Are you an Ale or a Lager? Do you dare venture into the beer menu and pick out a brand you’ve never tried before, or do you stick to your regular brew? We’ve decided to help you learn more about the numerous types of beer that tempt amber nectar lovers worldwide.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to differentiate between brewing styles and hopefully discover new varieties to tickle your fancy. Let’s dig in!
Water, malt, hops, and yeast — these are the ingredients needed to create all your favorite beers. You can even find home brewing kits including a recipe kit with all of these ingredients, and make a beer yourself! Let’s discuss what each of the ingredients brings to the concoction.
Water makes up 95% of beer, and its quality greatly impacts beer’s taste. The mineral content of water varies from region to region. For example, Bavarian water is high in carbon, so the beers are darker and only slightly bitter, while English pale ales have a bitterer note because the water is rich with sulfate.
Malt is a great contributor to the brewing process and provides the beer with three critical qualities: flavor and aroma, color, and fermentable sugar.
Many popular beer types are malt-driven, meaning they get their flavor and aroma predominantly from this ingredient. These include corny, toasted, and mocha notes and their in-betweens.
Malt is typically light and contains enzymes that convert grain starch to sugar. The fermentable sugars react (ferment) with the yeast, which is how beer gets its alcohol content.
Hops bring an abundance of flavors into the scene, and they balance the malty sweetness by adding varying levels of bitterness. These cone-like flowers contain resins rich with alpha acids that provide a bitter taste and oils that provide the beer’s recognizable fruity, citrusy, and floral tones.
Yeast is the key component of the brewing process. It eats the malt sugars and converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Two yeast types used in brewing are ale and lager yeast, but each group has a great variety of strains. Yeast determines the beer style, but it’s mostly neutral, so the proportion of malt and hops prevails in determining the taste.
ABV and IBU
Before delving any further into our classification, there are two terms you should be familiar with — ABV and IBU. These characteristics describe different beer styles.
If you believe all types of beer have approximately the same alcohol content, that’s where you’re wrong. There’s an indication of the percentage of alcohol in your beer called ABV, or alcohol by volume. Alcohol percentage in beer spans between 3%-13%, while most beers have about 4%-7%.
ABV can influence how a beer tastes. Brewers rely on it to balance the sweetness and bitterness, and a higher ABV usually means the beer will be more bitter. On top of that, alcohol can neutralize stronger beers, so brewers usually boost them with additional flavors.
IBU is the international bitterness unit determining the amount of bitterness in a beer. The lowest IBU is 0, and there isn’t any upper limit to the scale. Most beers have between 5 and 120 IBUs. Interestingly, if your beer has more than 120 IBUs, your palate won’t be able to detect it.
Ale vs. Lager
Different styles combine different proportions and kinds of ingredients to achieve a specific color, flavor, or aroma. Since there’s a whole world of beers out there, the most basic classification comes down to ale or lager.
The main difference between the two styles is the quality of the yeast and its position during fermentation. There are three types of fermentation according to the position of yeast — top fermentation, bottom fermentation, and spontaneous fermentation. We invite you to read our guide on homebrewing to learn more about the fermentation process and brewing in general.
Ales are made with yeast that ferments throughout the beer, settling at the top of the mixture. This type of yeast is highly tolerant to alcohol, and its fermentation temperature is higher than that of lager beer yeast. The main types of beer resulting from this process are stouts, IPAs, and wheat beers.
Bottom fermentation means the yeast will drop to the bottom of the mixture container after fermentation, creating lagers. This type of yeast is not as tolerant to alcohol as the one used to make ales, so fermentation is much slower and at a lower temperature. Typical representatives of this group are pilsners and bocks.
Spontaneous fermentation happens when the beer comes in contact with wild yeast strains and bacteria. Although these beers have their roots in Belgium, worldwide breweries have adopted the process to make sour beers. Members of this group are lambic and sour beer, examples being the Belgian gueuze, Flanders red, and the American sour.
Types of Beer Explained
Now that you’ve tackled the basics of beer style characteristics let’s get right into the classification.
