Different styles of craft beer
Imagine walking into a craft beer bar and the bartender asks what kind of beer you prefer.
If you’re a seasoned beer expert, this will not faze you in the slightest, but for beginners, you may experience a slight panic - isn’t beer just beer???
The bad news is that the sheer number of different beer styles may overwhelm you, but don’t worry, we got your back. Here's a handy guide to the different styles of craft beer that will help kickstart your journey in becoming a craft beer connoisseur.
Pro tip: you might want to pour yourself a beer while going through this list.
The first thing you should know is that there are actually only two types of beer, namely, ales and lagers. But wait, aren’t there numerous beer styles? Well, yes, but these styles start out as ales or lagers before continuing to evolve and develop their own unique flavours.
So, what differs ales from lagers? The main differences between the two lie in the type of yeast used, and the temperature at which the yeast is fermented at.
Ales are made by fermenting Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast - a top-fermenting yeast that is also used to bake bread - at warmer temperatures of 15-23℃. Ales typically have fruity notes as well as strong hop flavours.
Indian Pale Ales (IPA)
Image credit: Dogfish Head
The most popular type of ale and craft beer style is the Indian Pale Ale (IPA). IPAs are characterised by their fruity flavours and splendid aroma, and are a definite must-have for craft beer beginners!
The American IPA is one of the most beloved beers out there, as the American hops not only provide you with a strong and bitter hops taste, but also include a burst of citrus and fruit flavours as you savour the ale.
West Coast IPA
The name “West Coast IPA” was born out of the fact that this particular style of IPA was mainly brewed in, well, the west coast of America. West Coast IPAs are characterised by their aggressive bitterness and intense hop aroma. The ale also hints at citrus and piney flavours and finishes floral with dry piney hop notes.
Image credit: Rogue Ales
Although taste is a defining marker of a beer, appearance helps too. Hazy IPA, like its name, is a beer that you can’t see through, thus hinting that its richness in flavour is the one responsible for its cloudy appearance. The flavour of Hazy IPAs rely on the addition of hops during fermentation, which unleashes the hoppy aroma without the bitterness.
Session IPAs are crisp and refreshing ales that are lighter on the alcohol content, thus making them sessionable, just as its name suggests. Despite having a lower alcohol content, Session IPAs still have a strong hop aroma and flavour that IPAs generally possess.
The Imperial IPA truly lives up to its regal name as its high alcohol content - typically above 7% - perfectly complements its strong hoppy flavours. If you are looking for an IPA that has a strong punch, the Imperial IPA will be perfect for you.
Wheat Ales are exactly what they sound like - ales that are brewed using a large proportion of wheat. Wheat Ales tend to be hazy, creamy, and citrusy. They are typically easier to drink, given that they contain less hops and are not as bitter.
Witbier, which essentially translates to “white beer”, is a Belgian wheat beer style that has, surprise surprise, a heavy wheat taste accompanied by coriander and bitter orange peel flavours. As you savour the ale, you will find that it is sweet, light and rejuvenating.
Hefeweizen, which translates to “yeast beer”, is a type of German weiss beer that has a peculiar flavour profile of banana or clove. Some may even compare its aroma and flavour to that of bubblegum.
Image credit: Golden Road
Fruited Wheats are delicious fruit beers that have a strong wheat flavour enhanced by the addition of a variety of fruits. The fruits used can range from your typical citrus fruits, to berries, mangoes, and watermelons.
Pale Ales are golden coloured beers that have strong hop and malt flavours. Pale Ales may be rich in flavour, but they do not come off too strong and are easy to approach. Originating from England, these ales inspired the American craft beer scene.
Image credit: Gage Roads
Blond, refreshing, and full of sunshine, Golden Ales are the perfect vacation beer - especially during the hot summer days. The Golden Ale is the perfect alternative to intense, hoppy IPAs with strong alcohol content. Golden Ales have a straightforward flavour profile of sweetness, maltiness, and hints of citrus notes.
