Updated: Jul 20, 2022
A little bit about beer that you might like to know and some stuff that's just interesting.
The beer universe is vast and diverse where many options abound. From classic lagers to pilsners to sour ales, each genre of beer has more sub-genres than even a beer drinking aficionado can keep up with. Local watering holes have gone from only offering the standard multi-mass-marketed big-name brewery options to also offering obscure brews that might only be available locally – none of which taste quite the same. Some are highly complex with more nodes than your tongue can handle, while others are little better than alcoholic golden water. With so many options available, it is good to know a little bit about each main genre’s look and taste like, so you can order a beer like a pro that you can enjoy.
The major difference between genre or style of beer comes down to the type of yeast used to ferment it. A beer can either be a lager or an ale. This depends on the process of fermentation and yeast used in the beer’s creation. Lagers are made with bottom-fermenting yeast that work best at cooler temperatures, between 35° and 55° Fahrenheit. Ales are brewed with a top-fermenting yeast that thrives at mid-range room temperatures. Common styles of ale include pale ale, India pale ale, amber ale, porters, and stouts. The yeast in a lager has a lower tolerance for alcohol than the yeast used in ales.
Beers start out as either an ale or a lager. Their specific style and flavor continue to evolve from there. Lagers encompass a range of styles, including the pale Pilsners and German Helles and the darker American lagers. There are numerous types of Ales, including pale ales, India pale ales (IPA), porters, stouts, and wheat and Belgian styles. Here is just enough information on the types of beers to make you look and sound like a beer-drinking guru… just remember with great powers come great responsibilities. When you drink, be smart, never drive afterward, and know when to say when.
Lagers are a “beginners’ beer”. Made with bottom fermenting yeast that has a lower tolerance to alcohol, lagers can taste light and a little malty. Classic lagers in America include Coors, Budweiser, Miller High Life, and Yuengling. Jim Koch, the co-founder of Boston Beer Co., which makes Sam Adams beer, lagers are a great launching pad for newcomers to beer. “They are clean, consistent, well made, and not particularly challenging on the flavor,” he said. “It’s not a bad place to start as you work your way up the flavor ladder.”
Pilsners, which originate from the Czech Republic, fall under the lager category. German pilsners give off a pale gold color and have “crisp” flavor, while Czech pilsners are a little darker in color and tend to have a higher level of bitterness.
German Helles (HELL-us)
Helles (Hell-us) means “pale in color,” as these beers are often golden. The German-style Helles lager is a bit rounder or fuller-bodied than light lager and even all-malt pilsners. Helles lager beers offer a touch of sweetness that balance a measurable addition of spicy German hop flavor and light bitterness.
Pale ales are usually hoppy but carry a lower alcohol content than IPAs. Most types of pale ale, which can include American amber ale, American pale ale, blonde ale and English pale ale, are malty, medium-bodied and easy to drink.
India Pale Ales (IPAs), include numerous styles of beer and get their characteristics largely from hops and herbal, citrus, or fruity flavors. They can be bitter and contain high alcohol levels, though the final product depends on the variety of hops used. Some IPAs can taste like pure citrus, while others are strong and bitter. Prominent IPA styles include West Coast IPA, British IPA, and New England Style IPA.
New England IPAs carry a fruity flavor with low bitterness, while the British style is maltier and bitter. West Coast IPAs appear to stand somewhere in the middle, with a balance between the fruitiness and bitterness. The best way to figure out your preference would be to figure out which IPA style goes best with your taste buds.
According to Jim Koch, IPAs are usually a beer drinker’s first introduction to the world of craft beer. He suggests trying out a variety of IPA types before eventually settling on a couple of favorites.
A stout is typically a dark beer and its flavor depends on where it comes from. Sweet stouts largely originate from Ireland and England, and they are known for their low bitterness. Ireland’s Guinness brand is considered by most as some of the world’s most recognizable stout beer.
