There are many styles of beer out there and it is important to remember that not every beer fits neatly into a category. These are just general guidelines to help give a sense of the wonderful varied world of beer.
*Information courtesy of http://www.alabev.com
Abbey Style: Fruity strong Ale made by secular brewers in Belgium, but modeled on the product of the Trappist abbeys.
Ale: The complex fruity accent comes from relatively quick, warm fermentation, with a variety of yeast that rises to the top of the fermentation vessel. This procedure, known as top-fermentation, defines an ale. Color and strength vary and there are many types. Mostly associated with Britain, Ireland and Scotland there are many varieties. Old Ale, India Pale Ale, Mild Ale, Bitter Ale, Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Barley Wine, Scotch Ale and Belgian Ale. Even some German specialty beers such as Alt beer from Dusseldorf and Kolsch of Cologne may be considered ales.
Altbier: German word for “old”. Altbier usually means a copper-colored, clean-tasting German Ale of the style especially associated with the German city of Dusseldorf. A smooth all malt beer with a well rounded hop character. For sociable drinking, or with appetizers of strong cheese of coarse sausage. The German glass used is similar to that used for a highball. Ideal serving temperature is just under 50F (10C).
American Ales: Enjoying a resurgence of popularity, especially in the west, these ales are generally firm and crisp with a floral hop character. See Cream Ale.
Barley Wine: English term for a very strong Ale. Heavy and malty with a fruitiness imparted by the ale yeast. Traditionally conditioned in the cask, these are best served at room temperature as an after dinner drink\dessert beer.
Beer: Any fermented drink made primarily from malted grain and seasoned with hops. Lagers, Ales, Stouts and other styles are all beers.
Berliner Weiss: Acidic, refreshing, light-bodied style of Wheat Beer made in Berlin, Germany. Low in alcohol. Serve in a Champagne saucer as an elegant summer quencher, laced with a dash of raspberry syrup. Chill lightly. (45-50F; 7-10C)
Belgian Ale: Similar to an English pale ale, but with more malt and yeast character. This style includes Flemish brown ale, Belgian red, Saison, Belgian golden ale, Trappist.
Belgian Brown Ale: With a very much a sweet-sour to sweet character, these can be particularly complex. Often these will have a hint of caramelization. These are excellent “cooking” beers. (Beers used in food recipes).
Belgian Golden Ale: Golden in color, these ales are fruity, hoppy and strong.
Belgian Red Ale: Aged in wooden vessels, these are tart, sharp beers Burgundy in color. Thin yet firm in body. Extremely refreshing.
Bire de Garde (beers to keep): Style made in northern France, especially the northwest. Broadly of the Ale type. Medium to strong in alcohol. Originally brewed in late winter/early spring and stored for summer consumption. Traditionally top-fermented, although some brews employ hybrid lager yeasts at warm temperatures, and occasionally bottle conditioned. Fruity with a malt accent. Good with soft, sharp, or herb cheeses. Serve at a natural cellar temperature. (50-55F; 10-13C)
Bitter: Most popular British-style dry Ale, often served on draft. A sociable drink, ideally enjoyed in a pub from a plain pint glass. Usually low in gravity and alcohol. Should be served at around 54-55F; 12-13C.
Black Beer: An extremely dark (opaque) Lager with a drying finish and strong tastes of bitter chocolate, coffee or toffee. Not as rounded, softly roasted or nutty as Mexican oscuras, German Dunkels, and other “dark lagers”.
Blended Beer: Lagers or Ales (or a combination of the two) produced by blending various individual beers. The pre-blend brews can be different styles or stronger/weaker, aged/fresh versions of the same style.
Bock: Strong Lager served as a warming beer in late winter, early spring, or autumn, depending upon the part of the world. Color varies. Classically served at not less than 48F; 9C, from a stoneware mug. In Germany, sometimes served with the seasoned veal sausage Weisswurst.
Brown Ale: In Britain there are styles of varying degrees of sweetness. Initially brewed to compete with the pale ales. These go well with desserts or nuts. Belgium has a sweet-sour type made around the town of Oudenaarde. This type is more often served as an aperitif. Both are served at 55F ;13C.
