Beer Styles Guide


There are really only two main types of beer. Ales and lagers. The significant difference between these two types are the way they ferment. Ales are known as top fermenters and can ferment in just a few days. Ales ferment between 68 and 76 degrees. Ales tend to have heavier bodies, more alcohol, a darker hue and are cloudier than lagers.

Lagers are bottom fermenters. They take much longer to ferment, anywhere from one to three months, and ferment at a much colder temperature than ales. Lagern means "to store" in German. Lagers will have a cleaner taste and appearance. Lagers also are less hoppy, maltier and have a lighter body than ales. Lagers were invented by Bavarian Monks about 500 years ago when they found they could produce a clearer brew by storing it during the summer in wooden casks in cold subterranean caves.

From these two types come several variations, as you well know. Each variation will be described below:



Speciality Beers


Barley wine
A Barley Wine is a strong, top-fermenting ale, with an alcohol contents of at least 9% and up to 13% (or more) by volume. Hops may be hardly noticeable at all or very noticeable. Sip them out of the special glass, that will concentrate the aroma. They are excellent with cigars or with dessert.

Some barley wines to look at:
Old Knucklehead
Young's Old Nick
Ridley's Bishops Ale
Beer Line Barley Wine

Belgian Ale
Golden to deep amber in color. Has a light to medium body, hops flavor is nearly non-existent. Sometimes slightly acidic.

Some Belgian ales to look at:
Delirium Tremens

Biere de Garde
Medium bodied with hints of caramel or toffee. Cellared smell and flavor are characteristics. Color can vary from full gold to copper colored. Good head retention. The name means "beer for keeping" and is best when aged.

Some Biere de Gardes to look at:
Ch Ti Blonde
3 Monts
La Bavaisienne

Belgian Strong Ale
Belgian Strong Ales can vary from pale to dark brown in color, darker ales may be colored with dark candy sugar. Hop flavor can range from low to high, while hop aroma is low. The beers are medium to full-bodied and have a high alcoholic character.

Belgian White (Witbier)
Belgian Strong Ales can vary from pale to dark brown in color, darker ales may be colored with dark candy sugar. Hop flavor can range from low to high, while hop aroma is low. The beers are medium to full-bodied and have a high alcoholic character.

Some Belgian Witbiers to try:
Allagash White Beer
Hoegaarden White

Lambic and Belgian Sour Ale
One of the most complex produced styles in the world. Unblended lambics are an ancient beer style utilizing wild yeasts and other micro-organisms. Intensely sour and acetic. The beer is still aged in wooden barrels. Chemical reactions in the barrels can last up to 3 years. This style is highly aromatic with fruity smell. Drink with foods that have strong flavor such as pickled or smoked fish, ceviche and sharp cheeses.

Some Lambics to try:
Lindemans Framboise
Lindemans Peche

Fruity esters dominate the aroma. Clarity is good with a large foamy head on top. The addition of several spices and herbs create a complex fruity or citrusy flavor. Light to medium bodied with very high carbonation. Alcohol level is medium to high.

Some Saisons to look at:
Saison Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale
Saison Of Pipaix
Fantome Saison

Brown Ale
Color ranges from reddish-brown to dark brown. Lower in alcohol than porter, medium to full body flavor. Appropriate foods are apple pie, pork with brown sauce, beef vegetable soup.

Some brown ales to look at:
Newcastle Brown Ale
Samuel Smith's Strong Brown Ale
Saranac Nut Brown Ale
Brown Antler Ale
Ellies Brown Ale
Holy Grail Nut Brown Ale

Mild Ale
Slightly malty, no hop flavor or aroma. Medium to dark brown in color with very little head or carbonation. Mild refers to lack of any hop flavor or aroma.

Some mild ales to look at:
New Knoxville Mild Ale
Harveys XX Mild Ale
King and Barnes Mild Ale

English-style Pale Ale
The term 'pale' was originally intended to distinguish beers of this type from the black London Porter. Classic English Pale Ales are not pale but rather are golden to copper colored and display English variety hop character. Distinguishing characteristics are dryness and defined hop taste. Great to drink with all sorts of meats including roast beef, lamb, burgers, duck, goose, etc.

Some English-style pale ales to look at:
Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Pale Ale
Samuel Smith's Strong Pale Ale
Pyramid Pale Ale
Wellington Special Cream Pale Ale

Saranac Pale Ale
Dogwood Pale Ale

India Pale Ale (IPA)
India Pale Ale gets its name and unique style from British brewers who were making beer for export to India. This style has an intense hop flavor which was used to preserve the beer for the long voyage. India Pale Ale has a golden to copper color with a medium maltiness and body. The aroma is moderate to very strong.

Some India Pale Ales to look at:
King and Barnes IPA
Fuller's IPA
Sweetwater IPA
Redhook IPA
Harpoon IPA
Ridley's IPA bitter
Saranac IPA

American Pale Ale
American Pale Ales are light in color, ranging from golden to a light copper color. The style of this beer is defined by the American hops used. American hops typically have high bitterness and aroma.