The BJCP (Beer Judging Certificate Program) defines a stout as a “sweet, full-bodied, slightly toasty ale that can suggest coffee-and-cream, or sweetened espresso.” The darker color of the beer gives the impression it is tough to drink, but these darker stouts carry sweetness from unfermented sugars that offset any bitterness.
Stouts produced in the U.S. combine the typical dark body and creamy notes with the hoppy bitter flavors characterized by American beers. American stouts are strong, highly roasted, bitter, and hoppy, with high malt flavors that give them the taste of coffee or dark chocolate, according to the BJCP.
Traditional porters, which can trace their roots to the United Kingdom, are dark in color like stouts due to common ingredients like chocolate or other dark-roasted malts. Porters tend to taste less like coffee than stouts, with more of a chocolatey feel.
Belgium’s rich beer culture has poured into the U.S. over the years, giving enthusiasts on this side of the Atlantic a deep appreciation for the wide variety of Belgian-style flavors. Belgian beers span pale ales, dark ales, fruity ales, and sour ales. Belgian Beer is generally defined as beers that carry fruity, spicy, and sweet flavors with a high alcohol content and low bitterness.
Popular Belgian beers also include Trappist ales, which are produced only at Trappist monasteries that brew their own beer. Trappist ales encompass beers like Belgian Double, which is somewhat strong and complex, and Belgian Triple, which is pale, spicy and dry. Blond ales like Delirium Tremens further add to the strong flavor profile of Belgian beers.
Wheat beers rely on wheat for the malt ingredient, which gives the beverage a light color and alcohol level that makes it perfect for kicking back with during the summer and for combining it with fruit, like a slice of lemon or orange. Some wheat beers, with their funky and tangy flavors, fall under Belgian-style brews while the ones made in the U.S. have a light flavor that prompt your senses to think of bread.
Sour beer has become an enticing beverage to people looking to branch out their beer palates or to those wanting to try something new. Highly tart, sour beers can take on many forms, including Belgian-style Lambic beer, fruity Flanders ale and lemony Berliner Weisse beer. With the addition of fruits like cherry, raspberry or peach, sour beers marry sweet and sour to make beer flavors completely unlike the lagers and IPAs of beers past.
Hard cider is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of fruit, usually apples. The addition of "hard" in its name is used to distinguish this drink from its non-alcoholic counterpart, apple cider, which is made by pressing apples to produce juice.
In many parts of Europe and America, however, hard cider is known as simply "cider." Until the 20th century, the term "cider" referred to the alcoholic drink. Juice companies began using "cider" to label freshly pressed apple juice, and as a result, the term "hard cider" was adopted by some to highlight the difference between the two beverages. Hard Cider is not beer but fall somewhere between Beer and Wine.
Hard seltzer falls sort of into the realm of Hard Cider. Like its similarly named libation, hard seltzer is simply spiked seltzer or hard sparkling water. Hard seltzers are considered a type of highball drink. Generally, highball drinks are mixed in an ice-filled highball or Collin’s glass with a shot of a base spirit that is topped with a mixer or two, such as juice or soda. Think of your basic mixed drink made with a neutral spirit such as Vodka, Rum, or Gin. A hard seltzer starts a seltzer water (carbonated water) and then the neutral spirit, and mixers are added to it. hard seltzers are typically mixed with fruity flavors, but the recent uptick in popularity has distillers mixing in all sort of flavors from fruit to candy to coffee. In the US, the alcohol or spirt used in hard seltzer is usually made by fermenting cane sugar; malted barley is sometimes used.
5th generation brewer Nick Shields is credited with invented the beverage style “Spiked” Seltzer, in Westport, Connecticut, and brewed the first commercial batches in November 2013. The most popular brand is of beverage style spiked seltzer is White Claw. Hard seltzers are not beer.
Hard Lemonades are not beer, ciders, or seltzers. They lean more towards beer than anything because they are basically citrus juice and sugar added malt beverages – like beer but contain neutral spirts and carbonated water - like hard seltzers. They are low in alcohol by volume, but they are very, very sugary – making them more like a wine cooler than anything, but they are not wine.