“Lager” is a German word for storage or warehouse, symbolizing the brewing process that traditionally involved winter brewing and lagering (or storing) the beer to ferment in caves until the spring. These beers are malt-driven with a distinct crisp flavor and varying levels of hops, depending on what the brewer is trying to achieve.
Bocks originate from Einbeck, Germany, where they were initially brewed as ales. They soon evolved into lagers once a new strain of yeast came to be used in the region. Bocks are strong beers that owe their color and taste to darker malts, so they’re usually browner and sweeter. You’ll even find their flavor toasted and nutty, but with a clean finish typical of lagers.
Here are some subtypes of bocks:
- Maibocks. Maibock is a pilsner malt variation traditionally made in the month of Mai, which is German for May. Although not as bitter as types of beer with lots of hops, they are hoppier than traditional bocks, but they share the toasty and bready aroma brought by the malt.
- Doppelbocks. “Doppel” translates to “double” from German, so we’re talking about a stronger packed beer with a robust flavor. They’re pale or dark and malt-oriented. The malt gives them a range of sweet flavors — caramel, toffee, raisins, and even chocolate.
- Eisbocks. A specific brewing process is used to make Eisbock. The beer is frozen until the water begins to freeze during distillation. After removing the ice (or “Eis” in German), you get a robust and malty beer.
- Weizenbocks. Good news for wheat beer lovers — Weizenbock is a wheat subtype of bock with the same intense flavor as a Doppelbock. Although wheat beer is expected to be bitterer, these beers have a maltier aftertaste.
American Lager is a pale beer with a crisp and clean taste laced with malt. It has a yellow color and a low hop content. Light American Lager has fewer calories because brewers often use other grains in addition to barley, such as corn or rice, to make it easier to drink.
These popular types of beer, such as our local favorite Bud Light, are also low in alcohol (only 3.2-4.0% ABV), so they’re often referred to as starter beer. They’re produced in large quantities and at a lower price. They make a great complement to spicy food or barbecue.
Amber American Lager is rich in malts and a varying hop character. These are typically darker lagers with a smooth, clean taste and caramel notes.
Pilsners are popular beers with a wide variety. Originally from the present Czech Republic, today there are world-famous pilsners worldwide, including America and Germany. Naturally, there are visible differences across regions. For example, Czech pilsners (also called Bohemian pilsners) are darker and maltier than German pilsners.
Pilsner is richer in flavor than the American lager, with a perfect balance between a strong and refined malt base and more detectable hoppy flavors. You can taste floral, herbal, spicy, or bitter aromas amid malty sweetness.
Many world-famous beers originate from Germany. It’s probably impossible to name all types of beer on this list, so we’ll stick to the most prominent ones.
Munich Lager is a popular beer type with a light and dark variant, hence the Munich Helles Lager and Munich Dunkel Lager. Helles is similar to pilsner in style, as it has more alcohol, and it’s made of light malt and hops, but it’s a bit easier to drink. On the other hand, Dunkel is malt-driven and therefore has a toastier and chocolaty flavor.
No Oktoberfest in the world can go without the renowned Oktoberfests or Marzenbiers. Fun fact: the beer’s name has got nothing to do with the brewing style. They’re simply brewed in March and served in October. They’re malty and savory, with a pinch of toastiness.
Kellerbier/Zwickelbier is another traditional German variation of lager from Bavaria not widely known in the US. Kellerbier means “cellar beer” in German, revealing its specific brewing technique. It was produced in the cold months and lagered in caves, left to condition in oak casks. They’re unpasteurized, with slightly pronounced hoppiness and a delicate malty taste.
Schwarzbier/Black Lagers are types of beer that have a black or chocolate malt core. A sure way to differentiate them from a stout is to recognize their crisp, lager finish.
Rauchbier/Smoked beer has a smokey flavor obtained by drying malted barley grains over an open flame. Their characteristics may vary depending on their composition. They’ll typically have a woody or bacony air, so they’re welcome guests at barbecues.
