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Types Of Beer: The Full Guide

types of beer

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Like almost anything else, there are fads in alcoholic beverages – like the cosmo during Sex & the City’s heyday. Yet one drink has remained a top choice for thousands of years: beer. While certain types of beer may be trendier than others, beer is consistently the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world.If you own a bar, restaurant, or brewery, you may want to consider putting beer on your menu (with the appropriate licenses, of course). Understanding the different types of beers – from IPAs to pilsners to lagers – is key to offering a selection of drinks that will appeal to customers. Below, we outline different types of beer to help you decide what to serve in your establishment.

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Distinguishing Between Types of Beer

While there are seemingly endless types of beer, all beers fall into one of two styles: ales and lagers. The main difference between ales and lagers is the type of yeast used and what the yeast does during the fermentation process.With lagers, a yeast known as saccharomyces pastorianus is used. It gathers at the bottom of the tank during fermentation, producing a clean, crisp, and refreshing lager. With ales, the saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast (also known as brewer’s yeast) gathers towards the top of the tank. This produces a more aromatic and often fruity ale.

There is also a difference in timing and temperature between these two primary types of beer. Ales age for a few weeks at 40 to 55 degrees, while lagers often age for months at a colder temperature of 32 to 45 degrees. This process also helps to produce the distinct flavors of ales and lagers.

Beer Characteristics

Of course, within these broad categories of beer, there are many other differences between different types of beer. Two characteristics can often be used to describe these beer styles: alcohol by volume (ABV) and international bitterness unit (IBU).

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

ABV is exactly what it sounds like: the percentage of alcohol in a given beer. This number can affect the taste of the beer, as higher ABV beers often have a more bitter flavor. These beers also often have added flavors to compensate for the way that the alcohol neutralizes the natural flavors of the beer.

International Bitterness Unit (IBU)

IBU measures the number of bitter flavor compounds in a beer. It starts at 0 and has no upper limit. However, most beers have an IBU of between 5 and 120. Any IBU over 120 generally can’t be detected by most people.With this background information in mind, it’s time to get to the good part: talking about different types of beer. Understanding these beer styles is important for a business owner in the food and beverage industry, as it dictates things like food pairings and even glass types. 

Most Common Types of Beer

Trying to stock a range of beer types can be daunting. There are more than 100 beer styles on the market, plus unknown variations on these basic recipes. Many breweries also experiment with new or unusual beer styles, which can make it even harder to know if you truly have a comprehensive beer list.In this guide, we break down the most common types of beers and their characteristics. It can be useful as a way to decide what beers to keep on tap at your bar or restaurant. Having a well-rounded selection of beers is a great way to keep customers happy – and to encourage others to visit your establishment!

Lager Styles

Lager is the most popular beer in the world and probably one that most Americans recognize. Popular beers from major corporations like Budweiser, Coors Light, Michelob Ultra, and Corona are all lager-style beers. Lagers account for most of the beer produced in the United States.Common lager beers include:

  • American Lager: this beer type is highly carbonated, with a clean and crisp flavor. They generally don’t have the character associated with higher levels of hops and malts but are incredibly popular. The ABV is typically 3.2 to 4%, with a low IBU. Examples of American Lager include Coors, Budweiser, and Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR).
  • Pilsner: a pale lager, pilsners are bitter from hops with some sweetness from malt. Pilsners are usually pale in color and have a refreshing flavor. The ABV of pilsners may vary, but is usually around 4.5 to 5%. Pilsners often have a lower to mid IBU rating of 20 to 40. Popular pilsners include Beck’s, Heineken, and St. Pauli Girl.
  • Vienna Lager: this beer is copper in color, and has a medium body. You may notice a malty aroma and notes of toast or bread, with low levels of malt bitterness. This beer usually has an ABV of 4.5 to 5.5%, and an IBU of 22 to 28. Common brands of Vienna lager include Dos Equis Amber Lager, Blue Point Toasted Lager and Great Lakes Eliot Ness.
  • Mexican Lager: this beer is brewed with maize, or flaked corn. It is often served with or flavored by lime. Mexican lagers usually have an ABV of 4 to 4.9%, and an IBU of 18 to 22. A popular Mexican lager is Corona.
  • Helles: this German style beer is bright gold in color with more malt than a traditional pilsner. It has a higher ABV at 4.8 to 5.6%, and an IBU of 18 to 25. Examples include Stoudt’s Gold Lager and Victory Helles Lager.
  • Imperial pilsner: this style of pilsner is a stronger lager with a more pronounced malt flavor. A higher malt content means a higher ABV percentage of up to 11%. The IBU range is 40 to 85. This makes for a beer that is sweeter and richer in both taste and texture. Popular imperial pilsners include WIld Boy Hopped Lager and Beavo.
  • Bock: a dark brown lager, this beer is recognizable for its high malt content with a light and toasty aroma. It often has an ABV percentage of 5.5 to 7.5, and little bitterness (IBU of 20 to 30). Popular bock beers include Samuel Adams Winter Lager and Great Lakes Rockefeller Bock.
  • Amber American Lager: this beer features more predominant malt flavors, with a range of bitterness from hops. It has a darker color, a smooth taste, and a caramel aroma. The ABV of this beer style ranges from 4.8 to 5.4%, with an IBU of 18 to 30. Popular Amber American lagers include Yuengling Lager and Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Keep in mind that there are many variations within each type of lager. For example, there is a traditional bock beer – described above – but there is also a doppelbock (with a higher alcohol content) a weizenbock (a fruity bock made with wheat), and a maibock (a pale, hoppier bock). Finally, while lager beer production has traditionally been dominated by large corporate brewers due to time, equipment, and space considerations, more craft brewers are producing lagers today.

Ale Styles

While ales do not dominate the American beer industry like lagers, they are increasingly popular. This may be attributed in part to the craft beer movement that has introduced a range of ale styles to the American public. Common ale styles include:

