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Beer categories

Pale lager

Pale lager is the world’s most popular type of beer. It originated in the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic. These are bottom-fermented beers and are, like the name implies, light or golden in colour. Most varieties have a mild taste, although there are exceptions to this. Pale lagers are intended to be fresh and crisp, and the taste is characterised by the grain used in brewing the beer, high carbonation and low to medium bitterness. Hops are used to counterbalance the sweetness of the malt. The alcohol content is usually 4.5% to 5.6%.

Other lagers

This category contains all lagers that can’t be grouped with common pale lagers. It is difficult to specify exactly what characterises this category, as it is highly diverse. It includes everything from very malty beers, such as Bock, to very smoky beers, such as Rauchbier. Bitterness can be high or low, and alcohol content is usually 4.5% to 7.5%.

Belgian ale

A diverse category of ales, ranging from pale, light and fruity to dark brown, robust and potent beers. Belgian ales are mainly characterised by the yeast variety used in brewing, which gives a very sweet, fruity aroma. But although the aroma seems sweet, the taste is not always so. For the strongest varieties of these beers, the brewers use sugar to increase the alcohol content. Belgian ales are usually rather low in bitterness with little noticeable hops in the taste or aroma.


This category includes all IPAs, or India Pale Ales, whether they are brewed in the United States, the UK or other countries. IPA originated in the UK and is usually characterised by the highly prominent taste of the hops used in the brewing. Taste characteristics can include citrus, resin and tropical fruit, and there is usually a rather high level of bitterness. Alcohol content can be from 4.5% to 10%.

American and British ale

A highly diverse category of British ale varieties that have been rejuvenated in American microbreweries. The category includes beers that can be pale, light and mild or very malty with a high alcohol level, robust and bitter. It is hard to define particular taste characteristics, since there is so much variety, but in general, the American style is usually more bitter, with a more prominent taste and aroma of hops.

Stout and porter

Closely related varieties of dark beer that originated in the UK. The dark colour is due to part of the malt being dark-roasted. Stouts and porters are characterised by roasted notes, coffee, liquorice and chocolate. There is usually a rather high level of bitterness, and hoppy characteristics are more prominent in American stouts and porters. The term “stout” was originally used to distinguish stronger porter from regular porter. Now it is really up to the brewer whether to call the beer a stout or a porter.

German ale

The best known of these are Altbier from Dusseldorf and Kölsch from Cologne, which are lagered/stored in tanks for several weeks before being put on sale. Locals call them “obergäriges Lagerbier”, i.e. top-fermented lager beer. They are not as fruity as other ales, due to the lower fermentation temperature, so these beers are rather characterised by the malt and hops that are used. Of these two varieties, Kölsch is lighter and subtler, while Altbier is darker, maltier and more bitter. The alcohol content is usually 4.5% to 5.5%.

Wheat beer

The two most common varieties of wheat beer are Weizen from Germany, which usually have a rather prominent aroma of bananas and clove, and Witbier from Belgium, which usually have a lighter body than the German types and are often spiced with ingredients such as citrus rind and coriander. Wheat beers usually have a rather smooth body. Hops are not prominent and there is rather little bitterness. Alcohol content can be from 4.5% to 8%.

Fruit and spice beer

As the name implies, this category of beers is characterised by fruits, spices or other exotic ingredients. In fact, the characteristics of these beers solely depend on the brewer and the spices or fruits that they choose.

Sour beer

A wide variety of beers, usually ales, that traditionally include a high proportion of wheat and have undergone a process that makes them sour. The acidity of these beers varies, depending on the origin of the beer and the aims of the brewer. Sour beers can be pure and fresh or include various bacteria and yeast varieties, such as Brettanomyces, which lends the beer an aroma and taste that includes hints of hay, countryside and Band-Aid. Some are fermented along with fruit such as cherries. These beers originated in Belgium and Germany, but they are becoming increasingly popular in other countries, particularly the United States. Alcohol content can be from 3% to 8%.