An image of the How Brew logo.

Home  |  Beer Brewing Kit  |  Brewing Supplies  |  Kegerator  |  Beer Styles  |  Beer Recipes  |  Craft Beer  |  Hops  |  Beer Glasses  |  All-Grain Brewing


Homebrew Beer Types and Styles

Understanding the styles of beer makes for better home brewing...

July 25, 2014 by Rick Morris:

After water and tea, beer is the third most popular drink in the world today.  It is a fermented beverage that typically has between 4 and 6 percent alcohol by volume.  Beer is generally thought to date back 11,000 years - a time when wheat and other cereals were grown.  And though a fermented rice and fruit drink was enjoyed in the 7000 BC in China, the first proven consumption of beer dates to about 3500 BC in the Iran-Iraq area.  It wasn't until about 3000 BC that beer was introduced to the European area.

Two Main Types of Beer are Ales and Lagers

Unlike millennia ago when what they had to choose from was beer or no beer, today's beers come in a variety of styles (and colors).  This is what makes for such enjoyment in brewing beer by the average person.  Generally speaking, beer styles are determined by the temperature of the initial (primary) fermentation, and the type of yeast (or bacteria) used.   Pretty much, this boils down to two styles - top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting, or better yet... ales or lagers...

Top-Fermenting (Ales)

Ale is a beer style that has been warm fermented.  Fermentation takes place at the top of the wort and is usually vigorous.  A top-fermenting yeast is one that works at a higher temperature of 60-75 degrees F.  The beer produced usually has significant esters and aromas such as pear, apple, banana, grass, plum, or pineapple.  These beers are typically full-bodied and sweet/smooth in taste.  Beers such as pale ale, old ale, brown ale, mild ale, and wheat beer are top-fermented.

Until a few hundred years ago, ales were brewed without hops.  Before that, an amount of herb and spices known as gruit were added to the boil for bitterness.

Today's ales can be defined as brown, pale, golden, scotch, barley wine, mild, Burton, old, and Belgian.  Brown ales are mild in flavor and lightly hopped.  They frequently come with a nuttiness taste.  Generally native to England, they have been known by American homebrewers since about 1983.

Pale ale is brewed using mostly pale malt.  This is a light-colored (because the malts were dried with coke) beer that made its appearance in the early 1700's.  There are several types of pale ales, including amber ale, which is brewed with some crystal malt; American Pale ale, with its American hops and two-row malt; Biere de Garde (keeping beer), a French beer typically brewed during the winter due to summer's yeast dilemmas; blonde ale, a crisp, clean, dry beer that has a very pale color; India Pale Ale (IPA), a very hoppy beer with citrus and piney undertones; strong pale ale, which is pretty much a beer high in alcohol - around 7 or 8 %; and Scotch ale, a bittersweet, dark ale that has a full-body.

Old ale usually refers to heavily malted, dark beers in the country of England and Australia.  Some of these are of the strong variety and have been aged for several years after bottling.  In fact, one such strong ale, known as "Majority Ale" is given to someone on their 21st birthday, after having been brewed at birth!

Bottom-Fermenting (Lagers)

Bottom-fermenting beers typically are lagers, or rather... pale lagers.  They originated in Central Europe, mainly from German/Austria region, and are the most consumed beers in the world.  The word "lager" actually means "to store".  This beer style includes beers fermented at 45 - 54 degrees F. and most lagers take on the Pilsner styles (Czech Republic) such as Heineken and Pilsner Urquell.  Other styles of lager beer include Marzen, Oktoberfestbier, Helles, Bock, Dunkel, Vienna lager, and Schwarzbier.  Expect the alcohol content of lagers to be somewhere between 3 and 6 % by volume.  Lagers are light in color, have a healthy carbonation, and are usually heavy on the hops. One of our favorite beers to brew is the Kolsch style.  Our Straw Dog Kolsch is top fermented and then cold conditioned.  This is known as a mixed style beer.

There are other minor categories of beer styles and are generally produced using modern methods.  These include steam beer, spiced beer, smoked beer, fruit beer, Altbier, and the aforementioned Kolsch.Beer Styles - Chart

Categorizing the Styles of Beer

Essentially, when categorizing beers, one has to consider the following features of beer...


What does the beer look like?  Is it more yellow?  Is it reddish or brown?  What about black?  The color of your beer will typically come from the type of malt you use.  This color level is measured on a scale.  We like the European Brewery Convention (EBC) scale.  After color, one has to consider the transparency (or lack of) beer.  For example, hefeweizen (wheat beer) is cloudy whereas Kolsch is clear.  Observing the foaminess of the head and the lacing on the glass as you drink it, are other elements of the appearance of beer that is often discussed.


