Ingredient Intelligence

Our Quick Guide to 7 Common Beer Styles

published Jul 1, 2020
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Pouring Dark Beer From Bottle In Glass
Credit: Martí Sans/Stocksy

There are a lot of different beer styles, and they can all be a bit confusing whether you’re staring down a brewery menu or just at the cold case in the grocery store. It wasn’t that long ago that most beers were categorized as either ales or lagers, with any other style being an outlier in the world of big brewing. But as micro-brewing has grown from hobbyists in their garages to breweries all across the world, the number of beer styles has also grown.

If you’re looking for a long list of beer styles with tons of nuance, this is not it. However, if you want a quick guide to the most common beer styles, as well as what to expect from each and what other styles fall into their family of beers, this is the guide for you.


Lagers are typically light, easy to drink, crisp, and served cold — they have a slightly lower alcohol content that makes them ideal for porch drinking. Big brands like Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon are lagers. Ales and lagers are often confused, but your home-brewing buddies can tell you that they have different brewing styles that make them distinct. Plus ales have a wider range of bodies and hoppiness.

What Is the Difference Between Ales and Lagers?

The primary differences in ales and lagers comes down to brewing. Lagers are made with bottom-fermenting yeast and brew at a colder temperature for a longer period. Ales use top-fermenting yeasts that ferment faster and at a warmer temperature.

Read more: Beer Guide: All About Yeast


Ales are one of the broadest categories of beers and include brown ales, pale ales, and IPAs, but are not limited to those three styles.

  • Brown ales are, well, brown, but this style distinction is reserved for all kinds of pub or hazy ales, including English Ales. Brown ales have malt to thank for their darker hue and sometimes thicker body. English ales are slightly sweeter with nutty notes, while American brown ales are heavier on the hops and a bit bitter. Either would be welcome in light sweater weather.
  • Pale ales fall somewhere between a light lager and dark porter with lots of range in malt, hop, and even fruitiness, because this style encompasses crisp American and amber ales as well as the hoppier English ales. As a very liberal generalization, pale ales offer a balance of sweet malty flavor with a little bit of hoppy bitterness that makes these beers highly drinkable.
  • India Pale Ales (IPAs) are part of the Ale family of beers. Unlike amber or brown ales, IPAs have a very distinct hoppy flavor, meaning they have a bitter bite or aftertaste. Even within this style of beers you’ll find light and dark varieties, some with gentle spice notes (looking at you, English browns) and more piney flavors, depending on the hops use.

Read more: Quick and Dirty Guide to American Beer Styles


Belgian beers are regarded as some of the best in the world, and rightfully so. Their primarily ale-based brews use plenty of malts and fruity yeast flavors. Belgian-style beers include saisons, lambics, tripels, dubbels, and more, but don’t expect any of those styles to look or taste the same. Lambics and saisons range from funky to fruity, while tripels, dubbels, and even quadrupels run the gamut from light but cloudy to amber or even red in color.


Sours are the wine-drinker’s beer; this is especially true if you appreciate natural wines. These beers range from light but tart Berliner Weisse to dark lambics and flounder (think: the red wine of sours, or cherry- and plum-flavored brown ales). Sours are definitely a fun style to explore, especially if you enjoy the pucker-inducing dizziness of kombucha and kefir.

Wheat Beers

Wheat beers are mostly brewed from wheat and have a super light and sweet finish. Think of wheat beers as patio sippers that even newbie beer drinkers will enjoy — they are rarely hoppy or bitter.

Porters and Stouts

You know stouts because Guinness has spent a lot of time and money making sure you are familiar with this super-dark, heady beer. But they are hardly the only stout in the game. Stouts actually get their name, and their distinct visuals, from porters (their father beer, you could say, as stout is actually short for stout porters) because both include roasted grains for their deep color and lingering sweetness. Porters generally include quite a bit more hops than stouts and have a more robust bitterness.

Still not sure what your favorite beer style is yet? Try out a few styles and then spend a few months exploring just one style and its varieties to really appreciate the range that each of these beer styles has.