Understanding Beer: Basics

Beer Flight.  License.  Source: Alyson Hurt

Beer Flight. License. Source: Alyson Hurt

Beer is essentially made of four ingredients: water, hops, malts, and yeast. Different combinations and types of these ingredients are used to create the particular tastes and styles of beer. Overall, there are three overarching types of beer: ales, lagers, and specialty beers. