Ok, this is a topic that causes a great deal of confusion among most people. Beer is a catch-all term and could be used to describe anything from the darkest pint of Guiness to the lightest bottle of Coors. Below, I’ll take you through what’s what in the world of beer so at least when you brew it, you know what beer you’re brewing!
Ah lovely beer. Using “beer” as a term to describe what you’re drinking or brewing is certainly correct, but it’s not very specific or descriptive. We’ll get into the types of beer later but first, a bit of history.
Beer is one of the oldest drinks humans have ever produced, dating back to 5000BC! It can even be found in the written history of ancient Egypt, so you’re in good company. Almost any cereal containing sugar can be fermented and this can happen randomly just from wild yeast being in the air, so it’s likely that making beer was a process people were going through all over the world.
As you can see, beer has been produced for a long time! There’s a huge amount of trial and error that’s gone into the brewing of beer over the last few thousand years, so we don’t have to start from scratch. Unfortunately, beer fell out of favour with a lot of people for the majority of the 20th century, often regarded as the poor man’s drink. Thankfully, this nonsense is beginning to fade away as we see a resurgence of the craft beer breweries all over the world.
Now we’re getting into the good stuff. Ale (my personal favourite) is a type of beer. Compared to lager, it’s generally darker in colour with an amber glow to it. It’s also not as gassy and generally has quite a strong flavour to it. It’s a beer brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation method and a strain of brewers yeast. Again, compared to lager, ale yeast tends to ferment more quickly often producing a sweeter, full-bodied taste. I know what you’re thinking, “I’ve never tasted an ale that’s sweet!” Well, I’d agree with you, that’s because most ales contain hops which help preserve the beer but also give it a more bitter taste balancing out the sweetness.
Stout and Porter
Depending on where you are in the world, this may or may not be a term you’ve heard before. Stout is basically similar to ale but much darker in colour and tends to be stronger in taste, if you’ve ever had a pint of Guiness before then you’ve had stout. It’s also worth pointing out here that stout is very similar to porter and in fact the two have become interchangeable. Historically, a stout was a stronger beer, usually between 7% and 8% but these days both stouts and porters tend to be around the 5% mark. Stout is a beer that’s brewed using roasted malt or barley, hops, yeast and water. The taste tends to be quite bitter with flavours of dark chocolate, roasted coffee and peat being common among these beers. For me, there’s a time and a place for stouts and porters and that’s sitting by a roaring fire whilst the snow/rain falls down outside.
Finally, the type of beer that most people know and recognise, lager. Some people who love their beer turn their noses up at lager but like all beers, it’s got a time and a place. It’s also the best selling type of beer in the world! On a hot summers day it’s hard to beat a nice cold bottle of refreshing lager. There are two main factors that make lager different to ale, the first being that bottom fermenting lager yeast is used in the brewing process. The second factor that makes lager different from ale is the fact that it’s matured in cold storage. You can of course use lager yeast to brew other beers but unless it’s maturation process is in cold storage, it’s not a lager.
In the UK and America, the term lager generally refers to the pale variety derived from the German Pilsner style. However, lager can vary in colour from very pale to a golden yellow and even down to a deep orange as some of the Belgian varieties do.
So there we have it, an introduction to the different types of beer. You could go even further here and go own into more specific types such as IPA ales, Ruby Ales, Belgian style lagers, Bavarian style Pilsner etc. The list is almost endless, but for now this at least gives us something to go on and hopefully help you decide what type of beer you want to brew.
If you have any questions or you think there’s anything I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments section below.