Beer can be broken down into two main groups: ales and lagers. Ales are produced using top fermenting yeast that metabolizes the starch at a warmer temperature, approximately 64°F. Lagers use yeast that ferments at a cooler temperature, usually around 50°F. Ales tend to be heavier with fruity flavors; whereas, lagers are lighter and crisper in flavor. Below is a general guide to the different styles of ales and lagers commonly available.
Amber ales are amber or reddish color. They are balanced in flavor but trend towards the malty side with fruit and toasted malt flavors to be expected.
A lighter style of ale, this beer is light to dark gold in color with muted fruitiness along with light hop bitterness. This beer often has higher acidity.
Malty and sweet in flavor, brown ales are a full-bodied beer and quite popular in England. Color can range widely but with a brown hue. Some brown ales tend to be fruitier while others are drier and nuttier.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
IPA beers tend to be very herbal and emphasize the bitter qualities of the hops used. Color can range from pale gold to light amber.
Porter beers were originally made in England from the combination of three maltier beers. The porters made in America have incorporated hops into the recipe and add chocolate or coffee flavors. This full-bodied beer is almost black in color.
Similar to porters, stouts will use roasted malts to gain that coffee and chocolate flavor. They are inky-black to brown in color and also full-bodied.
Belgian Dark Ale
This malty beer can range in color from pale amber to dark red. It is generally fruity and complex showing some spice and nut characteristics.
Belgian Pale Ale
This beer is pale gold to light amber in color with a flavor profile that is a bit less bitter than other pale ales. Brewers will use aged hops to a subtle hop characteristic. These beers will still be on the maltier side with sweet and light spice overtones.
Rich and malty, Dubbels show dark fruit aromas and flavors with little hop bitterness. Medium to full-bodied with good carbonation.
Lighter in color than some other Belgian beers, Tripels are light gold with yeasty, fruity and complex flavors. A true triumph of the brewing art, Tripels are lighter-bodied but have a full, dense characteristic. Very well-balanced with hops occasionally making an appearance.
Full-bodied, rich and bold, this beer is bigger than most in both strength and character. Dark in colored and malty on the palate with very low bitterness.
These beers are brewed with rye and wheat in addition to barley. Rye adds earthiness and spice flavors while wheat gives a tart flavor or a creamy mouth feel. Wheat beers can differ widely in flavor depending on their origin. Belgian wheat beer is brewed with coriander and orange peel. The German brews show a fruity, yeasty flavor, and American wheats usually reflect flavor from the yeast and are made for easy drinking.
Originally brewed in the fall and winter for summer consumption in the farmhands of Belgium, Saison is a bit hard to pin down. Basically a pale ale, they can be fruity and spicy with a bit of yeastiness. Mild to moderate tartness and just a bit of bitterness.
A spontaneous fermenting beer, the Lambic style in its pure form is extremely sour and cloudy. Most of the Lambics that we drink in the U.S. are mixed with fruit. Framboise (raspberry) pèche (peach) and pomme (apple) are common flavors. Mixing the fruit with pure Lambic beer offers a complex flavor that is neither overly sweet or sour but definitely allows the fruit to dominate the palate.
Russian Imperial Stout
High in alcohol with big toasted malt flavors. Coffee and chocolate are in abundance on the palate. Low carbonation and hoppiness that ranges from none to full.
Hefeweizen is a type of German wheat beer that includes 50% wheat in the grain bill. Hazy in appearance, this beer shows banana and spice on the palate with a bit of tartness. “Hefe” means “with yeast,” and it is the yeast that gives this beer its hazy color.
This style tends to be on the lighter side. Pale gold in color and lighter bodied, this top fermenting beer gets laagered (held at near freezing temperatures for 30 days) to give it a crisper, cleaner taste. Hops can be light to assertive.
Most of the larger breweries in America mass produce what is called and “adjunct lager.” These beers are well carbonated and easy to drink with very little bitterness. Rice or corn is sometimes used in the mash along with barley.
The original Pilsner, this style is light gold in color and possess floral and bitter notes on the palate. Smooth and crisp, this beer will be crystal clear. Good malty balance with assertive hoppiness.
Bocks are a fuller bodied lager that tends to be a bit maltier than other bottom fermenting brews. Dark and amber in color, Bocks generally need longer cold storage (laagering) to round out the robust flavors. Most are only lightly hopped to cover the malt profile.
Dopplebocks are similar to Bocks in character but are made to be even bigger and richer. Dark and amber in color, these beers will have a very malty profile with fruity flavors. Dopplebocks are also higher in alcohol than Bocks and are often considered “a meal in glass” due to the full bodied weight and texture in the mouth.
Similar to the Czech Pilsner, these beers are light in color and are fully hopped. Some can have a bit of bitterness with floral and citrus notes.
Märzen is traditionally brewed in the late spring and consumed through the summer in Germany. This full-bodied beer has good maltiness and a dry finish. Mildly hopped with a light amber color.
Helles Bock (Maibock)
Helles Bock tends to be lighter than its Bock cousins. Light gold in color, this crisp style shows hoppier flavor profile as well. Maibock is a staple at German beer festivals.
Content provided by Jonathan Morgan, Martin Wine Cellar