While craft brewing, home brewing and beer tasting have exploded in popularity in recent years, beer ultimately consists of a few basic styles. In this complete guide on the main types of beer, you'll brush up your knowledge about common and popular styles of beer to increase your familiarity with one of the world's oldest drinks.
Where did beer originate from?
Many countries have tried to stake their claim as the first creators of the amber nectar, however, the first barley beer production dates back to the period of the Sumerians, around 4,000 BCE. Sumerians were the earliest known civilization from what is now known as Iraq.
Although many believe that Germany was in fact the birthplace of beer, as it was in Germany where modern and popular beer styles were developed in the middle ages. As well as being a country renowned for its beer drinking inbedded in its cultural identity. However, history shows there were many ancient civilizations from the Sumerians, Babylonians, Eqyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and more who were involved in the development of the refreshing beverage we enjoy today.
The beer market in 2023
According to Statista, Revenue in the Beer segment amounts to a hefty US$610.00bn in 2023, and, it seems, our thirst for beer is unquenchable as the market is expected to grow annually by 5.44% (CAGR 2023-2027).
For any entrepreneurs looking to enter the F&B industry, beer would be the most sensible bet. A Statista analyst said "Beer is the most important segment in the global Alcoholic Drinks market, both by volume and value. In comparison to other segments of the Alcoholic Drinks market, this segment is already quite concentrated, with the top 5 players accounting for roughly 60% of global volume – half of which is attributable to market leader AB InBev alone."
The 3 main beer types: Lager, Ale & Hybrid
Beer can be categorized by these two main types: lagers and ales. The two points of differentiation between these major beer classifications is the type of yeast and fermentation process. Ales are fermented with top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F), and lagers are fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures (35˚–50˚F). Some beers can be classified as hybrids, containing both lager beers and ale characteristics.
Lagers are a newer style of beer with two key differences from ales. Lagers ferment for a long time at a low temperature, and they rely on bottom-fermenting yeasts, which sink to the bottom of the fermenting tank to do their magic.
The global lager market size reached US$328.4bn in 2021, and is predicted by research carried out by the Imarc Group to continue growing at a CAGR of 2.9% (2022-2027) to reach US$391.1bn by 2027. Lagers are common among European countries, including Czechia, Germany, and the Netherlands, as well as in Canada, where they make up more than half of all beer sales.
A subspecies of lager, pilsner beers are distinguished by their water, which varies from neutral to hard. Pilsners are among the hoppiest lagers and generally have a dry, slightly bitter flavor. Their light golden color, clear body, and crisp finish make Pilsners a popular summer beer.
Characterized by its pale color which ranges from resembling straw to a golden hue. American lagers are highly carbonated beers with a refreshing, crisp taste. The flavor may vary from brand to brand but tend to lack the hops and malt that are present in ales. They make for easy drinking when getting together for BBQs in the garden during summer.
Ale is a general category of beer: You'll find sub-categories like brown ales or pale ales. This is the oldest style of beer, which dates back to antiquity. What distinguishes an ale - and also makes this category of beer accessible for home brewers - is a warm-temperature fermentation for a relatively short period of time. In the brewing process, brewers introduce top-fermenting yeasts which, as the name suggests, ferment on the top of the brew. The fermentation process turns what would otherwise be a barley and malt tea into a boozy beverage.
Research carried out by the Imarc Group indicated that the global craft beer market size reached US$117.1bn in 2022 and expects the market to reach US$221.5bn by 2028 exhibiting a very promising growth rate (CAGR) of 10.8% during 2023-2028. This research encapsulates Lager, Ales and Hybrid beers but the rapid growth of the craft beer category shows a thirst for weird and wonderful creations from independent breweries, and perhaps, a shift away from traditional lagers which have historically been the more popular type of beer.
A type of ale, porter beers are known for their dark black color and roasted malt aroma and notes. Porters may be fruity or dry in flavor, which is determined by the variety of roasted malt used in the brewing process.
Like porters, stouts are dark, roasted ales. Stouts taste less sweet than porters and often feature a bitter coffee taste, which comes from unmalted roasted barley that is added to the wort. They are characterized by a thick, creamy head. Ireland's Guinness may be one of the world's best-known stouts.
This easy drinking ale is a summer favorite, thanks to its light malt sweetness and trace of hops, which add aroma. As the name suggests, blonde ales have a pale color and a clear body. They tend to be crisp and dry, with few traces of bitterness, rather than hop-heavy or dank.
Brown ales range in color from amber to brown, with chocolate, caramel, citrus, or nut notes. Brown ales are a bit of a mixed bag, since the different malts used and the country of origin can greatly affect the flavor and scent of this underrated beer style.
An English style of ale, pale ales and known for their copper color and fruity scent. Don't let the name fool you: these beers are strong enough to pair well with spicy foods.
Related to the pale is the APA, or American Pale Ale, which is somewhat of a hybrid between the traditional English pale ale and the IPA style. American pale ales are hoppier and usually feature American two row malt.
Originally, India Pale Ale or IPA was a British pale ale brewed with extra hops. High levels of this bittering agent made the beer stable enough to survive the long boat trip to India without spoiling. The extra dose of hops gives IPA beers their bitter taste. Depending on the style of hops used, IPAs may have fruit-forward citrus flavors or taste of resin and pine.
American brewers have taken the IPA style and run with it, introducing unusual flavors and ingredients to satisfy U.S. beer drinkers' love for the brew style.
An easy-drinking, light style of beer, wheat beers are known for a soft, smooth flavor and a hazy body. Wheat beers tend to taste like spices or citrus, with the hefeweizen or unfiltered wheat beer being one of the more common styles.
An ancient style of beer that's taken off in popularity in recent years, sour ales are crafted from wild yeasts, much like sourdough bread. These beers are known for a tart tang that pairs well with tropical fruit and spices. Within sour beers, you'll find lambics, which are Belgian sour beers mixed with fruit, goses, a German sour beer made with coriander and sea salt, and Flanders, a Belgian sour beer fermented in wood tanks.
Not just a popular tipple, beer is also a common staple in the larder of many chefs. Beer makes for a useful ingredient thanks to its carbonated nature and earthy taste of the hops and barley adding depth of flavor to cooking. All beers work to tenderise and moisten meat dishes and the carbon works as a leavening agent in baking recipes, resulting in airy cakes, breads, pancakes and batters.
When it comes to using beer for taste, as with all cooking the key is finding the perfect balance of flavor. Malty dark beers like IPAs, stouts and porters are typically used in wintery stews, braises and pie fillings giving a rich and slightly sweet taste. Whereas lagers (Pilsner, Kölsch, Märzen, etc.) are dry and crisp, lending themselves to roast chicken and beer-battered fish recipes. While the beer cooks the majority of the alcohol evaporates, so no need to worry about spiking your dinner guests!
We hope this guide to beer styles has whet your appetite! To deepen your culinary and beverage knowledge, consider joining the EHL community.
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