Having attended a big 10 college in midwest America, it is safe to say that beer was my first foray into the alcohol world. Of course back then my selection was based much more on price than quality (anyone remember Natty Ice? Blech!). Since then I have been lucky enough to visit many craft breweries in Australia, Singapore and Ireland, as well as all over the US. Even so, I do not claim to be a beer snob. Given the choice, 8 times out of 10 I will grab a Coors Light over one of those heavy craft beers - although they certainly have their place! With so many different styles and types, how do you know which one to pick? What goes with what kinds of food? All very good questions.
To start off with, everyone has their own tastes and, naturally, will prefer different types of beer. There are two main classifications for beer - ales or lagers. The main difference between the two lies in where the yeast settles during the fermenting process. Ales are known for their top-fermenting yeast and lagers for their bottom-fermenting yeast.
Popular Types of Ales
First formulated by London brewers, this brew is aptly named for its dark brown and caramel tones. There are two main variations, British Browns and American Browns. While both are malty and nutty in flavor, American Browns tend to have a higher alcohol content and are hoppier.
Pale Ales came to light with the development of coke (fuel derived from coal) as a way to roast malt. When burning coke, one was able to avoid the smoke that peat or wood burning produced resulting in a lighter color. Pale Ales have a robust, crisp flavor and sit on the spectrum between a lager and a stout.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
IPA is a type of pale ale originally developed in England for export to their troops in India. It's name was first coined in an advertisement in an Australian newspaper in 1829. It is a light-colored hoppy style beer that tends to have a higher alcohol content.
Porter / Stout
Any beer enthusiast would likely be upset with me clumping these styles together, as they are two distinct types of beer. Saying that, they are almost interchangeable in today's world of craft beers. The main difference between the two is that porters use malted barley and stouts use unmalted roasted barley. Guinness is the poster child for stout and is what most people think of when they consider this style of beer.
Started in Germany, wheat beers consist of 30-70% wheat malt, which is a much higher proportion when compared to other beers. They usually appear cloudy as the wheat and ale proteins needed for fermentation are not filtered out of the final product. A popular wheat beer in the US is Blue Moon, which is typically served with an orange slice.
Popular Types of Lagers
Pale Lagers & Pilsners
Lighter in flavor and typically lower in alcohol content, pale lager and pilsners are the most popular style of beer in the world. These golden-colored beers are your typical Budweisers, Coors, Millers, Heinkeins, etc.
Dark lagers are easily discarded by many beer drinkers, thinking their taste is similar to a stout or porter. This couldn't be further from the truth - remember, these are lagers. In comparison, this style is clean and light-bodied, with roasty dark notes.