Lager beer was developed by German brewers who discovered that aging beer in natural caves after the initial fermentation produced a cleaner beer and made their brews less susceptible to contamination.
Eventually this aging, called lagering, led to the isolation of yeasts that thrived at lower temperatures than the traditional ale yeasts. This bottom fermenting yeast is more aggressive than ale yeast yielding a drier beer with almost no flavor or aroma contributed by the yeast itself. When combined with lagering the result is a simple, clean beer. Lagers are typically served cold.
Pilsner is a type of lager that is generally pale and crisp. Czech in origin, the name is derived from Pizen, Czech Republic, where it was first produced in 1842. The world’s first-ever blond lager was the Pilsner Urquell making it the inspiration for more than two-thirds of the beer produced in the world today.
A modern pilsner has a very light, clear colour from pale to golden yellow and a distinct hop aroma and flavour. The alcohol strength is typically around 4.5%-5% (by volume), if pilsner is brewed stronger, it is usually labeled “Export”.
Bock is a strong lager of German origin. Several substyles exist, including maibock (helles bock, heller bock), a paler, more hopped version generally made for consumption at spring festivals; doppelbock (double bock), a stronger and maltier version; and eisbock, a much stronger version made by partially freezing the beer and removing the ice that forms.
Originally a dark beer, a modern bock can range from light copper to brown in colour. The style is very popular, with many examples brewed internationally.
The first Oktoberfest was a communal celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) of Bavaria and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. It was held just outside Munich and attended by both royalty and citizens. The epic event started on Oct. 12, 1810, and lasted five days.
The festival became an annual event, a celebration of autumn, harvest and agriculture. The timing was perfect for tapping that year’s locally brewed Märzen—still a dark beer, suitably aged and in prime condition for fall consumption.
Oktoberfest beers tend to be a nice compromise between the light pilsner and the darker bock beer. Hops are dialed back a bit but are still evident. These tend to be seasonal brews.
Ale is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation with a strain of brewer’s yeast. Compared to lager yeasts, ale yeast ferments more quickly, and often produces a sweeter, fuller-bodied and fruitier taste. Most ales contain hops, which help preserve the beer and impart a bitter herbal flavour that balances the sweetness of the malt.
Though the name, taste and alcohol content can be deceiving, barley wine is in fact beer. It is one of the strongest types of beer available, usually reaching 8 to 12 percent ABV. Barley wine may be sweet, fruity, bitter sweet or hoppy, but will always be high in alcohol content. That, and the name “Barley Wine” contribute to the confusion.
American India Pale Ales (IPA) have become extremely popular in recent years, and can usually be identified by their hop-forward, bitter taste. Their color ranges from reddish-copper to golden.
In England, IPAs tend to have less hop character and a lower alcohol content than American IPAs, though they are hoppier than normal English pale ales.
Pale Ales are brewed using mostly pale malt and are dry; they usually feature a good balance of malt and hops. They tend to be light in color–American Pale Ales are usually hoppier, drier and cleaner than British Pale Ales.
Belgian ales can be hard to classify, as Belgium offers a lot of different kinds of delicious ales. Typically, though, Belgian ales feature a high alcohol content with a relatively light body. Read more about these complex ales here.
Porters are brewed with dark malt and subsequently feature a very dark color. They tend to be great sipping beers, with dark grainy flavors and light sweet notes. Though there are many porter interpretations across the country and the globe, porters are usually milder than stouts and may include coffee, toffee or chocolate notes.
While they can be easily identified by their brown or amber color, brown ales have a variety of different flavors and characteristics. Traditional English brown ales are malty, sweet, full bodied and generally mellow and subdued, e.g., Newcastle Brown Ale. English versions have low bitterness and hop aroma, while American versions range in hops and bitterness.
Most stouts feature a coffee, or chocolate flavor, which is created by roasted barley during the brewing process. Stouts range from being dry with a high alcohol content to hoppy with a low ABV. No matter where they’re brewed, they tend to be very dark.