Types of beer

Are innumerable: even the key styles have sub-varieties, or the names may have changed meaning over time and distance, or the same style may have different names in different languages or dialects, just to add to the muddle.

This list is just an attempt to consolidate my knowledge. I’ll keep adding to it, either as I learn more, or realise I’ve forgotten stuff, or when people correct me. Or to add images.

Belgian beers in vein of Trappist beers, but without the official monastic supervision.

Generic term for beers that are made with top fermenting yeasts at warmer temperatures. Historically, ales were unhopped but not any more. Not for a long while.

“Old beer”, a German (specifically Düsseldorf and Westphalia) dark ale.

Coppery ales that derive their colour from crystal malts.

American IPA
US evolution of the English IPA. Big, aromatic, bitter ales made with the distinctively citrussy, resiny West Coast US hop varieties: Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe, Centennial, Columbus. The quintessential beer of the craft beer movement.

American pale ale. “The first true American craft-beer style, this took inspiration from the pale beers brewed in Europe and then made them American by using the hugely fruity hops grown the West Coast of the United States.” (Mark Dredge). On a spectrum with pale ales and American IPAs.

Barley wine
A fairly generic term, but basically an English style of strong ale, with 8% ABV plus. Indeed, at 12% some have a comparable strength to grape wine.

Bière de Garde
“Beer for keeping”, strong ale from Pas de Calais, equivalent to Belgian saison beers.

Synonymous with English pale ale. Ales with wide variation in colour and strength, but most typically around 5% and golden-brown. By modern standards not especially bitter or hoppy, more defined by mellow maltiness.

Bière blanche
See witbier (below).

Generic term for light, golden coloured pale ales of varying malt and hop profiles.

Strong German lager. The name, purportedly, derives from accent and dialect variables in Germany, where the place where the style originated – Einbeck – became ein bock (“a billy goat”). Variables include doppelbock (see below).

Brown ale
Fairly generic term for a sweet, brown generally mild, lower alcohol ale. More specifically an English ale type, originally.

Doppio malto
Italian birra doppio malto (“double malt ale”) can be seen as the equivalent of English strong ales or even some barley wines, or strong Belgian abbey beers, or Trappist dubbels. Italian beers are classified as analcolica (non-alcoholic, though technically low-alchohol), leggera(light) or normale, speciale and doppio malto, with each category defined by its gradi plato – a measurement of density.

“Double”. Medium to strong brown Trappist ale.

Dark, maltier version of bock (see above).

“Dark” in German, and used to refer to various dark lagers. More typical of Bavaria. Malty, not as strong as dopplebocks.

Extra special bitter. An English brewer’s highest original gravity bitter, after session/ordinary bitter (lower) and special/best bitter (middling).  Synonymous with premium bitter.

A type of lambic (see below). Made by blending  a lambic and a young, sweetened beer.

Frambozen, framboise
Dutch/Belgian raspberry lambic (see below).

Fruit beer
Any beer that uses fruit adjuncts. May be whole fruit, purées or juices. Kriek cherry lambic is a fruit beer, for example, but others may be more convention brews augmented with fruit ingredients.

Geuze, gueuze
A type of well-carbonated Belgian lambic, made with blend of older (2-3 years) and young lambics.

Golden ale
Generic term for light golden ales, sometimes used synonymously with “blonde”. Arguably, golden ales have less body, and are crisper, more like lagers.

“Yeast wheat” in German. A type of wheat beer with low hoppiness, high carbonation, phenolic clove aromas. See also kristallweizen.

“Bright” in German. Distinguishes this lager from dunkel. Munich pale lager inspired by Czech pilsners.

India Pale Ale. Now a varied style (see American IPA) but original English versions were less punchy, made with older, mellower English hop varieties. The hoppiness originally developed out of necessity – its preservative quality allowed the ale to survive the long journey to British imperial India without going off.

Imperial stout, Russian Imperial stout
Strong (9% ish ABV) dark beer style first brewed in 18th century England for export to Russia. Brewing industry veteran Ian Swanson, teacher at the Beer Academy, said it was a case of the ships needing ballast as they went to Russia and brought back timber.

Kolsch, Kölsch, Koelsch
A light, lager-like top fermented beer from Cologne (Köln), Germany. Becoming popular as it’s easily accessible to lager drinkers, but is quicker to make, not requiring lagering (cold store conditioning).

A type of Belgian lambic made with sour cherries.

A type of wheat beer: a hefeweizen that’s been filtered for brightness.

Generic term for beers that are made with bottom-fermenting yeasts at colder temperatures, and involve a cold “lagering” (literally “storage” in German) conditioning period, originally in caves or tunnels.Where caves or tunnels weren’t an option, winter ice was used to cool the cellars. This was superceded by refridgeration in the 1870s. Lagers were first brewed in Britain in Glasgow and Wrexham in the 1880s, but didn’t really start to take over until the 1960s. Despite German (etc) pride in lagers, it’s the culprit for some of the worst crimes against beer in its long history, and the reason I stopped drinking for years as a teenager in the late 1980s. Shockingly for a country with such an important ale history, the biggest selling beer in Britain since 1985 is a generic industrial lager. Mentioning no names. …. Carling.