Many have said the taste of beer must be "acquired".  That may be true.  Even the average Pilsner drinker has to adapt to the hoppy IPA styles.  Although factors such as the brewing process and various spices, fruits, etc. play a role, the taste of beer chiefly comes from the malt and water used, esters (or lack of) from the yeast, and the hops.  And, it's the hops that people are inherently tasting when we say beer is an acquired taste.  Water also plays a role.  Whether a beer is bitter or smooth depends on the type and amount of hops used during fermentation.  This bitterness is measured using an International Bitterness Units (IBU) scale. 


Talking about the amount of alcohol in the beer.  Drink one of our Belgium Trippels and you'll immediately see the difference!  This beer is about 9.5% abv.  Whereas our What to Wheat for Dinner is a standard 5% abv.


Known as alcohol by volume (abv), the amount of alcohol in the beer adds to the overall taste, of course.  The stronger the alcohol, the stronger the alcohol smell and taste in the beer. 


Known as the Specific Gravity of beer, it generally means the strength of the beer's density.  As such, there are scales for measuring.  Using a simple tool, one collects the original gravity of the wort before yeast is added and fermentation begins.  Another reading is obtained after fermentation.  A quick calculation provides the specific gravity.  From that, a final alcohol by volume is obtained.  Another way to measure the potential specific gravity involves calculating the known gravities from the ingredients to be added.

Interestingly, for the 100 years between 1880 and the 1990s, this gravity of beer was the method for determining the amount of taxes to be paid on beer in the UK and Ireland.


How much carbonation is there in that homebrew?  What is the viscosity it (how thick is the liquid)? 

AromaYeast from White Labs is a common source of yeast for home brewers.

If you have ever brewed beer at home, then you know all about the aromas produced during fermentation, and of course while drinking it!  Aroma comes from the malts, hops, esters, and alcohol found in the brew.  Types of yeast also must be considered, and even the source of water.  The typical brewer's wife, husband, or children (and even visitors) will often lament how the house smells like a brewery, or bakery!


Yeast are pretty much living organisms with a sole function of reproducing.  Also known as fungi, it's the yeast that's responsible for the creation of alcohol in beer (and other drinks, of course).  Yeast eats sugars in the wort and product alcohol and CO2 (and other byproducts).  Generally speaking, there are two types of yeast - ale and lager.  Ale yeast are top-fermenting and perform at temperatures from about 60 - 75 degrees F.  Lager yeast will actively ferment at lower temperatures, say around 40 - 55 degrees F. 

The type of yeast used - typically top-fermenting or bottom-fermenting - plays an important role in the beer's flavor and aroma.  Some can ferment certain sugars while other yeasts can not.  The type of yeast also affects alcohol tolerance, or attenuation.  Most all beers are fermented using a certain type of yeast.  Most home brewers use a ready-made strain of yeast from a vial, like those produced by White Labs (photo).

Other byproducts produced from yeast include certain aromas (butterscotch, green apple, sweet corn, bananas, strawberries, and cooked vegetables), clove and medicine smells, and even solvent or sulfur hints!  This is why each beer has its own type of yeast strains used in fermentation.


A quality beer is made from quality grains, such as barley malt.  Fermentable sugars can come from must about anything in nature, it seems.  But, grains are the usual basis for a fine home brew.  In fact, some beer styles require grains.  Germany's Purity Law, for example states that beer must be brewed from barley malt (as well, obviously from water, yeast, and hops).  Most beers are now brewed using kilned pale malts.  There are some that use additional grains, such as rye, wheat, or oatmeal.  Rice or corn, however are rarely used by serious home brewers (or micro-breweries).  Why?  Rice and corn are widely used by the large American breweries (Budweiser, Miller, Coors, for example) as a means to arguably artificially increase alcohol content in lieu of actually adding flavor.  In this hobby, it is viewed that only the large greedy breweries, who produce piss water, use rice or corn in the brewing process. 

Moreover, less than quality beer is what has created such a boom in the home brew hobby anyway.  It has also led to the growth in the number of micro-breweries and brew pubs around the country.  There is an argument that the large breweries moved to a more lighter, bubbly beer because Americans of the late 1800s did not have the palate for the heavily-malted style of beer.  Arguing they wanted to use ingredients from the new country, they started brewing with rice and corn.  I say that's a load of bullshit.  Using less than quality ingredients by these German-Americans was an insult, in my opinion, to their heritage and the German Purity Law of the year 1516... regardless of where they were brewing beer!Image of hops used for brewing beer.


Ahh, those beautiful, bitter-smelling flowers called hops!  They are actually the female flower clusters of the hop plant.  They are used for flavoring beer and to help keep it stable (they are natural preservatives).  Hops add a level of bitterness and tanginess flavor to beer.  They also balance out any sweetness found in the beer coming from the malt used.  And, the amount imparted depends on the amount of hops and the time at which they are added during brewing.  Look for numerous types of hops, including Saaz (found in the Czech Pilsner beers), Kent Goldings (for English beers), and Tettnanger and Hallertau (found in German brews). 

Used for more than a thousand years in German beers, hops are an essential part of the home brewing process.  Interestingly, after Germany - where 34 metric tonnes of hops are produced each year, Ethiopia is the second largest producer, followed by the United States, China, and the Czech Republic.


