Beer style is a term used to differentiate beers by factors such as colour, flavour, strength, ingredients, production method, recipe, or even origin. Today, there are hundreds of documented beer styles and a handful of organisations publish their own official and unique classifications.
It is up to each individual brewer to decide whether they want to create beer within specific style guidelines or experiment and break away from traditional styles. This is happening more and more as small craft or micro-breweries start-up.
At the top level, all beers are either ales or lagers, and that’s determined by the type of yeast used during the fermentation process. Ales ferment quickly from the top down and are brewed in a warm environment. Whilst, lagers are beers that are ferment slowly at low temperatures and ferment from the bottom up.
In simplistic terms, all beer requires four ingredients; grain, hops, yeast and water. It is the balance of each of these that a brewer uses to influence the style and flavours. If you find you really like one beer then check out which of the four is the major influence and then this gives you ground to look for similar beers.
The styles listed here reflect our own view of the categories at a level where the person on the street can identify a difference. One point to note this is an ever-evolving world and so hopefully our styles can adapt to include the new and exciting experiments being done.
We have put Ambers with ales but they really sit in the middle ground between lagers and ales. They have the mild flavour of a lager, but are a little bit thicker, with a malt flavour, similar to a darker ale. No guessing that the name amber comes from the colour, achieved with amber malt.
A very versatile beer, similar to Pale Ales, but is usually darker in colour, more caramel flavour, more body, and usually balanced more evenly between malt and bitterness. These beers could be either ale or lager and this nice balance of malt and hops is perfect for someone more used to lagers trying ales for the first time.
Barley Wine is often used by brewers to describe their strongest ale. Use of the word wine is due to its alcoholic strength similar to a wine 8% to 14%.
This is where America and British styles differ, the amber to light brown American tends to be more hoppy and bitter whilst the English style tends to be less bitter and may have little hop flavour, with more variety in colour ranging from red-gold to mahogany.
When it comes to beer styles, many are aware of the Belgian style, often very smooth beers with strong flavours, high alcohol content and low bitterness. We just have the one category but these beers can be light or dark in colour but all get the complex and rich flavours from the Belgium yeasts.
Bitter is a traditional style of ale sold in Britain. With medium or even low alcohol content, the beer colour is amber, often with a reddish tinge. As from the name the main flavour is hop bitterness, which is made more noticeable by the low original gravity.
It is hard to distinguish between a lot of Bitters and Pale Ales and probably the main difference between a Pale Ale and a Bitter is the choice of name that the brewer assigns. Bitters are generally available in three strengths: Session or Ordinary (up to 4.1%), Best or Special (4.2% – 4.7%) and Extra Special Bitter or ESB (4.8% and above) whereas Pale Ales typically come in around the ESB strength.
Brown Ale was traditionally associated with northeast England, especially Newcastle-upon-Tynes Newcastle Brown Ale, though today can be found everywhere. Brown Ales are less bitter than Pale Ales and tend to be lightly hopped, fairly mildly flavoured. Brown Ales vary in alcohol content from 3% – 5% which impacts the flavour, towards the bottom can be quite sweet whilst as you head to the top of the range they become somewhat drier.
Golden Ales are also known as Blonde Ales are pale in colour and tend to be clear, crisp, and dry with moderate bitterness and maltiness. The style is close to traditional lagers, and in a similar way to Amber Ales used as a way of lager drinkers switching to the newer craft beers. The strength of golden ales matches its hybrid nature and varies from 3.5% to 5.3%.
India Pale Ales (IPA)
Indian Pale Ale (IPA) is a hoppier version of Pale Ale typically at 4.5% – 6% ABV. Originally brewed in England with extra hops to prolong the beer’s shelf life and survive the journey to British troops stationed in India.
It is the hops that create the distinction over Pale Ales and so you do get a difference between American IPA and British IPA or even at a local regional level. IPAs are usually a drinker’s safe introduction to the world of craft beers.
Mild Ale is typically lower in alcohol (3% – 3.5%) than its closest relatives and not particularly robust, but it is flavourful and light- to medium-bodied. Mild Ale originally meant un-aged ale, the opposite of Old Ale.
Old Ale is primarily an English style traditionally kept a long time before drinking. Colour is usually light amber to very dark red and they are similar alcohol (4% – 6.5%) version of Pale Ale, though generally not as strong or rich as Barley Wines.
Today the term does not really apply to the time being kept but is generally applied to medium-strong dark beers, designed to resemble the traditional Old Ales.
Pale Ale has a medium body, low to medium maltiness, pale gold to amber colour, and is generously hopped, with a dry crisp taste and little sweetness. Pale Ale is distinguished by its light nuttiness of malt character, its estery (fruity) overtones and trademark hop bitterness. Typically 4% – 7% ABV.
Not a lot to distinguish between Pale Ales and Bitters.
Porter is a heavy beer (ABV 4% – 6.5%) dark, rich and chocolatey ale of pronounced bitterness, colour is very dark, almost opaque, and are a medium-bodied counterpart to Stouts. These dark and rich flavours come from heavy roasting of malts and the malts used to allow for varying degrees of sweetness and hop character.
Stouts were also known as “Stout Porters”, very dark, almost black in colour achieved with roasted malt and/or with roasted barley, dark caramel malt, or even some chocolate malt. They’re strong, often with an alcohol content of 4% – 8%.
Stouts do not have a single style, but rather are a family of sub-styles that have evolved over many years, these sub-styles include Imperial, Sweet and Oatmeal Stouts.
There are really no parameters for this Wheat Beer style with interpretations by brewers varying. In general, Wheat Beers have light grain flavours and aromas characteristic of the wheat malt used. They are light to medium in body and are usually pale straw to gold in colour and hazy.
Fruitiness is common in this style, light and easy to drink with very little aftertaste. Wheat provides a soft character to beer often making them sweet and crisp and similar to lagers Wheats are good served cold.
Wild & Sour Beers
Wild and Sour beers have become increasingly popular, but while they have differences we have combined under a single style to represent this type of fermentation which occurs when the beer is exposed to wild bacteria and yeast. In some cases but not all this fermentation can create a sour flavour.
Colour and alcohol content (4% – 10%) varies greatly depending on the style of sour and what fruit it might be brewed with. These beers originated in Belgium, but brewers all over the world have found ways to play with this process to create interesting and often sour beers.
Bocks are the light-dark beer, being light in flavour, with an emphasis on the maltiness without much hop, but with a caramel dark colour.
Dark Lagers range in colour from amber to dark reddish-brown. A little more flavour but not nearly as heavy as ales, a Dark Lager has a mild taste with a little more carbonation. They’re similar to Bocks, and if you want a little more flavour or a lager that’s a little more interesting but without heading towards ales, Dark Lagers are definitely one of the beer styles worth trying.
The most common lager beers in production are Pale Lagers. Pale Lager is a very pale to golden-coloured lager, well carbonated with a well-reduced body and hop bitterness, resulting in a light mild flavour.
Pilsner (aka Pils), is a type of Pale Lager takes its name from the Czech city of Pilsen, where it was first produced in 1842. The alcohol strength of Pilsners vary but are typically around 4.5% – 5%.
Pilsner is a golden coloured beer with a dry, crisp, and somewhat bitter flavour. Pilsner is a more heavily hopped Pale Lager, although not as strong as IPAs, and so stands out from other lagers due to this more distinctive hoppy taste.