Beer 101: A Basic Guide For Understanding Beer Styles

Beer is becoming ever trendier, with more and more people expanding their craft knowledge and trying new beer styles. According to a write-up of 2015 food trends from Food Business News, beer drinkers are starting to embrace hop-free beers, which are made with herbs and bitter plants.

“It explores how many people today are on the hunt for new experiences, whether it’s aromatic or texture or flavor,” culinary trendologist Sara Nielsen told Food Business News of the trending fascination with new beer styles.

Students of cooking schools online learn that beer is often used in recipes and gourmet pairings, so understanding different beer styles and trends is very important. Hop-free brews might be a little too advanced for beer rookies, so if you’re looking to gain a beginner’s understanding of beer styles, check out this basic beer guide:

What’s in beers
Most beers are made up of four basic ingredients:

  • Barley, which is processed into malt, then brewed
  • Hops, which are added during brewing to balance the malt with a more bitter flavor
  • Yeast, which adds carbonation and alcohol content during fermentation
  • Water

Ale vs. lager
The most basic distinction to make in a beer is whether it’s an ale or a lager, which is determined by how the yeast ferments during the brewing process.

Beers are brewed in tanks, and in ales, the yeast ferments at the top of the tank, which is called top-fermenting. Ale-brewing is done in warmer environments, generally between 60 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes the yeast brew more quickly and causes more flavorful, complex and generally darker beers.

Lagers are bottom-fermenting, which means the yeast ferments at the bottom of the tank when lagers are brewing. Lagers brew in colder temperatures for a longer time than ales, which causes the yeast to produce fewer of the compounds that add flavor. This process makes for crisper, less-complex beers.

Common ale styles:

  • Pale ales and India pale ales (IPAs) – Pale ales are known for being some of the hoppiest and are generally light in color.
  • Stouts and porters – Stouts and porters are very dark beers, though not necessarily heavy. Stouts, like Guinness, tend to have a roasted malt or caramel flavor, while porters are described as having roasted coffee, chocolate and bitter flavors.
  • Wheat beers – Wheats are commonly from German brewers, and they are light-colored but pretty heavy on the palate, with natural flavors like fruits and vanilla.

Common lager styles:

  • Pilsners – Pilsners, like Stella Artois, are pale and medium-bodied, with crisp and slightly hoppy flavors.
  • Ambers – Ambers are darker and reddish in color like their name suggests, with some maltiness and generally light fruit flavors. Amber beers range from very to lightly hoppy depending on the brewery.
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