When I was new into the craft beer scene I really wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. There are so many choices that it is a bit overwhelming. There are also a lot of random names that appear over and over again on bottles of beer that seem to give some type of classification. Pale Ale, Stout, Porter, Lager, these words appear on a lot of beer labels after the actual name of the beer. If you don’t know what they mean, you might be getting into something that you don’t want or like.
While there are a lot of names, beer is pretty simple. Like wine, beer is broken down into styles. Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Champagne are all different types of wine, and you have an idea of what to expect when you hear them. The same follows through for beer. Hell, dogs are even classified and you know what to expect from one breed to another. Like wine, beer is basically broken down into to main categories where everything else stems from. In the wine world, white or red are the start of the branching out. In the beer world, you fall under lager and ale.
Unlike the wine world (at least in my experience), an ale can taste like a lager and a lager can taste like a beer. These two classifications simple refer to the type of yeast that was used in making the beer. In general ales ferment at a higher temperature, take less like to ferment, and also ferment on the top of the beer. Lager yeast is the exact opposite, they like lower temperatures, long fermentation times, and ferment on the bottom of the beer.
So knowing a lager from an ale might help you with a few things, but not a whole lot. Out of those two main branches of the beer world grows a much fuller tree. I’m not going to address what each style is right now as that would take a long time to complete, but when looking at a beer, the style tells you what to expect from the beer. When you see stout on a label, you expect a thick, dark colored beer with a tan head that is going to be smooth and full of roasty flavors. If you were expecting to get something like that out of a pilsner, you are sadly mistaken. I am going to be doing a “series” on beer styles and explore each one and give recommendations on good examples of each style. But just remember that when you want to know what to expect from a beer, look at the style and you will have a much deeper understanding of what you will be tasting.