Distinctive beer style specifically from Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels). Relies on spontaneous fermentation and wild yeasts (like Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus) and lactobacilli, and as such is very different to other beer styles with their tightly controlled yeast strains. Various sub-varieties, like kriek, geuze, faro. 30% unmalted wheat. Winey and sour flavours. Hops used for preservation not bitterness, so often old and intentionally cheesy. Aged in sherry and wine barrels.

Märzen, Märzenbier, Marzen
A malty lager originally from Bavaria though now more generic.

Low gravity, malty beer from England. “Mild” originally referred to a young, fresh beer, as opposed to a more flavoursome old, or stale, beer but more recently can mean “mildly hopped.” X to XXXX strengths, historically.

Milk stout
A variable of stout (see below), made with lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is unfermentable so the resulting beers have a thick, creamy body with lower ABVs.

NZ draft, NZ draught
Common New Zealand beer style. A malty, minimally hopped brown lager with ABV around 4-5%.

Oatmeal stout
Stout made with oats alongside the malt, adding a smoothness.

Oktoberfest, Oktoberfestbier
Traditionally Märzen lagers brewed in March and largered to October. Now a registered trademark of six members of the Club of Munich Brewers.

Old ale
Name for dark, malty British ales, generally 5% ABV plus. Originally contrasted with mild ales.

Oud bruin
“Old brown”. From the Flemish region of Belgium, a malty brown ale with sour notes due to an atypically long aging process.

Pale ale
Generic term for ales produced with pale malts. English bitters, IPAs, APAs and Scotch ales are all variations on pale ale.

Pilsener, Pilsner, Pils
Type of pale lager that originated in the Bohemian city of Plzeň (Pilsen), now in the Czech Republic. Now many lagers made outside of Pilsen are considered pilseners.

Originally a dark, nutritious ale drunk by London porters in the 18th century, made with dark brown malts . A strong porter was a “stout porter”, though now the terms are almost interchangeable.

Pumpkin beer
US style, made with pumpkin flesh and often unveiled ceremoniously in the Autumn. Often spiced with pumpkin pie spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. A type of vegetable beer.

“Smoked beer” from Bamberg, Germany. Made with malt dried oven an open flame.

A Bavarian type of rye beer with light, dry, spicy taste. Brewed with same yeast as hefeweizen (see above).

Rye beer
Beers featuring rye alongside the more typical malt (malted barley). See roggenbier.

A fairly generic French term (“season” ) for strong-ish pale ales. Saison beer evolved in the farms of Wallonia, French-speaking Belgium, where it was brewed in late winter, and stored for drinking by farm workers slaving away at the harvest and whatnot.

“Black beer”. German term for dark lagers made with dark malts.

Scotch ale
Scottish style of pale ale, malty but lightly hopped. Also known as “wee heavy”, apparently. May feature peaty or smoked malts, often fairly strong (6-9% ABV).

Not so much a style as a strength: weak-ish beers (4% ABV or less, generally) than can be drunk fairly copiously in a “session”. Generally more about the (US, citrussy) hops than the malt.

Smoked beer
Beers made with smoked malt – which is dried with open fire. Not a fan.

Originally a British term to describe strong beer, such as “pale stout” or “stout porter.” Evolved and muddled up with porter, and came to be another name for dark (black-ish) ales. Remained popular in early 20th century when porters all but died out, before its revival in the 1970s.

Beer produced by, or under the supervisor of, Trappist monks. As of 2014, there are 10 Trappist beer producers, mostly in Belgium, but also in Netherlands, US and Austria. Chimay most famous. Various top-fermented styles, classified as Enkel (single), Dubbel and Tripel.

“Triple”, strongest of the Trappist beers.

Vegetable beer
Any beer that’s made with vegetable ingredients – like the US pumpkin beers. Another popular vegetable beer flavouring ingredient is chili pepper. Even though it’s technically a fruit (see fruit beer).

Local equivalent of dunkel or schwarzbier, that is a dark lager.

“White beer” in Bavarian. A category of wheat beers that includes hefeweizens.

“White” in German. Wheat beers, same as weissbier basically but a different dialect name.

Wheat beer
Beers (usually ales, see above) made with a high proportion of wheat – at least 50% – along with the malt.

“White beer”, aka “bière blanche”. Wheat beer from the Netherlands and Belgium (predominantly). Tends to be hazy when cold, due to yeast and wheat proteins suspended in the liquid. Mostly feature gruit: a Dutch term (grute in German) for blends of herbs, spices and fruit used for flavouring and preserving certain continental beers prior to the popularisation of hops in the middle ages. Today these may well involve coriander and orange zest.

It’s one big happy fermented family! Pop Chart Lab, a Brooklyn-based design team have done some excellent visualisations of it, here and (a newer version) here.


Filed under Ale, beer, Misc

2 responses to “Types of beer

  1. Michael Etherington

    This is really interesting and useful to bring together all the terms and explain the differences. Michael

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