Some American Pale Ales to look at:
Red Seal Ale
420 Extra Pale Ale

American Wheat
Golden to light amber in color, the body is light to medium and their is a fruity aroma, almost banana like. Bitterness is higher and carbonation is lower than German wheat beers. Some brewers add additional fruit taste like cherry or raspberry.

Some American Wheat beers to look at:
Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat
Sierra Nevada Wheat
Red Brick American Wheat
Pete's Honey Wheat
Shiner Honey Wheat

Wheat Beer/Weizen/Weiss
Depending on the style can range from pale and light body to dark brown with full body. Wheat beer is characterized by it's cloudy appearance and it's banana and sometimes vanilla aftertaste.

Some Wheat beers to look at:
Paulaner Hefeweizen
Redhook Hefe-Weizen
Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen
Stone City Hefeweizen
Pyramid Hefeweizen

English Bitter
A gold to copper color, low carbonation and medium to high bitterness. Hop flavor and aroma may be non-existent to mild. Great to drink with steak and lobster.

Some English Bitter beers to look at:
Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Bitter
Young's Bitter
Fuller's ESB
Boddingtons Bitter
Theakston Best Bitter
Kingfisher Best Bitter

English Strong Ale
Malty, with complex fruity esters. Some oxidative notes are acceptable, akin to those found in port or sherry. Hop aromas not usually present, due to extended age. Medium amber to very dark red-amber color. Malty and usually sweet. Alcoholic strength should be evident, though not overwhelming. Medium to full body; alcohol should contribute some warmth. An ale of significant alcoholic strength, though usually not as strong or rich as barleywine. Usually tilted toward a sweeter, more malty balance. Often regarded as winter warmers, and often released as seasonal beers.

Some English Strong Ales to look at:
Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale
Iron Duke Strong Ale
Marstons Burton Strong Ale

Scottish Ale
Scottish ales are very malty, full-bodied, lightly hopped brews. Some are not fully fermented leaving behind residual sugars and malty.

Some Scottish Ales to look at:
McEwan's Scottish Ale
Road Dog Scottish Ale
Beam Me Up Scottish Ale

Black or chocolate malt gives the porter it's dark brown color. Porters are well hopped and heavily malted. This is a medium-bodied beer. Porters can be sweet. Hoppiness can range from bitter to mild. Porters are often confused with stouts.

Some Porters to look at:
Alaskan Smoked Porter
Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter
Sierra Nevada Porter
Samuel Adams Honey Porter
Stone Smoked Porter
Black Jack Porter
Prohibition Porter
Coal Creek Porter

Robust/Sharp Porter
Dark brown to black in color. A coffee or chocolate flavor should be apparent. May have a sharp character due to dark roasted grains. Medium to low hop aroma and hop flavor may vary. Moderate to good head retention.

Some Robust/Sharp to look at:
Sierra Nevada Porter
Anchor Brewing Porter
Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

Brown/Sweet Porter
Similar in color and appearance to the Robust/Sharp Porter. The main differences are a milder roastiness, and less bitterness which puts more emphasis on the malt characteristics.

Some Robust/Sharp to look at:
Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter
Shepherd Neame Original Porter
Fullers London Porter
D. Carnegie Co. Porter

Classic Dry Stout
Black opaque. Medium body. Medium to high hop bitterness. Stouts get their flavor from unroasted barley, as opposed to the roasted barley used in porters. What makes a stout a dry stout is the heavy hopping. The stout king, Guinness, has had a heavy influence on this style.

Some Dry Stouts to look at:
Beamish Irish Stout
Guinness Draught (can)
Guinness Original (bottle)
Murphys Irish Stout
Buck Mulligans Dublin Stout

Sweet Stout/Cream Stout
Similar in color to the dry stout, but the hop flavor is much lower and the sweetness is greater. Some also have a coffee flavor.

Some Sweet Stout/Cream Stouts to look at:
Samuel Adams Cream Stout
Alaskan Stout
Rogue Shakespeare Stout
Pyramid Espresso Stout
St. Stan's Dark

Imperial Stout
Imperial stouts are usually extremely dark brown to black in color. It has an extreme malty, roasted flavor and the bitterness is medium. Imperial stouts have alcohol levels that typically exceed 8%.

Some Imperial Stouts to look at:
Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout
Iron Duke Imperial Stout
Victory Storm King Imperial Stout
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Bert Grant's Imperial Stout

Dusseldorf-style Altbier
Well hopped and malty with copper to dark-brown color. Alt is the German word for "old" or "old style". It is more or less the German equivalent to an English ale. Traditionally fermented warm but aged at cold temperatures.

Some Alt beers to look at:
DeGroens Altfest
Victory Altbier
Schmaltz's Alt

A lighter colored version of alt bier. It has a delicate flavor and feels dry on the palate. Medium bitterness and a light to medium body.

Some Kolsch beers to look at:
Capitol Kolsch
Saranac Kolsch
Goose Island Summertime Kolsch Bier
Tire Biter Ale


Traditional German Bock
Deep copper to dark brown in color. Medium to full-bodied flavor. Hop flavor and aroma can be light to non-existent.