Cream Ale: A very mild, sweetish, pale-golden to golden beer with a hint of fruitiness, fermented at warm temperatures with either “true” ale yeast or hybrid/lager yeast. Made in the North America as a response to the public’s increasing desire for lager. A sociable brew. Serve at 45-50F; 7-10C.
Dampfbier: German for “steam beer”. These beers are generally fruity and soft in bodyand a dark straw color. Not the same brewing procedure as the unique Anchor Steam beers of California. These beers had some sort of connection with steam engines (shipping, power for the brewery, etc.) and some even employed lager and ale yeasts in the primary and secondary fermentations of each product, although none have survived.
Dark Beer: This term usually refers to the Munich Dark type. Beyond that, it is to general to have any meaning.
Diat Pils: Usually made for diabetics, not dieters. An unusually thorough fermentation eats up the carbohydrates, but in the process creates alcohol. This procedure makes for a strongish, very dry beer. It could be applied to any style of beer, but the best known examples are adaptations of the Pilsner type.
Dopplebock: “Double” Bock. Extra strong style of Lager, especially associated with Bavaria, Germany. Very rich. Offered in late winter as a warming beer. Serve at 50F; 10C.
Dort: Abbreviation indicating a beer affecting the Dortmunder Export style. Used in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Dortmunder: Any beer brewed in Dortmund, Germany. However, the city is especially associated with the Export style. Less astringent than a good pilsner, yet sharper on the tongue than a good helles.
Dry Stout: Black and creamy, roasty with hop bitterness and fruity acidity. These are complex beers.
Dunkel: “Dark” in German.
Export: In Germany, pale lager that is dryer than the Munich type but less hoppy than a pilsner and slightly stronger than either. Good with salads, fish, or chicken. Serve at 48F; 8-9C. Elsewhere, the term means simply, “premium”.
Faro: Sweet version of a Belgian Lambic. A mid-afternoon or early-evening restorative. Serve at natural cellar temperature.
Framboise/Frambozen: Raspberry Lambic. An elegant drink with which to welcome guests. Serve lightly chilled in Champagne flutes.
Fruit\Vegetable Beers: Beers, generally ales, that are brewed, re-fermented or flavored with fruits or vegetables (cherries, chili peppers, pumpkins, etc.). Concentrated extracts are frequently used. (Mexicali)
Gueuze: Blended Lambic. Sparkling, winey and sharp, sometimes with rhubarb notes. In its nativeBelgium, served at natural cellar temperature in a fluted tumbler. Favored with Sunday lunch, or with an appetizer of blood sausage.
Hefe-: German prefix meaning “yeast”. Indicates a sedimented beer.
Hell/Helles: “Pale” (i.e. golden), in German.
Imperial (“Russian”) Stout: Strong, rich Stout, with fruity, “burnt currant’ character. A festive drink for winter holidays or as a nightcap. Serve at room temperature.
India Pale Ale: Fruity, hoppy, super-premium Pale Ale. Serve at 55F; 13C. Good with red meat, Cheddar cheese.
Irish Ale: Malty with an apparent fruitiness. Sometimes with a buttery note, these beers are soft and rounded, reddish in color.
Kolsch: Delicate, dry, lightly fruity golden Ale made in the Cologne area of Germany. A good aperitif or digestive. In Cologne, often served with an appetizer of Mettwurst made from raw minced beef.
Kriek: Cherry Lambic with some almond dryness. Elegant welcoming drink or aperitif. Serve lightly chilled in Champagne flutes.
Lager: In some countries, the term “Lager” is applies to the most basic beers. In general, any bottom fermenting beer is a Lager.
Lagales: A hybrid. Ales that experience a lengthy lager-like period of cold maturation and, as a result, a softening of their ale characteristics. Examples: German Kolsch and Altbiers; a few French Bieres de Garde.
Lambic: In palate, sometimes reminiscent of a Chardonnay, a Manzanilla, or even a dry vermouth. Spontaneously-fermenting beer from Belgium. Serve at natural cellar temperature with sharp-tasting cheese, radishes, coarse bread.
Light Ale: In England, an alternative term for a bottled Bitter. In Scotland, a dark ale of low gravity. Not intended to imply a low-calorie brew. For sociable drinking.
