A Basic Guide for Choosing Your Next Beer

When people take a sip of a cold beer, they do not always think about the distinctions among those on tap. Whether a massed-produced brand or a craft brew, each type of beer has its own characteristics, making the selection a delightful treasure hunt. Even among the same categories of beer, different breweries create distinct tastes. Still, many beers fall under specific classifications; understanding these can provide guidelines for choosing in a restaurant or store.

The Two Masters

Beer can be categorized under two umbrella types: ales and lagers. While ingredients vary, hops and water, along with various grains moved by hopper bottom trucking, are primary. Foundations include corn, rice, wheat, rye and oats. Ales, dating back before the Middle Ages, are made using a quick, warm-fermentation process, where yeast is introduced during the brewing and the fermentation occurs at the top. These low-carbonation beers are aromatic and robust. Lagers, a more-recent concoction, are brewed using a slower, cooler process where fermentation occurs on the bottom. The resulting high-carbonation beer is lighter and smoother in taste.

The Old-Guard Ales

Pale and India pale share similar tastes and aromas: fruit and hops predominate. India pale ales are stronger and yield a higher alcohol content. Belgian ales are complex with a somewhat sweet characteristic and a similarly high alcohol content. Hefeweizen, or wheat beers, are lighter colored, but somewhat opaque, fruity in nature and full-bodied. Finally, stouts are very dark with a toasty, full-bodied taste; they can be served at room temperature.

Newcomer Lagers

American lagers are the simple, light brews usually associated with the major companies and produced in great quantities. A subset of American lagers are Pilsners; they are crisp, hoppy, and slightly bitter. Bocks and double bocks are generally the heaviest of the lagers, strong, smooth and sweet in taste. Finally, variations on lager abound, but of the specialties Octoberfest, or Märzen, is most well known – It is medium-to-light and rounded in taste and texture.

Beer makes a great food accompaniment. A little knowledge goes a long way toward making the next meal a little more special.