Some Tradional German Bocks to look at:
Hacker-Pschorr Bock
Leinenkugels Bock
Schell Bock
Stein Bock

Doppel means double and while these are stronger brews than the traditional German bocks, they are typically not twice the strength. Color is light amber to dark brown. Very full body with a high alcoholic flavor. Low hop flavor and aroma.

Some Doppelbocks to look at:
DeGroens Doppelbock
Kesslers Doppelbock
Samuel Adams Double Bock
Schell Doppel Bock
Celebrator Doppelbock
Andechs Doppelbock

A stronger version of Doppelbock. Deep copper to black. Very alcoholic. Typically brewed by freezing a doppelbock and removing resulting ice to increase alcohol content.

Munich Dunkel
Copper to dark brown. Medium body. Nutty, toasted, chocolatelike malty sweetness in aroma and flavor. Medium bitterness. Low "noble-type" hop flavor and aroma. No fruitiness or esters.

Dark brown to black. Medium body. Roasted malt evident. Low sweetness in aroma and flavor. Low to medium bitterness. Low bitterness from roast malt. Hop flavor and aroma, "noble-type" OK. No fruitiness, esters.

Classic German Pilsener
Light straw, golden in color. Beer is highly hopped both in flavor and aroma. This style has a thick head with good retention.

Some Classic German Pilseners to look at:
Adler Brau Pilsener
Warsteiner Premium Verum
Stiegel Pils
DeGroens Pils
Bavaria Pilsen
Bitburger Premium Pils
Klisch Pilsner

Classic American Pilsener
Light to golden in color. Large, persistent head and lacing. Medium to high hop flavor and aroma. No fruitiness, esters. Relatively high amount of maize used lightens color and increases perceived sweetness.

Bohemian Pilsener
Similar to German Pilseners, however, Bohemian Pilseners can be more full-bodied and darker in color.

Pilsner Urquell Pale Lager
Laughing Skull Bohemian Pilsener
Golden Bear Bohemian Lager

American Lagers

Very pale in color, light body, no hop flavor or aroma. No fruitiness or esters. Lowered calories.

Some Lite beers to look at:
Miller Lite
Milwaukee's Best Light
Bud Light
Natural Light
Coors Light
Genny Light

American Standard
Very pale in color, light body, low hop flavor and aroma. No fruitiness or esters.

Some American Standard beers to look at:
Miller High Life
Milwaukee's Best
Old Milwaukee

American Dry
Similar to American Standard but lacks any aftertaste or bitterness.

Some American Dry beers to look at:
Asahi Super Dry
Michelob Dry

American Cream Ale/Lager
A mild, pale, light-bodied ale, made using a warm fermentation (top or bottom) and cold lagering or by blending top and bottom-fermented beers. Low to medium bitterness. Low hop flavor and aroma.

Some American Cream Ale/Lager beers to look at:
Genesee Cream Ale
Molson Cream Ale

American Dark
Similar to American Standard, but darker in color.

Some American Dark beers to look at:
Michelob Dark

Given this name because the style was developed around Vienna, Austria. They have an amber to copper color. A light to medium body, with a malty aroma. Beers produced and labeled as Marzen or Oktoberfest are likely to be of the Vienna Lager style.

Some Vienna beers to look at:
Michael Shea's Irish Amber
Brooklyn Lager
Negra Modelo

Amber to deep copper/orange. Malty sweetness, toasted malt aroma and flavor dominant. Medium body. Low to medium bitterness. Low hop flavor and aroma.

Some Oktoberfest beers to look at:
Oktoberfest Ale
Kaltenberg Oktoberfest
Sprecher Oktoberfest
Bayern Oktoberfest
Pete's Oktoberfest
Reccow Fest Marzen
DeGroens Marzen

Fruit Beer
Any ale or lager made with fruit. See beer description for flavor. Body, color, hop character and strength vary depending on the type of fruit used.

Some fruit beers to look at:
Organic Raspberry Wheat Beer
Petes Winter Brew
Celis Raspberry
Bluebeery Ale
Lakefront Cherry Lager

Any ale or lager made with herbs, spices or vegetables. The additive should be distinctive in the aroma. See beer description for flavor. Body, color, hop character and strength vary depending on the type of spice, herb or vegetable used.

Some Spice/Herb/Vegetable beers to look at:
Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Cave Creek Chili Beer
Harpoon Winter Warmer

Smoked Beer
Any beer that is based on a classic-style beer to which smoked characteristics have been added. Brewer to specify style.

Some smoked beers to look at:
Alaskan Smoked Porter
Stone Smoked Porter
Rogue Smoke
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier

California Common Beer
The main characteristic of a California Common Beer is that it uses lager yeast that is fermented warm, but aged cold. The color is typically gold to amber. Hop flavor and aroma are medium to high. Some California Common beers to look at:
Anchor Steam Beer
California Common Beer (Steam)

Ciders are produced by the fermentation of apple juices and optional ingredients such as fruits and spices. Wine, Champagne, ale, lager or wild yeasts may be used.

Some Cider beers to look at:
Cider Jack Hard Cider
Mystique Cider
Halmstad Cider Apple
Halmstad Cider Currant & Cranberry
Dry Blackthorn Fermented Cider