Kolsch is a hybrid beer variety made with ale yeast and brewed like a lager. It’s very light and palatable, with a crispy and dry finish.
Vienna Lager is an unusual addition to the Lager family. It’s not typically pale but amber or reddish, and it has a mildly sweet and toasty flavor with caramel tones.
As the name suggests, Japanese Rice Lager is made with malted rice as an adjunct to barley. This is how it gets its light color and a good balance of sweetness and hoppiness.
Ale is the oldest beer variety that predates lagers by centuries. There’s an astounding list of beer brands from the ale category, and they’re typically types of beer with lots of hops. They’re flavorful with fruity notes but have a higher IBU than lagers.
No better place to start than at home. American ales are tasty and quaffable brews perfect for those who enjoy an explosion of hop-driven flavors.
American Cream ale is considered the greatest competition to German lagers. The brewing process was modeled on lager brewing as the yeast and grains are stored to develop a pale and predominantly malty beer with medium hop prominence.
The California Common is another subtype considered an authentic American beer. A true refreshment with earthy and bitter tones, it dates back to the Gold Rush. Similar to cream ale, this variety is made with lager yeast at higher temperatures.
Another starter beer from the list, the American Blonde ale is low in hops and malt and has a lower ABV than the average. These popular beers have a distinctly light color and body, typical for lagers, so this is probably the easiest ale to drink. The difference is their fruitiness which neutralizes the potential bitter aftertaste.
American Amber ale is one of the most popular types of beer in the US that revolutionized American craft brewing. The caramelized crystal malt gives this ale a toasted, caramel, and toffee sweetness, balanced by the citrusy, fruity, and pine aromas from domestic hops.
Don’t let its name fool you — Barleywine is actually beer brewed with barley with a robust flavor and texture and a higher ABV. The original English recipe yielded a brew with balanced malt and hop combination to milden the high alcohol percentage. The American version is bitterer and citrusy.
Pumpkin ale is produced in wide varieties, and its main ingredients are pumpkin, puree, and seasonal spices. Pumpkin ale dates back to the 18th century, and it’s a known fact that our founding fathers brewed it at the time.
Belgium is another cradle of beer brewing with a rich tradition dating back for centuries. Monks were the first Belgian brewers who started making beer in the 19th century. Modern brewers have modified these traditional recipes with additional malt and yeast content.
Like the German doppelbock, Dubbel beers are two times stronger than classic Belgian beers. Typically, these types of beer have a high ABV, and the secret to their rich flavor is candi sugar, a local product added to the brew. Malt and yeast drive the taste of this beer with a dash of fruity notes.
Belgians have a scale of beer strength, as there are also Tripel and Quadruple beers. Tripel beers are brewed with pilsner malt added three times the average amount. Naturally, this beer has a high alcohol amount and can be spicy, citrusy, fruity, or sweet.
Quadruple beers are your go-to to test your alcohol tolerance as they have a double-digit ABV, so think twice before taking a sip. Although no fruits or spices are added to the recipe, their pronounced malt and yeast character can trick you into sensing dark fruit, molasses, or peppery spice.
Belgian pale ale is a golden brew with an air of sweetness provided by pilsner malts and hop richness that gives the beer a dry finish. Its older brother, the Belgian strong pale ale, has more intense fruity and spicy aromas and isn’t as sweet.
Belgian dark ales are high in alcohol and spanning from amber to dust brown. They have a spicy profile and medium body. They are the best types of beer for those trying Belgian beer for the first time. If you feel like going one step further, try Belgian strong dark ale — a subvariety with a more robust, complex flavor and more alcohol.
England is the home of many brewing styles, such as the India Pale Ale (IPA), Pale Ale, Porter, Stout, Brown Ale, and Scotch Ale, to name a few. We’ll tackle most of these categories separately, so let’s focus on — English Mild and Bitter.
English Milds are dark or pale ales depending on the amount of hop. Pale versions are malty, with a slight undertone of bitterness and fruit. Dark milds are also poor in hops and have a robust, malty base providing a fuller body.