No, Cream Ale is NOT a beer milkshake, as tasty as that may sound.
But it’s called Cream Ale, there should be cream in it!
Apart from certain modern Cream Ales that actually feature lactose in their recipes, cream is not a staple ingredient in Cream Ales. Cream Ale is a pale, light-bodied ale that has a smooth mouthfeel, thus making it a very pleasant and drinkable beer. It has a malty flavour that is sometimes complemented by a hint of corn that pairs very well with salty bites.
The Amber Ale is a full-bodied ale whose enhanced malt flavours are created by the use of crystal malts. The amber-coloured Pale Ale has caramel and toffee notes and a bitterness that arises from the use of American-variety hops.
American Pale Ale
The American Pale Ale has a clean malt taste that complements the hop-forward flavours in the ale. The use of American hops in the American Pale Ale - wow, what a shock - creates hints of citrus, while the malt flavours are reminiscent of toast or biscuits.
Australian Pale Ale
The Australian Pale Ale is definitely malty, but its perfect elegance is achieved by its complementary woody or fruity hops notes. Like its American counterpart, the Australian Pale Ale also has the hoppy bitterness and fruity fragrance in its flavour profile.
Dark Ales are, well, darker-coloured ales. These ales often have a hint of chocolate, coffee, and roasted caramel, due to the longer roasting or brewing process.
Image credit: Founders
Porter & Stout
Porter and Stout are both dark ales brewed from barley, but many do not really know the difference between the two. That is because back then, many variations of Porter had been developed, including the darkest variation dubbed the “Stout Porter”. Yup, you guessed it - the “Stout Porter” is the Stout that we currently know and love today.
Image credit: Freepik
The main difference between a Porter and a Stout is the type of malt used to brew each beer style. Porters use dark malted barley while stouts use either unmalted roasted barley, or black malt. Using different types of malt will result in different flavour profiles in the beer.
Porter tends to taste sweeter than Stout, as its flavours are reminiscent of caramel or chocolate. Meanwhile, Stout has a strong roasted taste along with a hint of espresso.
The Imperial Stout has the strongest alcohol content out of all the stouts and has extremely rich malt flavours with hints of toast or caramel. The stout has a full, velvety smooth, and almost chewy mouthfeel with a toasty warm and bitter finish.
Brown Ale might sound lame since it’s named after a colour, but don’t dismiss it just yet! Its low alcohol content and sweetness makes it easy to drink while its chocolate and caramel malt flavours seal the deal.
Scotch Ales are known for their intense malt and caramel flavours with a side of smokiness that is reminiscent of whisky. The ale has a high alcohol content, and a fairly dry finish.
Image credit: La Trappe
The Belgian Blond has a slight aroma of sweet grain and earthy hops. As you savour the ale, you will be able to taste the hop flavours with some earthiness and spice. The subtle yeast flavours will then creep in along with fruity notes and, not to forget, the bitterness from the alcohol and hops.
The Saison is a complex and satisfying brew that boasts soft malt flavours along with fruity, peppery, and earthy notes. It is a rejuvenating ale that entices you right from its delightful aroma, while finishing light and dry.
Image credit: @westmalle_belgium
The Dubbel, or Double, is a dark-coloured Belgian ale that has a pleasant malty sweetness and is reminiscent of cocoa and caramel flavours. The taste of yeast-generated fruity esters, such as banana, can also be apparent in a Dubbel.
Tripels are strong golden ales that have complex notes of orange citrus, banana, spice, and floral hops. Given its name, you can expect the alcohol content of a Tripel to be higher than that of a Dubbel.
The Quadrupel’s most defining characteristic would be its delicious blend of raisins, plums, dates, grapes, and the dark fruit flavours of figs. You will also be able to taste its rich malty goodness, as well as some spicy elements. The Quad will also have a strong taste of alcohol and moderate bitterness.
