factors. But we're not here to learn how to categorize beer, we're here to learn how to choose what to drink. Onward!
The important thing to remember here is that we differentiate beer in two ways: style and type.
Stout, ale, pilsner, lager - those are all beer types. When it comes down to it, these are defined based on the type of yeast and fermentation method used.
The Lager is the most popular type of beer. They often have a lighter taste and higher levels of carbonation, which makes them easy to drink and appealing to the masses. They're brewed and aged at near freezing temperature and usually have lower levels of alcohol. This makes it a great entry point for new beer drinkers or the beer of choice for times where you'll be drinking copious amounts.
Oh and Pilsners are also Lagers. Go figure.
- Coors Light
Brewed at warmer temperatures, Ales tend to be a little more robust in flavor than Lagers and darker in color, too. The interesting thing about Ales is that they come in so many varieties. They usually have a more complex flavor that's hoppy, fruity and sometimes nutty. Many microbreweries like an ale's ability to be transformed and played with, so if you're the adventurous type, this is where you want to be!
- Alexander Keith's IPA
- Kilkenny Cream Ale
Stouts are a dark and creamy beers that are slightly sweet and reminiscent of a coffee roast. They usually create a thick and creamy head (ahem, not that kind of head). Although a lot of people shy away from stouts because they think they're very robust and difficult beers to drink, it's actually the opposite. Thanks to its coffee notes and sweetness, it's probably one of the easiest beers to drink. See? First impressions are misleading!
Like a Stout, but not exactly. Porters are dark, but with a fruity and malty flavor. They're technically a kind of Ale, and don't have the sweetness that Stouts are known for. They're usually slightly more robust than an average Stout or Ale, so try one of these if you're looking for something that'll put some hair on your chest!
- There are none. For real.
By far, the least favorite child of the Beer family, the Malt has a very interesting flavor profile of nuts, toffee or caramel. They can even range from light- to full-bodied. It's generally sweet and has low levels of alcohol. Oh and those fruity beverages like Smirnoff Ice or Mike's Hard Lemonade? Those are malt beers - I'm not even joking.
- Smirnoff Ice
- Mike's Hard Lemonade
We're not done yet! What about sour beer, wheat beer, IPAs, blondes, brunettes, redheads - wait, that's for another blog post. Point is, there's more to beer than just its type.
Beer styles are usually determined based on the recipes and ingredients in the brew and normally self-explanatory. Honey, cream, amber, pale, sour - they all describe the color and taste of the beer.
This is usually where microbreweries have a lot of fun and explore new flavors.
That's about the simplest guide you'll ever find about different types of beer. If you're not sure where you stand after all this, here's my advice: start drinking!