How Many Types of Beer Are There?
Beer drinking is probably one of mankind’s oldest past times. Many of our founding fathers not only were beer drinkers, but brewers themselves. People have been brewing and drinking beer for thousands of years. And in that time brewers have experimented with untold numbers of ingredients and brewing methods, giving us countless numbers of beer styles. However all those different beers fall into only two types: lagers and ales.
Ales are a type of beer that is fermented at temperatures between 53 and 77 degrees F. They are known as top fermented beers because the yeast that is used rises to the top of the fermenter. Ales tend to have fruitier flavors, are more robust, often more bitter with a more complex taste, have a thicker and richer foam head, and are generally enjoyed at warmer temperatures. Popular styles of ales include pale ales, barley wine, stouts, porters, and bitters.
A lager is a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at lower temperatures (between 44 and 60 degrees F). They are also known as bottom fermentation brews, because during fermentation the yeasts tend to settle to the bottom of the fermenter, and because of the lower temperature fermentation takes longer to finish and gives the beer a thinner foam head. Some of the different styles of lagers are Pilsner, Bock, Oktoberfest, Helles, and Dunkel. Lagers tend to be crisp or highly carbonated, are usually smooth, mellow, with a clean and balanced taste, and served at cooler temperatures.
Of course within each type of beer there are numerous styles. For example, in the pale ale category there is the American Pale Ale (APA), Indian Pale Ale (IPA), Imperial IPA, Double IPA, Tripple IPA, Blonde, and the English Bitter just to name a few. Each has its own unique or slightly different character and flavor.
Traditionally lagers contain a higher alcohol by volume (ABV), however this is not necessarily true today. For example in 2010 BrewDog Brewery in Scotland released an Imperial Pale Ale that topped out at a whopping 41%!
The difference between lagers and ales is more than just the temperature at which they are brewed. The key difference between ales and lagers is the type of yeast used. The yeast used in the fermentation is arguably the most important element creating taste. Additionally, many of the types of yeasts used to brew ales will not actively ferment at temperatures below 53 degrees.
Even though there are only 2 basic types of beer, there are endless variations. The next time you order a beer, try something new. It could be the best beer you’ve never had.