14 Jul Which Beer Is Right For Me? – A Guide to Ales, Lagers, Porters & More
Choosing the perfect beer is increasingly difficult as new styles pop up on what seems like a daily basis, each boasting “hints of this” and “notes of that.” With so many choices, however, comes an opportunity for beer or non-beer drinkers to find an ale or lager that fits them perfectly.
One thing remains true throughout the rise of craft beer and its brand-new styles, at least for now; all beer styles funnel into two primary or overarching categories.
Let’s start there.
The Two Primary Types Of Beer Styles: Ale And Lager
The two primary categories of beer that 99% of beer styles–old and new–fit into are ale and lager. Each umbrella term houses many unique beer styles with vastly differing characteristics.
On the one hand, there are full-bodied, effervescent, and smooth ales. On the other hand, there are crisp, light, and straight-to-the-point lagers.
Ale Beer Styles
Ales are generally the more full-flavored of the beer bunch. Each style underneath the ale umbrella boasts greater flavor depth and potential for variety and deviation from a specific substyle than lagers.
The primary ale classifier boils down to one ingredient: yeast. Brewer’s yeast, or Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a top-fermenting yeast strain that ferments best at higher temperatures.
Ale yeast strains provide more flavor depth potential, meaning brewers can use ale yeast in various ways to invoke a wide range of flavors in their beers.
Some ale beer styles to try include:
- Pale ale
- India pale ale
- Amber ale
- Brown ale
The pale ale beer style is one of the craft beer pioneers. The American pale ale, most commonly seen today instead of the English-style pale ale, is a hop-forward beer style with a medium body and some sweetness from the malts used.
The hops are the main character in this style, with an array of underlying flavors often described as citrusy, floral, resinous, dank, and tropical.
India Pale Ale
The India pale ale is the big brother of the pale ale style. The IPA is another hoppy beer style, flaunting enhanced bitterness and poetic interplay from malts or other adjuncts such as grapefruit or pineapple.
More frequently, these beers get their prominent flavors from a swathe of hop varieties, including Citra, Centennial, and Galaxy, to name a few, all of which emanate grapefruit, floral, citrus, and earthy flavors.
Amber Ales get their name from the golden-copper hue brought forth by the grains used in brewing. Caramel and crystal malts (sweet, roasted grains with amber hues invoking a toasted caramel or toffee flavor) are center-stage in this style.
The full-bodied American amber ale uses American hop varieties to balance high malt sweetness with gentle citrus, pine, and fruit undertones.
The German-style hefeweizen derives from the weizen yeast strain, a low-flocculating strain producing a full-bodied and cloudy beer. Still an ale, it prides itself on its fruity banana-like flavor and spicy clove aroma.
Malted wheat makes up 50% of the grains used for brewing. The wheat’s proteins give hefeweizens a healthy head of foam bursting with those aromatic clove and banana notes, resulting in a highly effervescent or “estery” beer.
Brown ale is a highly approachable beer style with sweet malt notes and low perceivable bitterness. Roasted crystal and caramel malts lend these beers a caramel and sometimes chocolatey flavor and aroma.
Additional toasted toffee notes with slightly fruity esters from various yeast strains compose a symphony of flavor in this full-bodied style.
Saison is a rather off-the-wall and complex style compared to other ales. Originating from Belgium’s French-speaking region Wallonia, the style translates to “season” and was a summertime favorite for its light body, refreshing flavors and aromas, and bubbly carbonation.
Saison’s yeast-centric array of characteristics commonly includes fruity, earthy, and peppery notes with a signature spicy aroma and flavor.
Lager Beer Styles
Lagers are a more straightforward beer style than ales. They generally offer a comparatively low flavor depth and a more streamlined tasting experience but are equally delicious and, for some, more refreshing.
Like ales, lagers earn their beer style classification from the yeast type used. Lagers use a bottom-fermenting yeast strain that ferments at colder temperatures, producing a clean and crisp beer.
Although lagers can’t always afford to deviate too far from traditional substyles because of the highly selective brewing requirements, the branches on the metaphorical lager tree spread across a wide range of flavors suitable for all beer drinkers.
Lager beer styles to try include:
- Mexican lager
German bocks are malt superstars. They have low hop bitterness and a highly sweet malt profile with toasted nut flavors. Unlike some other malt-forward styles, bocks rarely contain caramel notes.
These lagers are dark brown with a clear body, soft mouthfeel, and short finish. They have a relatively high alcohol content for a lager that’s mildly noticeable in the taste.
Mexican lagers are an increasingly familiar style, as seen in the rise in popularity of Modelo Especial and Corona Extra. Fans of macro-brewed beers in this style can enjoy a craft version boasting the same low bitterness and easy-drinking characteristics.
Although not a definitive or officially recognized substyle, Mexican lagers typically classify as clear, crisp, light, and highly drinkable beers, often garnished with a complementing slice of lime.
Dunkel, or “dark” in German, is a dark beer with an amber-to-brown hue. Its appearance contrasts its light flavor and body. German Dunkel comprises bread crust flavors complemented by caramel aromas and subtle chocolate notes.
This style is partially famous for its food pairings, notably its harmony with grilled meats like porkchop or sausage.
The German Helles is one of the most appealing beer styles for new beer drinkers and Cicerones. It has the crisp flavor of a light lager with exceptional balance.
The German hop additions in this beer create a floral and slightly spicy foundation allowing a delicate yet prominent crescendo of bready malt flavor. These beers have medium carbonation, light body, and low bitterness.
Perhaps the most revolutionary style the world has ever seen, Pilsners are a choice beer for any level of beer drinker. The German-style pilsner has less malt character than its original Czech-style predecessor, which boasts biscuit and bread notes.
Either way, this beer is exceptionally balanced with a sharp hop bitterness and a short finish. They’re light, brilliantly clear, and easy to drink.
Schwarzbier loosely translates to “black beer” in German. Though dark in color, it’s a light, refreshing beer with low to medium sweetness and some roasty characteristics.
Schwarzbier has a dry and soft mouthfeel with excellent flavor depth. Bitter chocolate and roasted coffee notes come through with minimal overall bitterness. It resembles a German-style dunkel but retains a drier, roastier profile.
ABOUT WORMTOWN BREWERY
We began in a small ice cream shop on Park Ave in Worcester, MA in 2010. In 2015, after 5 years crammed in that location and 13 months of construction, Wormtown Brewery opened its new location, in the heart of Worcester, on Shrewsbury Street, where we continue to grow today. Here at Wormtown Brewery, we are dedicated to putting “A Piece of Mass in Every Glass” and work with many local farms as we believe sourcing ingredients locally ensures that they are the freshest possible for the freshest beer.
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