Remember when you were a kid sneaking MGD from your dad’s fridge? A beer was a beer, right? America’s beer scene has matured. The World Beer Cup gives awards to more than 100 different beer styles, from the straightforward American Style Pale Ale to the slightly more esoteric South German-Style Weizenbock. Yeah, we’ve never had one either. All beers can be broken into two broad categories: ales and lagers. The difference is predominantly the yeast. For an ale, the yeast ferments at the top of the vessel at higher temps for a shorter period of time. It produces a fruity aroma. For the lager, the yeast ferments at the bottom, slowly at lower temperatures and produces no aroma or strong byproduct. Most of the popular craft beer styles in America fall into the ale category. Here’s a breakdown of the five most common beer styles at your local brewery. Learn it, or you could just stick with the MGD from your dad’s fridge (that’s a lager, by the way).
American Pale Ale Typically citrusy and hoppy, it’s the most popular craft beer style by far: think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Dale’s Pale Ale…The American Style India Pale Ale is even hoppier and more floral and citric. We’re talking a bitter-fest here. Think Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.
Porter Typically a more mellow brew (not the hoppiness of a pale ale) the porter pours dark and takes on a smoky character. Brewers like to add coffee or chocolate. Barrel aging in whisky barrels is popular too.
Stout If the porter is dark, the stout is black. The stout brings the hoppiness of a pale ale back, but keeps the smoky sweetness of a porter. So you get chocolate stouts, oatmeal stouts, coffee stouts…It’s a great winter beer.
Amber Ale This is the easy-drinking copper-colored beer that usually gets people hooked on craft beers. It’s low-hopped, but heavy on the malts for a slightly caramel character.
Hefeweizen A German-style beer that’s popular with the ladies (and everyone if it’s hot outside), the Hefeweizen is light, cloudy, and fruity. Forget hops—you’ll never detect them. Everyone adds an orange to enhance the naturally citrus flavor of this easy-drinking brew.
Lager America’s version of the lager can be summed up in one word: balance. No characteristic dominates the other. It’s light, sparsely hopped and sparsely malted. This is the beer you grew up on.