Light Beer: American low calorie beer. A somewhat “lighter” version of the Pilsner style. Serve at 45F; 7C.
Maibock: Bock beer made to celebrate Spring. Usually pale and of super-premium quality. Classically served at not less than 48F; 9C.
Malt Liquor: American term for a strong Lager.
Marzen: Medium-strong, full-colored, malt-accented Lager. Especially associated with late September and the Oktoberfest. Serve at 48F; 9C. Good with chicken, pork or spicy foods.
Mild: English term for a lightly-hopped Ale, usually of low strength, and sometimes dark. Generally sweet and not bitter. Generally around 3.8% alcohol by volume, this beer is designed to be consumed in quantity. Normally served on draft in the pub, at natural cellar temperature. A sociable beer.
Milk Stout: Also known as cream stouts. With lactose, milk, added, these beers are lower in alcohol and lower in carbonation and have a soft sweetness.
Munich Dark/Pale: The Munich brewers traditionally produce dark Lagers, with a spicy malt-coffeeish palate. The term “Munchener” is generally taken to mean this type of beer, which can go well chicken or pasta dishes. Today, the city also extensively produces pale Lagers, but with a distinctively malty accent. Sociable beers. Serve at 48F; 9C.
Oktoberfest: See Marzen.
Old Ale: In Britain, this term is sometimes used to indicate a medium-strong dark Ale that ages in the bottle. The beer develops considerably as it conditions in the bottle, some for twenty or so years. The slow work of the yeast in the bottle may increase the alcohol content by ten percent or more. These malty sweet offerings tend to be a favorite winter seasonal also known as “Winter Warmers.” Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon. Many English versions contain no spices, though some brewers of spiced winter seasonal ales will slap “Winter Warmer” on the label. Those that are spiced, tend to follow the “wassail” tradition of blending robust ales with mixed spices, before hops became the chief “spice” in beer. American varieties many have larger presences of hops both in bitterness and flavor. In Australia, any dark Ale may be identified as “Old”.
Oatmeal Stout: Once vanished now revived, this beer has a firm body that is smooth and silky. It has a chocolate-coffee flavor with a hint of nuttiness. Most are slightly sweeter than dry, but all fall in-between.
Pale Ale: Fruity, copper-colored style of Ale originating in England. This beer emphasizes the malt as opposed to the bitter ale which emphasizes the hop. Serve at 55F; 13C. Good with red meat, Cheddar cheese.
Peat Smoked Beer: Inspired by Scotland’s whisky producers, several breweries now include peat-smoked malt in the grist of special ales and lagers.
Pilsner/Pilsner/Pils: Classically, a super-premium pale Lager with a fragrant, flowery bouquet, a soft palate and an elegantly dry, hoppy finish. Modeled on the original from Pilsen. Serve at 48F; 9C. Good as an aperitif or with fish dishes. The term is more broadly applied to any ostensibly dry pale Lager of conventional gravity.
Porter: A roasty dark, almost black, fruity-dry, top-fermenting style, originally from London. The lighter counterpart to stout, once called “entire”, it was meant to combine the characteristics of several contemporary beers. Good with oysters, other shellfish and crustaceans or salt-cured fish.
Rauchbier (Smoked beer): A malty, slightly oily Lager produced, using beechwood smoked malt, especially around the German city of Bamberg and elsewhere in the Bavarian region of Franconia. This style has recently been adopted by new brewers outside of Germany. Good with smoked meats and sausages. Rauchbiers are also beginning to denote ales made with wood smoked malt. Oak-smoked ales are a minor tradition in rural Poland, and several craft-brewers produce ales whose malt has been smoked over a variety of woods (alder, cherry, maple, apple, etc.) There are three broad categories of beers with smoky aromas and flavors: Rauchbier, Peat-smoked beer and stone beer. These beers go well with smoked meats and sharp cheeses.
Rye Beer: This is a beer brewed with a significant proportion of rye (malted or unmalted) in addition to barley. Rye is assertively flavored, yielding spicy notes. It is a staple ingredient in eastern European brews like Finnish Sahti and Russian Kvass. Although several craft brewers occasionally produce rye beers. The only widely available example is Germany’s Sclierlinger Roggen. Serve with salt-dried meats, deli-style meals.