You might get the wrong impression after hearing its name, but the English Bitter is not that bitter at all. The trick is in the floral and earthy tones derived from the hops. This is another flavorous beer with well-balanced malt and hop content.
Brown ale is just as it sounds — toastier and malt-driven, with a nutty and chocolaty mouthfeel rather than fruits. The two types of beer that are significant representatives of this group are the English and American brown ale.
English brown ale has a predominantly malty profile with fewer hops. The brewing process determines whether it will be dry or sweet. This beer is characterized by simplicity in taste, with biscuit and toffee notes.
On the other hand, the American brown ale is a malty variation of the English version with a higher hop content, perfect if you enjoy the taste of chocolate and caramel in your beer.
Although often mixed with American Amber Ales, red ale is a distinct style. While Amber ale gets its flavor and color from caramelized malt, red ales are made with specialty roasted malt, giving a caramel or butterscotch mouthfeel and reddish color. Let’s look at the main types of beer in this group.
Much like its amber cousin, American red ale is made with caramelized malt. Despite being on the sweet side, it fully embraces its bold hoppy bitterness. It has a softer flavor and color, with a touch of fruity and caramel aromas.
Flemish red ale is the Belgian variety with the most complex set of flavors, including cherries and oranges. Traces of oak aroma in this beer might make you believe you’re drinking wine.
Irish red ale is malt-driven, with very low hop content. Although it has a dry finish, you can still taste the sweet aromas of toast, caramel, and buttery toffee.
Wheat beer originates from Germany and consists of at least 50% wheat. They are an acquired taste but can be quite refreshing, especially during the hot summer days.
Weissbier (Weizenbier) is a German wheat beer resembling its American and Belgian counterparts. The gem hidden in the recipe is the particular yeast strain dictating the flavor. Apart from Weizenbock we’ve mentioned in the lager section, there are three different types of beer in this category:
- Hefeweizen. This subtype is rich in unfiltered wheat and yeast, so there’s your answer if you ever wondered why your beer is hazy. This is a malt-forward and not very bitter ale with banana, bubblegum, and clove hints.
- Kristalweizen. When you filter the yeast from Hefeweizen out of the equation, what’s left is the savory and crisply finished Kristalweizen.
- Dunkelweizen. You’ve undoubtedly picked up some key German words by now, so you can guess this is a dark Hefeweizen variety made with roasted grain. Dark malt laces the known flavors with caramel.
American Wheat Ale comes in a pale and dark variant and has a lighter body, with more prominent hoppy undertones.
Witbier translates to “white beer” and dates back to 14th-century Belgium. Belgian law prescribes that this beer must have 50% of unmalted wheat, sprinkling the brew with grainy and sweet notes. The secret ingredients producing a citrusy mouthfeel are coriander and orange peel, so this spicy beer has a low hop content.
Berliner Weiss encompasses a series of popular types of beer dominated by sour and only slightly malty flavors. It’s very light and refreshing, mixed with different fruits to cater to the preferences of local beer lovers.
India Pale Ale
India Pale Ale is a catchall for craft beers with a high hop content resulting in their distinct bitter taste. The style originates from England, but various world regions adopted and appropriated the recipe to fit the local liking.
- English IPA is the father of all IPAs. It’s a well-balanced beer that dances between malty toastiness and hoppy bitterness, letting them meet halfway.
- American IPA has an East and West Coast variation, with the East Coast style being abundant in hops and the West Coast style driven by malts. New England IPA is an East Coast subtype with the best of both worlds — hoppy tropical notes and malty sweetness.
- Belgian IPA stands out for the special yeast strain giving the beer its bitterness, intertwined with malty tones.
- Imperial beers, also known as double IPAs, are strong types of beer with lots of hops and a high ABV. The brew is packed with hops and malts with a dominant hop profile and fruity aromas.
- Black IPA is a strong elixir made of roasted malt that boosts its bitterness. Although this is not a sweet beer, you can still taste coffee or chocolate aroma traces.
