Styles of Beer

here are about 60 different styles of beer that can be separated into 6 major categories: Belgian and Continental Style Ales, British and North American Style Ales, Lagers, Stouts and Porters, Wheat Beers, and Specialty Beers and Hard Ciders.

Each "family" has it own special characteristics. Just like with cigars, let your taste be your guide. Bear in mind that certain flavors go together, like spice and fruit, or almonds and a smokey undertone. Knowing what you like in a cigar can certainly be of use when choosing a beer, either to stand alone or complement your favorite smoke.

Belgian and Continental Style Ales

Lager has become much more popular than ale, but some ale styles still live on in Germany and France.The difference between a lager and an ale is that the yeast employed for fermentation of a lager works at a cooler temperature and sinks to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, while ale yeasts work at higher temperatures and rises to the top. One of the best-selling craft-brewed ales in the U.S. (Sam Adams® Boston Ale) is actually based on a German ale style.

British and North American Style Ales

British ale styles are more closely associated with the ale and beer styles of the U.S. than those of any other country. Much of this is owed to close cultural ties, though a large factor is undoubtedly that British ales lend themselves easily to home brewing, the starting point for many now successful brewers.


Lagers are relatively new when considering the centuries of ale brewing that predated their production. The difference between a lager and an ale is that the yeast employed for fermentation of a lager works at a cooler temperature and sinks to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, while ale yeasts work at higher temperatures and rises to the top. Hence lagers are "bottom fermented" beers. Dark lager styles began displacing ale styles in the early 1800s in Germany and Bohemia. It was only in the early 20th century that lagers rose to prominence as the earliest refrigeration systems were introduced.

Stouts & Porters

Stouts are very dark, almost black beers, and feature a heavily roasted flavor profile. This is achieved by brewing with malt that has been kilned until it resembles burnt toast. Although not always considered ales by consumers, these beers use top fermenting yeasts and as such are members of the ale family. Porter was originally an English dark beer style that was the drink of the masses long before lagers were conceived or modern ales were fashionable. In the heyday of Porter in London, during the 18th century , the term "Stout" was used to denote the strongest and weightiest beers in a brewer's portfolio. The same relationship still holds true to this day, with Porters generally being lighter in body and color than Stouts. Stouts and Porters are enormously popular among U.S. craft brewers and virtually all brewpubs and regional microbrewers produce one or both as year-round brews.

Wheat Beers

Brewing with wheat instead of barley is an ancient tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of brewing. Although not an easy grain to work with, beers brewed with a proportion of wheat do not require maturation, as is the case with lagers, and can be drunk soon after brewing. Wheat ales are very refreshing. Traditionally they are cloudy or hazy, though with modern filtration they can easily be made clear.

Specialty Beers

With the surge in microbreweries, there are a large variety of specialty beers being offered. These might include fruit or herb flavored beers, specialty fermented beers, and hard cider, which has gained popularity in the last few years.


Does the glass you use to drink a beer make a difference in how it tastes? Maybe....

Beer Freshness

The length of time it takes for a beer to become stale is determined by its alcoholic strength and hopping level. Typically, the freshness period for a lager is four months; for stronger craft-brewed ales, five months. High-gravity, high-strength beers such as doppelbocks typically carry a six- to twelve-month freshness period.

How can you determine the freshness of a beer? It depends on the dating system used by the brewery. Taking a typical example of Boston Beer's Samuel Adams brands, the freshness period is the time between shipment from the brewery and the freshness date, or "consume by" date, marked on the label. In the case of a beer with a "born on" date, the freshness period is approximately four months after the date on the label.

Imported beer can have a rough ride on its way to your local retailer.This is not to suggest that many imported beers do not find their way to us in perfect condition. While some imported beers do carry a freshness date, they are vastly outnumbered by those that don't. Dust or label discoloration may give a clue that a beer has been too long on a retailer's shelf, but even these are not always reliable indicators.

If you ever get the chance to go to one of the parks owned by Anheuser-Busch, you'll have the chance to attend one of their beer schools (as well as drink free beer in their hospitality section). In the school you'll learn one main point: beer is a food, treat it as such. Do not keep beer in a hot garage or out under the sun. Keep it cool at all times. It will taste better and last longer. Just like real food does.

Bottles and Cans

Most beer bottles are amber or green because the full spectrum of daylight can have undesirable effects on a beer over a period of time. The ultraviolet portion of the spectrum is especially harmful; promoting chemical reactions that produce "off flavors" that take the edge off freshness. Dark glass inhibits this effect while clear glass leaves the beer vulnerable.

Although cans necessarily fit the image of the high-quality, there is no technical reason why high-quality beer can't be sold in cans. A significant impediment to craft brewers using cans instead of bottles is the high cost of the pasteurization and packing equipment required. Among imports, British bitters are often shipped in aluminum cans. Fosters, a lager from Australia, has forged an image by being sold in a large "oil can" size.

The Widget

Guinness® introduced the nitrogen capsule, commonly known as the widget, in cans of Guinness® Stout in the late 1980s. Guinness® served on draft acquires its creamy head when nitrogen bubbles are flushed through the beer at the time of serving. The widget is a small plastic capsule containing pressurized nitrogen gas that rushes out of a pinhole when the can is opened and the internal pressure is lowered.


A growler is a plastic or glass container used for selling fresh draft beer straight from the tap. Beer sold in this format, generally from a brewpub, must be refrigerated and then consumed within a day or two.

Out of Condition Beer

This is beer that, due to poor handling or less than rigorous stabilization before packaging, or both, it has taken on the less noble character of age. Any or all of the following condition can occur:

Light struck: Also referred to as "skunked." This flaw most commonly afflicts beers packaged in clear glass bottles. Hop oils are converted by ultraviolet light into rancid-smelling chemicals.

Oxidation: This manifests itself by telltale aromas of paper or cardboard, indicating a beer past its prime. It's a common problem with draft beer that has been in a half-empty barrel for too long.

Poor head formation: Head formation when a beer is poured is a property that can be controlled by a brewer, so a lackluster head is not a cause of alarm in itself. Perfectly fresh beers can form poor heads. However, when a beer is supposed to form a rich head and fails to do so, staleness is usually the answer. A head is an emulsion of hop oil and malt proteins. If the hop oils degrade through age, the head will be proportionately poorer.

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