Saison: Sharply refreshing, faintly sour summer Ale from the French-speaking southern part of Belgium. Sometimes seasoned with spices or herbs. Medium strong.
Scotch Ale: Scotland’s Ales are generally malty with a full body. In the rest of the world, Scottish brewers are especially known for strong examples. Serve at 55F; 13C after a meal or as a nightcap.
Smoked Beers: There are three broad categories of beers with smoky aromas and flavors: Rauchbier, Peat-smoked beer and stone beer. These beers go well with smoked meats and sharp cheeses.
Spiced Beer: Beers (generally ales) that are seasoned with herbs and/or spices in addition to hops. A practice developed in the early days of brewing, this method had two purposes: to aromatize the malty brew (frequently to obscure spoilage odors); and, as with hops, to balance its sweetness. Modern brewers add spices for flavor and complexity.
Steam Beer: Name “Steam Beer” trademarked in the United States and some other countries by the Anchor brewery of San Francisco for its unique hybrid fermentation of Ale and Lager. Amber in color with a malt accent named after a “technical/historical anecdote: 19th century California brewers, lacking the ice or refrigeration equipment for proper lager brewing, employed lager yeasts at warm “ale” temperatures. The resulting lively fermentation – in wide, shallow vessels (“clarifiers”) which cooled the brew – and subsequent krausening created a highly-carbonated beer which, when tapped, gave a steam-like hiss. Serve at not less than 45F; 7C. A sociable beer or aperitif. In countries where the name has not been protected, other brewers have launched “California common beers”. Examples: Anchor Steam Beer, New England Atlantic Amber.
Steinbier (Stone beer): Hot stones (700 – 1200 degrees C) were placed in the brew kettle as a way to pre-heat pre-industrial wooden brew kettles, and was reintroduced commercially in the early 1980’s by German producer Rauchenfels.
Stout: Almost black, roasty brew made from by top fermentation. English Stout is often sweet, and is a good mid-afternoon restorative. Good with oysters. Best not chilled.
Sweet Stout: These are stouts which are fortified with sugar to make them sweeter.
Trappist: Strong, fruity, sedimented ales made only by Trappist monks in Belgium and the Netherlands. Some have a Port like character. Top fermented and bottle conditioned, some can be dry and some can be sweet. Serve at room temperature in a goblet. Do not store chilled. Good with blue cheeses.
Ur/Urquell: “Original source of” in Czechoslovakian.
Vienna: Reddish-amber, sweetish, malt accented Lager, originally brewed in Vienna but the inspiration of the German Marzenbier. Good with pork, chicken, spicy dishes such as Mexican food.
Wiesse/Weissbier/Weizenbier: German words for “white” or Wheat beers. For the northern German style, see Berliner Weisse. Southern examples are served in a tall, vase shaped glass, have notes of apple, plum, and perhaps clove. Sharply fruity, refreshing summer beers. Sometimes offered with elderberry fritters. Serve lightly chilled. A slice of lemon as a garnish is optional.
Wheat Bok: Recently developed Dutch interpretation of a German bock beer. Brewed with a significant proportion of wheat (tarwe in Dutch).
Wheatwine: Barleywine’s seductive cousin. A familiar malty barleywine aroma, bread-like and caramel but softer and mellower. Gold to deep amber in color Made with 65% wheat. Bitterness is moderate to low.
White Beer (Wit): General term for Wheat Beers. Apart from the German styles, Belgium has Muscat-like white beers originating from the Brabant region of Belgium. Often spiced with coriander, these are excellent refreshing beers that have a natural “white” haze. Serve chilled. Often a dessert beer. A summertime favorite.
Winter Warmer: These malty sweet offerings tend to be a favorite winter seasonal. Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon. Many English versions contain no spices, though some brewers of spiced winter seasonal ales will slap “Winter Warmer” on the label. Those that are spiced, tend to follow the “wassail” tradition of blending robust ales with mixed spices, before hops became the chief “spice” in beer. American varieties many have a larger presence of hops both in bitterness and flavor.
Wood-Aged Beers: These are beers aged for long periods in untreated wooden vessels. These brews are generally very complex as a result of the “woodiness” the beer receives from contact with the wood and also from the exposure to micro-organisms in the wood. Often described as leathery and sour.