There are 7 types of beer. These are: IPA, Pale Ale, Cask Ale, Lager & Pilsner, Wheat Ale, Sour, and Stout & Porter. The most popular type of beer is lager, while dark beers are also popular in areas of North-Western Europe.
Beers have a wide spectrum of strengths and bitterness. In fact, there is a measure of beer bitterness called International Bitterness Units (IBUs) to help beer drinkers decide on the best type of beer for themselves.
A low IBU of 10 is good for light summer beers while a high IBU will have a bitter aftertaste.
You can expect weak beers to have alcohol strength of about 3.5%, while strong beers such as Double IPAs can have strength up around 12%, which is close to the strength of wine.
7 Types of Beer
IPA stands for India Pale Ale. IPAs were invented in India but spread quickly to Europe during the mid- 17th Century.
They are generally stronger than related beers like Pale Ales and can have higher bitterness than pale ales and lagers. They’re also often quite citrusy. You can expect an IPA to be between 5% and 7% in alcohol strength.
There are also sub-types of IPAs, such as North East Pale Ales (also known as Hazy Pale Ales) which have a foggy or hazy look about them. Session IPAs are also common. They have the citrus taste of IPAs but usually have lower alcohol content.
There are also DIPAs – double IPAs – which are very strong.
The popularity of IPAs means many countries have invented their own type, such as NZ IPA for New Zealand beers made form New Zealand Hops.
2. Pale Ale
A Pale Ale is lighter than an IPA and often have less flavor in my opinion. Nevertheless, they are a very popular alternative to IPAs.
Pale Ales were invented in the early 1700s in England. They were originally considered “bitters” because – clearly – they were more bitter than the alternative beers at the time.
Like IPAs (which are in the same family), Pale Ales have many sub-types, such as Amber Ales which have a honey style taste.
‘Blondes’ are also often considered to be a sub-type within the Pale Ale family due to the similar way in which they are brewed.
3. Cask Ale
You will often see a “cask ale” on a menu in a pub in the United States. We in the new world will often criticize them as “flat and warm” British beers.
Cask Ales are not as carbonated as other beers, so they will usually taste flat to people who are not used to them. Nevertheless, they are carbonated to some extent. They’re literally served out of a cask rather than a pressurized keg.
You will often hear British people call them “real ales” because they are much more like the original ales of yesteryear, which were popular in the UK and Germany.
4. Pilsner and Lager
A lager is the type of beer most everyday Americans drink at the pub. Common lagers include:
- Bud Light
- Miller High Life
The big benefit of lagers (from a production perspective) is they’re the fastest and cheapest to produce. A cynic might say that the everyday American has been trained to like lager because it’s cheap and easy to mass produce.
Lagers usually have lower alcohol content than pale ales or IPAs. They also usually have no malty or hoppy aftertaste, which is appealing to many consumers’ palettes.
We generally conflate lagers and pilsners and consider them to be the same beer. To some extent, they are the same, except a Pilsner will usually be a spicier and hoppier version of a lager. Pilsners originated in the Czech Republic.
5. Wheat Ale
Wheat ales came out of Belgium, and in fact you’ll often see them sold as ‘Belgian Beers’. People from Bavaria may disagree – they’re likely to call them Hefeweizens.
The most famous wheat ale in the United States is the Blue Moon. If you’re from Europe, you may be more familiar with a Hoegaarden.
Their taste and look are unique. You will be able to identify them immediately because they’re designed to have a lot of head on them. Many people think wheat ales have a banana aftertaste. They’re paired well with a slice of orange.
Sour beers taste just like they sound. They’re sour!
While consumed by both genders, many women gravitate to sour beers. To target the female market, many craft brewers produce sours that have been flavored with sweet fruits.
For example, you’ll often find beers like:
- Raspberry Sours
- Blueberry Sours
- Apple Sours
- Gooseberry Sours
Good craft breweries actually brew fruit flavored sours with real fruits and no artificial additives. You’ll notice these sours coming out on rotating taps around the beginning of Summer.
7. Stout and Porter
Stouts and porters are heavy, dark beers. They’ll literally look black or a deep coffee-brown color.
The most famous Stout beer in the world is the Guinness. In fact, Ireland is famous for producing strong, heavy stouts. Murphy’s Irish Stout is another world famous Stout brand.
You will find stout and porter beers coming out in winter. They’re the sort of beer that goes down well on a cold and rainy day. Nevertheless, most breweries will have at least one stout or porter on tap year round.
FAQ: What is the most common type of beer?
The most common type of beer in the United States (by far) is lager. Lagers make up 87% of all beers sold in the United States. According to Statista, the top 4 beers in the United States are all Lagers. These are: Heineken, Bud Light, Corona Extra and Budweiser. Surprisingly, the beer coming in fourth place is a Belgian style beer: Blue Moon.
However, lagers are not popular among craft beer drinkers. While there is a sub-market for craft lagers, you’ll find if you go to a craft brewery ‘tap room’, you will be presented with a much wider array of pale ales, IPAs and sours.
The types of beer explored in this article are categorized based on how they are produced. Different yeasts, ratios of hops, and lengths of time in which the beers are left to ferment, all contribute to a different type of beer.
While these are the 7 most common beer types, there are some others that are lesser known. Furthermore, some beer connoisseurs might take issue with these classifications (for example, some might think I should have put IPA and Pale Ale into the one category). Nevertheless, this working definition can be helpful for the everyday consumer to get a good grasp of what it is they’re looking at on a craft beer menu.