What’s in beers?
Most beers are made up of four basic ingredients:
Barley, which is processed into malt, then brewed
Hops, which are added during brewing to balance the malt with a more bitter flavor
Yeast, which adds carbonation and alcohol content during fermentation
Ale vs. lager
The most basic distinction to make in a beer is whether it’s an ale or a lager, which is determined by how the yeast ferments during the brewing process.
Beers are brewed in tanks, and in ales, the yeast ferments at the top of the tank, which is called top-fermenting. Ale-brewing is done in warmer environments, generally between 60 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes the yeast brew more quickly and causes more flavorful, complex and generally darker beers.
Lagers are bottom-fermenting, which means the yeast ferments at the bottom of the tank when lagers are brewing. Lagers brew in colder temperatures for a longer time than ales, which causes the yeast to produce fewer of the compounds that add flavor. This process makes for crisper, less-complex beers.
Common ale styles:
Pale ales and India pale ales (IPAs)
Pale ales are known for being some of the hoppiest and are generally light in color.
Stouts and Porters
Stouts and porters are very dark beers, though not necessarily heavy. Stouts, like Guinness, tend to have a roasted malt or caramel flavor, while porters are described as having roasted coffee, chocolate and bitter flavors.
Wheats are commonly from German brewers, and they are light-colored but pretty heavy on the palate, with natural flavors like fruits and vanilla.
Common lager styles:
Pilsners – Pilsners, like Stella Artois, are pale and medium-bodied, with crisp and slightly hoppy flavors.
Ambers – Ambers are darker and reddish in color like their name suggests, with some maltiness and generally light fruit flavors. Amber beers range from very to lightly hoppy depending on the brewery.