You can definitely judge the beer by its name as sour beers are indeed sour. What makes the ale sour? Well, sours are actually the result of a happy accident, where back then, beers were stored in open-air vessels that were perfect breeding grounds for wild yeast and bacteria to thrive.
Today, breweries intentionally introduce different types of microflora to create a variety of sours. If your tastebuds are craving for something adventurous, you should try a sour, as some of them can get real funky.
Image credit: @arangebrew
Gose is an oddly delicious ale that hits you with surprising flavours of coriander and salt while finishing strong with a refreshingly sour taste.
Berliner Weisse is a cloudy ale that has a sour taste that is definitely not vinegary, but is instead reminiscent of lemons and unripe apples.
Flemish (Flanders) Red Ale
Flemish ale - also dubbed the most wine-like of beers - has a strong and intense fruit flavours that are reminiscent of plum, prune, raisin, and raspberry.
Lambic is a funky sour ale that is characterised by its weird but complex flavour profile. Lambics often have a musty taste but also a fragrant citrus component. The acidity, funk, and citrus notes create what we all need in life - balance.
Now that we have gone through the basic ale styles, we can move on to lagers. Lagers are made by fermenting Saccharomyces pastorianus yeast - a bottom-fermenting yeast - at lower temperatures of 7-12℃.
Lagers are known for being clean and crisp, and are generally milder-tasting beers. Compared to ales, lagers are sweeter, smoother, and more refreshing to taste.
Dry, clean-tasting, lean, and crisp. These are the four characteristics that can be said to describe pale lagers, other than the rather obvious fact that these lagers run a lighter shade, just like their name suggests.
The Pilsner is one of the many variations of pale lagers, which are golden-coloured beers that are known to be dry and crisp. This, however, does not mean that the flavour profiles of pilsners are boring or one-dimensional.
Image credit: @waywardbrewing
By adding the Saaz noble hops to its recipe, the Pilsner is basically the evolution of a lager, you know, kind of like Pokémon. These lagers are known for their spiciness - not spicy like chilli or pepper - but spicy in the sense that it has a certain kick to it, because of the special hops. Just give it a try and you’ll know what we mean.
Many beer lovers don’t really exactly know what a Kolsch beer is, and with good reason too. Is it an ale, or a lager? Well actually, it is both. Kolsch beer is a hybrid beer that utilises both techniques in brewing ales and lagers. This unique beer style originated from Germany, and it is created by using ale yeast, but is finished in colder temperatures just like lagers.
A Kolsch is light, easy to drink, but also contains a hint of muted fruitiness that is reminiscent of wine. Compared to other pale lagers, a Kolsch has a crisper and cleaner finish.
Helles, which means pale in colour, is a German-style lager that is all about the balance between the delectable malt sweetness, the floral fragrance, and the slight spicy bitterness from the German hops. Clean and crisp, the Helles is a well-rounded beer that is refreshing and flavourful.
The Vienna Lager is a medium-bodied beer that is characterised by its sweet and toasty malt flavours. The crisp copper-coloured lager does not have a strong hop taste and will have a dry finish.
The Bock is a full-bodied dark lager that originated from Germany. For bocks, it’s really all about the malt, much unlike a pilsner. Bocks have an intense aroma of dark baking bread and a flavour profile that contains a hint of caramel and just enough hops to balance that sweetness from the malt. The lager also has a velvety smooth finish.
Image credit: Shiner
The Dunkel is a dark lager style whose colours run from a deep reddish mahogany to a dark, rich shade of brown. The flavour profile of a Dunkel is rather malt-forward, and often has flavour notes of toffee, nuts, chocolate, and even licorice. It has a moderate bitterness accompanied by subtle hints of hoppy flavour.
What’s your favourite style of craft beer?
Image credit: @holgatebeer
Now that you know all about the different styles of craft beer, the only thing left to do is to figure out what your favourite craft beer style is. How do you go about doing that? Well, as a wise fish once said, just keep swimming drinking and you’ll eventually figure it out.