Ahh, beer! Wonderful, glorious, refreshing beer. Is there anything it can’t do? From the mightiest kings to the lowliest of writers, who doesn’t enjoy a nice beer? The making of beer developed around 12,000 years ago, so if you want to toast the creator of beer, good luck. It’s difficult to attribute the discovery of beer to any one region or time. Beer likely came to be around the time the nomadic man began to settle down and stay in one region around a stable crop. As the hunters and gatherers became agrarian civilizations based around wheat, rice, corn, and barley, they likely stumbled upon fermentation and started brewing beer. Some anthropologists believe that early man’s desire to get loaded was so strong that it led to the Neolithic Revolution by inspiring new agricultural techniques. A mighty “Probst!” goes out to those early pioneers of brewing and their lust for foamy goodness. Since the early days, beer has taken on many tastes and styles, especially in recent times. Microbrewing has led to the renaissance of beer and opened the door to some wonderful creations. No longer are we forced to decide between Miller or Budweiser. If you haven’t wet your beak with some of the other flavors, we have a guide to the types of beer. Honor the past by drinking beer today in your finest patriotic gear!
How is it Categorized?
Even though there are thousands of varieties of beer, there are only two categories. Every beer is either a lager or an ale. That is based on what kind of yeast is used during fermentation. Lagers are made with yeast that ferments at the bottom of the barrel and ales are made with yeast that ferments at the top of the barrel. There is a third sub-class that uses wild, spontaneously fermenting yeast called sour, or wild, ales. After determining if you have an ale or a lager, there are more categories that are based on color, flavor, and aroma. Those characteristics determine what family the beer is part of. Within the family, there are further characteristics that break the beer down into more varieties. Much like classifying plants and animals, the classification of beer is all very scientific.
Pale Ales get their name from their light, cloudy color. Different brewing styles and hop levels have led to many different styles of pale ale over the years. Some have a much stronger flavor than others, but they all have a distinctive “hoppy” flavor. American amber ale, blonde ale, and English style bitter are all types of pale ale.
The Belgians have been brewing beer for centuries and are among the world’s best brewers. They have ancient breweries that have stood for hundreds of years. Their blonde style ales are notoriously easy to drink but have a high alcohol content. They tend to have distinctive low malt aroma but with a spicy and fruity character.
Sour beers are an acquired taste like black coffee or stout beers. Some have said that sours are an excuse for brewers to bottle a bad batch and sell it. Just call it sour. The wild yeast used to make sour beers make the fermentation process unpredictable. There is a wide array of flavors in every beer, some pleasant and some not as much.
Dark lagers often get stereotyped by those that make assumptions. They get lumped in with stouts and heavier beers based on their dark, amber hue. Dark lagers have a full-bodied flavor that is a combination of the hops and the barley. There is enough carbonation in dark lagers to tickle the back of the throat and remain refreshing on a hot day.
Brown ales are a close cousin to dark lagers. They have a similar flavor, but it’s muted when consumed side by side with a dark lager. The color of the browns is closer to an amber ale. The American brown ale has roasted malt, caramel, and chocolate-like characteristics that make it very popular.
India Pale Ales (IPA)
India pale ales were developed by the British so they could ship it to India without it spoiling on the journey. That’s why it has such a strong taste of hops. The hops acted as a preservative, and by the time the beer arrived in India, it tasted like a normal ale. Since 2000, IPAs have enjoyed a renaissance, but it’s still an acquired taste.
Wheat beers are popular all over the world, with Belgium, Germany, and the US all having their own styles. The German Weise beers are low in alcohol but refreshingly tart with hints of fruit on the back end. They are pale in color, somewhat cloudy, and have a brilliant orange to yellow color.
Strong ale gets its name because it is just that, strong. There is high alcohol content in these beers, and they aren’t meant for chugging. They are all above 5% abv and usually fall in between 7-11%. American barley wine ranges from deep red to copper garnet in color. They tend to be very hearty, thick beers which have a toffee aroma and a high residual malty sweetness.
Porters are very similar to strong ales in color and potency. However, porters tend to be very dark in color, full in body, and smooth to drink. The Baltic-style porter is a smooth cold fermented and cold laagered beer brewed with large yeast. It has the malt flavors of a brown porter and the roast of a Schwarzbier with much more alcohol and body.
Pilsners and Pale Lagers
Most Americans won’t need a guide to this type of beer. It is the most popular style in the world and what we see commercials for every day. Budweiser, Miller High Life, Coors, and Rolling Rock are but a fraction of the kinds of lager to be found. It’s known for drinkability, light golden color, and low alcohol content. There isn’t a strong flavor one way or the other with pilsners and lagers just a clean crisp, highly carbonated beer.