To me, your water source is the most crucial ingredient in home brew.  Some will argue that water is water.  But, that is not true at all.  Take New York City, for example, which gets its water from the nearby Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills, has some of the best water in the world.  I would love to use NYC tap water for brewing my next batch of Belgium Trippel!  Use a filtered water at least when brewing your beer.  If you are in an area near the ocean, where desalinization plants provide water, you will want to purchase distilled water.

Fruits, Spices, etc.

Though not necessary in the home brewing process, certain fruits and spices can add interesting flavors and character to your home brew.  I know one regional brewer uses pumpkin and complimentary spices like nutmeg and cinnamon in their Pumpkinator each Fall, and it is delicious!  But for beginners, I would just stick with the basic kits until you gain more experience in brewing beer at home.

Style Categories

Essentially, there are 6 primary categories of beer styles: American Ales, English, Irish & Scottish Ales, Belgian & French Ales, Other Ales, Lagers, and Specialty Beers.


Bohemian (Czech) Pilsner, German Pilsner, Dortmunder Export, American-Style Light Lager, Oktoberfest, Marzen, Vienna, American Amber Lager, Munich Dunkel, Schwarzbier, Heller Bock / Maibock, Bock, and Doppelbock

English, Irish & Scottish Ales

Pale Ale, Ordinary Bitter, Best Bitter ESB, India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, Mild Ale, Porter, Stout, Russian Imperial Stout, Strong Ale, Old Ale, Barley Wine, and Scotch Ale

American Ales

American Pale Ale, American India Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Red Ale, American Brown Ale, American Porter and Stout, Imperial or Double IPA, and American Barleywine

Belgium/French Ales

Abbey Dubbel, Abbey Tripel, Belgian Strong Dark, Witbier Ale, Saison, Biere de Garde, Lambic Gueuze, and Flemish Brown and Red

Other Ales

Bavarian Hefeweisse, Weizenbock, Berliner Weisse, American Wheat Ale, Kolsch, Dusseldorfer Altbier, Cream Ale, and California Common Bear

Beer Judge Certification Program

Yes, there are people whose job it is to judge beers!  Well, it's more of a hobby than a job.  But, a fun job nonetheless!  The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) has a written standard for categorizing the varying styles of beer.  They are broken down by category numbers.  The idea behind the BJCP is essentially to improve everyone's understanding of and appreciation of real beer, as well as oversee the skills of (and certify) beer judges.  There are about 4,200 active judges.  640 rank at the National level or higher.  Almost 1 million beers have been judged thus far by BJCP judges.

LIGHT LAGER (Category 1)

   Lite American Lager

   Standard American Lager

   Premium American Lager

   Munich Helles

   Dortmunder Export

PILSNER (Category 2)

   German Pilsner (Pils)

   Bohemian Pilsener

   Classic American Pilsner


   Vienna Lager


DARK LAGER (Category 4)

   Dark American Lager

   Munich Dunkel

   Schwarzbier (Black Beer)

BOCK (Category 5)

   Maibock/Helles Bock

   Traditional Bock




   Cream Ale

   Blond Ale


   American Wheat or Rye Beer


    Northern German Altbier

   California Common Beer

   Dusseldorf Altbier


   Standard/Ordinary Bitter

   Special/Best/Premium Bitter

   Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale)


   Scottish Light 60/-

   Scottish Heavy 70/-

   Scottish Export 80/-

   Irish Red Ale

   Strong Scotch Ale

AMERICAN ALE (Category 10)

   American Pale Ale

   American Amber Ale

   American Brown Ale



   Southern English Brown

   Northern English Brown

PORTER (Category 12)

   Brown Porter

   Robust Porter

   Baltic Porter

STOUT (Category 13)

   Dry Stout

   Sweet Stout

   Oatmeal Stout

   Foreign Extra Stout

   American Stout

   Russian Imperial Stout

INDIA PALE ALE (IPA) (Category 14)

   English IPA

   American IPA

   Imperial IPA





   Roggenbier (German Rye Beer)



   Belgian Pale Ale


   Biere de Garde

   Belgian Specialty Ale

SOUR ALE (Category 17)

   Berliner Weisse

   Flanders Red Ale

   Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin

   Straight (Unblended) Lambic


   Fruit Lambic


   Belgian Blond Ale

   Belgian Dubbel

   Belgian Tripel

   Belgian Golden Strong Ale

   Belgian Dark Strong Ale

STRONG ALE (Category 19)

   Old Ale

   English Barleywine

   American Barleywine

FRUIT BEER (Category 20)

   Fruit Beer


   Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer

   Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer


   Classic Rauchbier

   Other Smoked Beer

   Wood-Aged Beer

SPECIALTY BEER (Category 23)

   Specialty Beer


Home  |  About  |  Contact

Copyright 2012 - 2014 - All Rights Reserved.  Two Monks Brewing - Canton, North Carolina