The Three Main Types of Beer: A Drinker’s Guide

There are a huge variety of beer types in the world – far too many to list. From a simple basis of grains, hops, yeast and water, people have perfected the craft over thousands of years. Today, modern brewers have managed to create a veritable cornucopia of flavours from this basic recipe. But what then, are the three main types of beer that most (90%) of beers will fall under?

Ales

Simply put, an ale is a traditional beer brewed using the yeast variety Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. This is the only variety European brewers of old knew, and it occurs in the wild across the Eurasian landmass. Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, or ale yeast as we will call it furthermore, works best in colder temperatures. It also ferments on the top of the barrel and does not metabolise sulphites (that give ales their fruity, woody flavour) quite as well as it’s lager yeast cousin, S. Pastorianus.

Today there are far too many types of ale to think about listing here but just a few of the most popular include: Pale Ales, Golden Ales, Indian Pale Ales and bitters.

Lagers

Lagers are often described as ‘clean’, ‘crisp’ or, if you’re feeling critical, ‘bland’. This is because the lager yeast, Saccharomyces Pastorianus, breaks down the sulphites in the beer. Sulphites are the last remnants of the original grains or fruit that went into the beer. Lager yeast turns these into sugars relatively quickly compared to ale yeast.

It also needs to be brewed at a hotter temperature, due to the South American climate it originally came from. Lastly lager yeast naturally sinks to the bottom of the tank during brewing process. Lagers are sometimes called ‘bottom fermented’ because of this.

Lager yeast only arrived in Europe in around 1904, where it quickly spread amongst brewers. Most famous of these brewers were in the town of Pilsen, which is in what is now the Czech Republic and is where the Pilsner style of lager was first created. Pale lagers are now the most popular form of beer around the world and include such international brands as Budweiser, Heineken and Carlsberg.

Stouts & Porters

Stouts and Porters are ales made with roasted malt as the base grain, giving them a darker appearance and a smoky or thick taste. Stouts are also often aged in the brewery, to fortify their strength and flavours. This is opposed to ales before this practice began in the 1700s, which were shipped out as soon as they were drinkable. The first written mention of a stout beer occurred in England in 1677.

The most well-known stout in the world is probably Guinness, which has been brewed continuously at the St James’ Gate Brewery in Dublin since 1759.

Today there are four main types of stout: Sweet or Milk Stout, Dry or Irish Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Extra Stout and Imperial Stout.