Beer 101: Classifications of Beer

I don’t think it’s a secret that beer is a big part of the culture here in Wisconsin. It is a social activity many enjoy that extends beyond the binge-drinking of college students, and connects back to our German heritage.

Brewing beer is an art I’ve come to appreciate over the last few years, and sampling the many variations beer has to offer has become one of my favorite forms of entertainment.

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It only recently occurred to me that, like wine, I have tried many different styles of beer, but had no idea what the difference between any of it was (Lager vs Stout vs Porter vs Pale Ale). So this week I have decided to mix up Wine Wednesday with some beer knowledge and learn a little bit more about what made Milwaukee famous.

Lesson #1: All beer is classified into two categories: ales and lagers. Ales are made with top-fermenting yeast at relatively warm temperatures for short-periods of time. Contrarily, lagers are made with bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures for longer periods of time. (The difference between top vs bottom-fermenting yeast is exactly what it sounds like; top-fermenting yeast rises to the surface during the fermentation process, while bottom-fermenting yeast sinks to the bottom during fermentation.)

Fun Fact: There’s also spontaneous fermenting yeast that is used to create sour beers by exposing it to bacteria.

Ales tend to be fuller bodied and more complex, bearing fruity and spicy flavors with a hoppy finish. Lagers (German-style method of brewing) tend to be crisp and refreshing with a smooth finish.

Within these two major classifications there are many beer sub-classifications.

Popular ale-style beers include:

  • Porter
  • Stout
  • Brown Ale
  • Pale Ale
  • Belgian Ale
  • Wheat Ale

Popular lager-style beers include:

  • Pale Lagers and Pilsners
  • Dark Lagers
  • Amber Lager
  • Bocks (Doppelbock, Maibock, Weizenbock, etc)

And then, of course, there is the classifcation of Specialty Beer, in which there appear to be no rules or restrictions to a brewer’s creativity. These usually have an added distinctive flavor like pumpkin, fruit, or coffee.

That’s a wrap for Beer 101: Lesson 1! Tune in next Wednesday for some more random, yet helpful and slightly interesting information on my favorite beverages:D

Beer Classifications and Styles

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