There are many types of beers, and it is impossible to know about all of them. From golden crisp lagers that are the perfect thirst quenchers to dark ales that pair like a dream with holiday food, there is something for everyone and every mood.
Beers are mainly classified as lagers and ales. These are further divided into subcategories such as pale ales, wheat beers, brown ales, dark lager and pale lager. Depending upon its ingredients, fermentation process, brewing and storage, every type of this refreshing beverage gets its distinct taste and aroma. But how can one tell the difference between the many types of beers?
Here’s a breakdown of various types of beer styles and types
The name of the widely consumed beer comes from the German word lagern, which means ‘to store’. In the medieval period, beer barrels were stored in caves to maintain the temperature during fermentation — as the yeast requires a cooler temperature — and this process was known as lagering.
Lagers undergo a process of bottom fermentation, wherein the yeast settles at the base of the barrel and does its magic. The bottom-fermenting yeast, called Saccharomyces pastorianus, works at cooler temperatures between 7 to 13 degrees Celsius. Compared to ales, the yeast used in lagers has a lower alcohol tolerance, and the fermenting process is longer.
Because of the cooler temperature, the yeast does not produce a lot of by-products, meaning there are fewer styles of lager as compared to ales. When it comes to taste, lagers are crisp and smooth.
Pale lager is one of the top-fermented beers in the world. They are relatively crisp, have a subtle flavour profile because of which they can be enjoyed with almost every type of food, and range from a pale yellow to golden. The world-renowned Heineken has one of the most famous pale lagers.
Pilsner was first made in the Czech Republic in the 19th century. They are more flavourful and are known for their hoppy and crispy profiles. Pilsners produced in Germany have a pale-gold colour, whereas those made in the Czech Republic are darker and more bitter.
Amber and red lager
Barley, when toasted until it attains a brownish colour, is known as malted barley. Once added to lager, this concoction results in an amber or red lager beer. It is light and crisp like other pale lagers. However, the roasted malt can add a toasty flavour along with caramel or toffee tastes, that are usually found in dark beers.
Dark lagers have the best qualities of both light and dark beers. They have varied flavour profiles of dark beers and are as light-bodied as their pale counterparts. Chocolate, coffee and molasses are some flavours you get in dark lagers.
The sweetness of this malt lager is blended with a hint of bitterness. Helles beer is often golden and has floral notes. On the lager taste spectrum, Helles falls closer to the pale beers, and they pair best with salads or light meals as these are fuller-bodied. Their alcohol by volume (ABV) lies between 4.8 percent to 5.6 percent.
Ales are made using top-fermenting yeasts, meaning that the yeast accumulates at the top when the beer is being made.
Fermented at warmer temperatures, the process is also quicker when compared to lagers. The yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, used to produce ales has a higher tolerance to alcohol compared to that used in making lagers.
The brewing process of ale is comparatively easier, as it takes less time and can be done at room temperature. These are some reasons that give ales a larger flavour spectrum when compared to lagers.
The look and taste of this American beer are not far from a pale lager. They are crisp and refreshing, which makes them the perfect companion for almost every food item.
American amber ale, American pale ale, English pale ale and blonde ale are some examples of pale ales. Most of these medium-bodied beers have a low alcohol content and can have hints of spices or citrus flavours that make them perfect for pairing with foods such as hamburgers.
Amber and red ale
At the Great American Beer Festival, the European red ales are listed with the American Amber Ales because red and amber ales have the same hoppy, fully flavoured, buttery tastes. These beers are also made using roasted malts, which give it sweetened, butterscotch- or caramel-like flavours.
India Pale Ales (IPA)
These extra-strong beers were first made in 19th-century England for people travelling via the ocean to India. Bitter to taste, they are known for their characteristic herbal, fruity and citrus-y flavours. IPAs go well with spicy Indian food.
Brown Ales leave a nutty or a sweet aftertaste. The dark brown sud is a great holiday season drink, which pairs well with desserts and smoked meat.
As the name suggests, these beers have wheat as an extra ingredient. It is this ingredient that gives the beverage its distinctive foam, a smoother texture, and a sweetness that is not found in any other beer.
Belgium is one of the prominent countries that excel at beer brewing, and the world has only started appreciating its ales. High alcohol content and low bitterness teamed with an array of flavours, including fruity, spicy and sweet, are what sets apart Belgian-style ales. Sour ales, flavourful fruit beers and some pale ales also fall under this category.
Stouts and porters
These are usually categorised as ales because of the method used to make them, but they are often listed as a different variant of beer. The intensely dark beers owe their texture, colour and tastes to ingredients such as chocolate, coffee beans and other dark roasted malts. Porters, however, have a more chocolatey side unlike stouts, which have a large coffee profile when it comes to taste.
The exact flavour of a stout beer depends upon its place of origin. Those produced in Ireland and England have a hint of bitterness and are recognised around the world for their taste. They get their sweetness from unfermented sugars in them. In fact, the Beer Judge Certification Program explains a stout beer as “sweet, full-bodied, slightly roasty ale that can suggest coffee-and-cream, or sweetened espresso.”
The stout beer that comes from the USA is stronger and is more bitter to taste. This is because of the use of roasted ingredients with high malt flavours that have creamy notes of coffee or dark chocolate.
Another type of beer that is generally not classified under the category of ale or lager because of its fermentation process. Along with yeast, bacteria are added during the brewing process.
Bacteria Lactobacillus and Pediococcus give the beer its sour and tart tastes. Sometimes fruits rich in citric acids, such as cherries and raspberries, are also added during the fermentation process to enhance the flavours.
The sour beers have lately started gaining limelight all over the world, but they were first made in Belgium. These beers can have an ABV ranging from 3 percent to 5 percent. However, some beers come with a lower ABV of 2 percent while in others, the alcohol content can go up to 8-9 percent.
Different styles of beer
Most beer styles can be divided into three categories of colour, bitterness and gravity.
As mentioned above, beers can come in colours of light golden, dark brown, red and much more. Depending on the tone of the beverage, a true beer connoisseur can differentiate between a medium-bodied beer and a full-bodied or a light beer.
While the colour of the beer depends upon the ingredients used during fermentation and brewing, it also indicates the flavour of the beverage, which includes toasty, fruity, sour and citrus undertones.
A beer’s bitterness is measured by International Bitterness Units (IBUs). The hop bitterness in every beer results from the alpha acids extracted from the key ingredients during the boiling process, and how these ingredients work together to suppress it. An IPA can have IBUs in the 100s, whereas a light lager’s IBU does not go over 10.
The gravity of the beer tells the density of the drink, which can be dense or watery. It is determined by the amount of soluble sugars dissolved in the beer.
What is ABV?
ABV, or alcohol by volume, refers to the percentage of alcohol in a drink and can affect its flavour. A higher ABV for instance, results in a more bitter taste. Beer typically has an ABV of between 4% to 6%.
What is IBU?
IBU, or International Bitterness Units, quantifies the bitterness of a beer. The scale starts at zero and can theoretically go up to infinity, but most beers have IBUs of between 5 to 120. Anything beyond the latter cannot really be detected by most palates.
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