  • India Pale Ale (IPA): these beers tend to be more bitter, with both herbal and citrus flavors. They have a higher alcohol content at 6.3 to 7.5% ABV and a high level of bitterness at an IBU of 50 to 70. Popular American IPAs include Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA and Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.
  • English IPA: these beers have a weaker hop flavor compared to American IPAs, with a lower alcohol content of 5 to 7%. The bitterness range is 35 to 63 IBU. Examples of this beer style include Shipyard IPA, Samuel Smith’s India Pale Ale, and Goose Island India Pale Ale. 
  • Imperial or Double IPA: a style of American IPA, this beer has a stronger flavor and is more bitter. It also has a higher ABV of 7.0 to 14%, with an IBU of 65 to 100. Common types of double IPAs include Lagunitas Maximum and Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder.
  • American Amber Ale: this beer has a caramel flavor and is amber in color. It is malty with a lower alcohol content of  4.4 to 6.1%. These beers fall within the mid-range of hoppy bitterness at 25 to 45 IBU. Examples of this beer type include Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale and Stone Brewing Company’s Levitation Ale.
  • American Pale Ale: with a noticeable hop flavor, this copper-colored beer tends to be medium-bodied. It has a lower ABV of 4.4 to 5.4%, with an IBU of 30 to 50. Common pale ales include Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Pale Ale and Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale.
  • Blonde Ale: this pale ale is more balanced, with equal notes of hoppiness and maltiness. Blonde ales often have a fruity aroma. These beers tend to have an ABV of 4.1 to 5.1%, with an IBU of 15 to 25. Examples of blonde ales include Flying Fish Brewing Company’s Farmhouse Summer Ale and Victory Brewing Company’s Summer Love.
  • American Stout: this beer has strong chocolate and coffee flavors thanks to maltiness, without overpowering bitterness from the hops. The ABV for this beer ranges from 5.7 to 8.9%, with an IBU of 35 to 60. Common American stouts include Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout and Highland Black Mocha Stout.
  • Imperial Stout: this beer is darker and maltier than the standard American stout. Like all imperials, it has a much higher ABV of 7 to 12%. It also is more bitter, with an IBU of 50 to 80. Examples of Imperial stouts include Bell’s Java Stout and Dogfish Head Brewery’s Worldwide Stout.
  • Sour Ale: sour beers have a low alcohol content and a tart, sour flavor from bacteria introduced to the brew mash. American sour beers have a wide range of ABVs and IBUs. Popular types of sour ales include Weyerbacher Riserva and Samuel Adams American Kriek.
  • Wheat Ale: American pale wheat beer has a pale color with a light bread flavor. It has a low alcohol content at 3.5 to 5.6% ABV, and low levels of bitterness (10 to 35 IBU). Common examples of this beer include Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat and Shipyard Summer Ale.
  • Gose: these beers are infused with fruit and vegetable flavors. The ABV can range significantly, from 2.5 to 12%, with IBUs from 5 to 50. Examples of this beer style include Modern Times Beer’s Fruitlands Sour Cherry Gose.
  • American Brown Ale: This is a darker beer with a dark caramel color and a medium to full-bodied profile. It has a medium level of bitterness, with a typical IBU of 25 to 45. The ABV of most American brown ales is 4.2 to 6.3%. Examples of this type of beer include Brooklyn Brown Ale and Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown.
  • American Imperial Porter: darker in color, this beer has a more chocolatey taste compared to brown ales. This beer has a malty sweetness, with an IBU of 35 to 50. American imperial porters have a higher alcohol content of 7 to 12%. Popular types of American imperial porters include Stone Smoked Porter and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Porter.
  • English Brown Porter: similar in style to American porters, this beer has a lower alcohol content and tends to be less sweet. Its ABV ranges from 4.5 to 6%, with an IBU range of 20 to 30. Examples of this beer include Arcadia London Porter and Shipyard Longfellow Winter Ale.

As with lagers, this is just a sampling of common types of ales. There are seemingly endless variations on each subtype of beer, along with specialty beers that fall into this category.

What Type of Beer Should You Serve?

It can be hard to decide what beers to keep on tap or to stock if you aren’t a brewery dedicated to creating your own beer. For bars, a good rule of thumb is to have a range of the most popular styles of beers – perhaps one from each subcategory listed above. For example, you might offer a few American lagers, a Mexican lager, a pilsner, an IPA, a stout, and a sour ale. If there are particular specialty beers that are popular in your area, it is probably a good idea to stock those beers. Similarly, many customers like to see bars and restaurants serving craft beers from the region. You might even be able to partner with a local craft brewery to offer their beers.

Restaurants should take a close look at their menu when deciding which beers to stock. Some types of beers simply go better with certain cuisines. For example, a maibock pairs well with Italian food (as does wine!). American pale ales, saisons, witbiers, hefeweizens, and American black ales all go well with seafood. If your restaurant is dedicated to a particular type of cuisine, stocking beers that pair well with those beers simply makes good sense.

Of course, you can and should also keep an eye on sales numbers. If your Point of Sale (PoS) software indicates that sales of particular beers are strong (or weak), you can rethink your decision to stock those drinks. 

How Budget Branders Can Help Your Business Grow

Even if you’re a beer aficionado, there may still be a lot that you don’t know about beer. Having a decent understanding of the different types and styles of beer can help you build a beer menu that appears to a broader swath of customers. Our guide is a great place to start your search. Budget Branders works with restaurants, bars, and breweries throughout the United States to help them get the products that they need at prices and in quantities that make sense. We know that branded disposable products can have a significant impact on your marketing efforts. Our products allow you to get the high-quality items that you need with the added bonus of extending your advertising efforts.

To learn more about our products, submit a contact form or a quote request. Our branding experts are always available to answer questions. Simply press the live chat button to get started.

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