Porter is a dark and versatile brew originating from 18th-century England. There are many legends surrounding this beer, the most popular one being that it was created in a London pub frequented by porters, who demanded the barman to make a one-of-a-kind concoction. He succeeded, as the beer is now named after its fans.
English porter comes in two variations. It’s either malty brown with chocolate, caramel, or toffee bittersweetness or robust, which is more intense due to the same roasted or black malt used to make stouts.
Baltic porter is also rich in flavors such as molasses, licorice, or chocolate. They’re not as robust as an average dark porter, but they still have a high ABV and fruity undertones.
American porters are made with smoked malts and bold hops. They’re similar to English porters, only darker with higher ABV.
Stouts are not very different types of beer from Porters, but they use a different malt — Porters are made with dark malted barley, while Stouts are made with unmalted roasted barley or black malt.
Stouts have even more variants than Porters, and their trademark qualities are the strong espresso toasted aroma and the darkest color in the beer spectrum. The most popular stout worldwide is undoubtedly Guinness. Here are some famous stouts:
- Irish stout is a typically dry beer dominated by roasted barley flavors combined with chocolate, coffee, and toffee aromas.
- Similarly, roasted barley is the base for a dark English stout, only with a more leveled hop presence, resulting in an equal portion of sweetness and bitterness.
- American stout is probably the most versatile in the group. Each brew differs in the ingredient ratio and alcohol percentage, so you can always expect a new combination of flavors and aromas.
- There are two main Imperial stout variants — the Russian and the American. Russian imperial stouts are a robust mix of roasted and fruity flavors and have sky-high ABVs, so sip slowly. American imperial stouts retain a dash of sweetness but still exhibit a high ABV.
- Specialty stouts, such as oats, milk, and oyster stouts, are growingly popular types of beer that introduce a new ingredient to the brew to spice up the flavor profile.
We finish with the oldest type of beer in the world. It is made with wild, uncultivated yeast and bacteria and has a rich and complex flavor portfolio.
American sour/wild ale is a product of the brewing region, packed with yeast and Pediococcus bacteria. They’re typically sour with undertones of acidic fruits. Aging in barrels helps balance the hop and malt profiles, with an oaky, wine-like aroma coming through.
Gose is a recently revisited ancient beer type consisting of an equal percent of malted wheat and wild yeast, leaving a sour and salty aftertaste.
Lambic is another Belgium-invented category with intense sourness. Lambics are spontaneously fermented and sour with hints of fruit. Fruits lambics are made with cherries, raspberries, or peaches that neutralize the pronounced sour character of the beer.
Finally, Gueuze is a mix of aged and fresh lambic with an acidic flavor counteracted by malt and the oaky aroma of the fermentation cask.
We hope our comprehensive guide has broadened your horizons on the numerous types of beer worldwide and directed you towards an exciting variety you’d like to taste. Beer is probably the most versatile drink globally, even more so owing to the explosion of new and quaffable craft beer variants. There’s no time to waste — go to the nearest pub and try a new beer. Cheers!
What are the major types of beer?
Two major beer types are ale and lager. The classification further comes down to their subvarieties, so here are the most popular styles:
- Pale Ale / Dark Ale
- Pale Lager
- Wheat Beer
- Wild/Sour Ale
Fun fact: each of these beers is served in a different glass, so if you’re curious to learn more, check out our guide on different types of beer glasses!
How many types of beer are there?
There are more than a hundred known beer types, with 70+ ale varieties, at least 25 lagers, and a small number of hybrid beers that combine ale and lager brewing techniques.
Beer can also be classified by region, flavor, color, ingredients, ABV, IBU, etc. As seen in our guide, we’ve focused on all of these categories interchangeably to cover as many types as possible, but it’s up to you to find the ones we left out.
What’s the most popular beer?
Mexico’s fines pale lager Corona was the most popular global trend for the past year, according to the latest beer industry statistics. Heineken was a close second, while Budweiser was the third top choice of beer lovers worldwide. Meanwhile, Bud Light is the undisputed number one in the US.