One can also make a spiked lemonade by simply making lemonade and adding a neutral spirit to it… spiked lemonades are also called hard. In this case the water is non-carbonated and is more of a highball type drink – which again makes them more like a hard seltzer. They are a fun alcoholic beverage popular with the ladies and Democrats – and we will leave it at that.
Some Beer Lagniappe
We hope this primer helps you a bit the next time you are at the bar or in a restaurant looking to order a beer, or beer like beverage. Beer is better for you than soda pop. It has far fewer calories and carbs per equal volume and in most cases (with the few almost beers mentioned) zero sugars.
Believe it or not but drinking beer does come with many surprising health benefits, from brightening your smile to heading off dementia. While you may hear more about the healthy effects of red wine, beer is just as rich in beneficial chemicals called polyphenols.
Beer is a great source of silicon, which is important for building and maintaining healthy bones. In fact, the form of this mineral that is found in beer, Orthosilicic acid, is extra easy for the body to metabolize, according to a report in the International Journal of Endocrinology. If you are looking for a brew that will build your bones, try an India pale ale. IPAs and other beers with lots of malted barley and hops are the best beer sources of silicon, according to researchers.
According to Harvard researches, studies have found a 25 percent lower risk of heart disease in people who drink from one-half to two drinks daily, compared to abstainers. Alcoholic beverages that are rich in polyphenols — think beer! — may be especially good for the heart.
Beer also has benefits for people who already have heart disease, as well as for healthy folks. Men who had survived a heart attack were nearly half as likely to die over the next 20 years if they drank a couple of beers a day, according to the same Harvard researchers.
You know that slimy stuff that collects on your teeth if you have not brushed in a while? It is called biofilm, and beer can keep it from forming — and even help get rid of it. Studies have shown that the weakest extract of beer tested blocked the activity of bacteria associated with gum disease and tooth decay. In fact, for wiping out biofilm, beer beat out black-tea, raspberry, and all other extracts tested. It was also among the best for blocking communication among dental-disease-causing bacteria.
Lots of chemicals found in beer have shown promise in preventing or even treating cancer — although studies so far have been in Petri dishes and rodents. One type of bitter acid, lupulone, wiped out tumors in rats with colon cancer who consumed it in their drinking water.
Xanthohumol, another beer ingredient, also looks promising. Research found that Xanthohumol shut down abnormal cell growth and prevented DNA damage in rats exposed to cancer-causing chemicals. The researchers say Xanthohumol is likely to be good for humans too, since its cancer-fighting effects were seen at relatively low doses — equivalent to what people would get with moderate beer consumption. Xanthohumol, that chemical found in beer, was shown to shrink liver tumors in rats — can also protect brain cells from oxidative damage, according to studies. Austrian researchers reported that Xanthohumol and other beer ingredients promoted the growth and development of neurons — in the lab. No human studies have been conducted – that we know of.
A study in nearly 200,000 patients showed that while sugary soda and punch boosted kidney-stone risk, beer drinking reduced the likelihood of kidney stone formation by 60 percent. “Our study suggests that beer consumption is associated with reduced risk of forming stones in three large U.S. cohorts,” says Pietro Manuel Ferraro, MD, of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
Japanese beer manufacturer Sapporo funded studies that determined hops, the female flowers of the hop plant that give beer its tangy, bitter taste, are chock-full of chemicals known as bitter acids, which have an array of health-promoting effects. Bitter acids are powerful inflammation fighters. One type of bitter acid, humulone, offers promise for both preventing and treating viral respiratory infections. Hmmm, we wonder if drinking beer would help ward off newly discovered viral respiratory infections – it surely could not hurt - could it?
Bitter acids in beer may also improve digestion. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry looked at five types of German and Austrian beer and found that each triggered the release of gastric acid from stomach cells. The more bitter acids a brew contained, the greater the response. Gastric acid is key for both digesting food in the stomach and controlling the growth of dangerous gut bacteria.