You’re standing in the beer aisle of the liquor store staring blankly at the infinite sea of choices dotting the shelves. The confidence you had when you first entered the store went m.i.a. as soon as you rounded the corner to the beer aisle. You look around but of course, there is nobody you can ask for help so you pick a section and start to browse without really knowing what you’re doing. What is a Belgian Abbey Ale? What about an IPA? What are IBUs? Why are there so many damn types of beer?
Selecting a beer that you’ll like can seem daunting but a little knowledge about beer styles and how beer is made can be helpful. Our beer guide is here to help you navigate the wide world of beer with a little more ease.
Flavor Elements in Beer
Having a general understanding of the elements that give beer flavor(malt, hops, and yeast) can go a long way in helping you pick one you’ll like. Many brewers focus on one of these elements in their beer and use the others to balance out the flavor.
Malt gives beer toasty, nutty, fruity, or toffee like flavors with a tendency towards some sweetness.
Hops give beer citrusy, piney, floral flavors. When used early in the brewing process they add bitterness and add aroma when added near the end. American beer varieties tend to be more hop forward.
Yeast is responsible for fruity, spicy, funky flavors during fermentation.
General Beer Terminology
International bittering units with a scale from 0 to 100. Basically the higher the number the more bitter the beer.
Alcohol by volume listed as a percentage.
Designates a high alcohol by volume beer, usually above 7.5%
Popular Beer Types
There are a multitude of beer types out there that we aren’t even going to cover. It can get a little subjective sometimes, too. Most beers fall within the lager or ale category. What follows is a brief summary of the most common types and styles of beer to be found.
This type is probably the most commonly made and consumed craft beer on earth. It is easy to drink while also having a broad flavor range from mild bitter, to complex floral hop flavor. American varieties of pale ale tend to be more hop forward than English counterparts. Pales tend to be clean, crisp, and hop forward.
This beer is one of the most popular types in the US but is not for everyone due to its bitterness. They look similar to a pale ale but are much more hop heavy both in flavor and aroma, leading to a more bitter beer.
Stouts and Porters
These are the darkest of the beers. Although each is considered a different style they are very similar. They are made with deeply roasted malt - think coffee and cocoa beans - and lend flavors of espresso, chocolate, and burnt bread. Some varieties include milk stout, oatmeal stout, and the American stout.
Belgian Abbey Ales
There are many different varieties within the Belgian style - think Saison, Farmhouse, etc… - but we chose to stick with the abbey ales for this one. Popularized in Belgian abbeys, these beers have flavors ranging from clove like orchard fruit to orange zest and honey. Many of these beers are high in alcohol content and tend to be sweeter.
Probably the most commonly consumed beer on earth. Generally, when you think of beer this is the one you imagine and it makes up the majority of the popular brands. They are brewed to be light, clean, and crisp in flavor and aroma. These beers are not hoppy and are low in alcohol.
These beers are light and refreshing but flavored more heavily with hops. While still light and crisp they are richer in flavor, bitterness, and aroma than a pale lager.
This beer is dark in color due to how the grains were roasted during malting. In a way, it is between an ale and a lager. It’s smooth and a little more flavorful but not as heavy as an ale with low bitterness and ABV.
This emerging category is complex and varied, made with wild yeasts. They are known as tart or sour ales and are tart or sour in flavor but can taste like many different things depending on the brewing process and yeasts. Flavors range from mouth puckering sourness to funky, fruity, and light. Some varieties include Lambic, Berliner Weisse, and American Wild Ale.
This type consists of three important styles. Belgian wheat beers are characterized by citrusy and zesty with spices. Hefeweizens have strong banana and clove flavors that come from chemicals known as esters and phenols. American Wheat beers, the most hop forward of the three, are crisper and cleaner with less emphasis on fruit and yeast flavors.
How about a Recommendation
If you still can’t decide on a beer or just want to see some reviews there’s an app for that… well, several apps. One in particular that we like is Untappd. It’s a popular free app that will give you reviews and tasting notes from other beer enthusiasts like you. Plus you can keep track of what you’ve had so you don’t end up being like“What was that beer called? I think it started with a guy’s name.”
So go check it out and don’t forget to shop our popular beer-themed shirts!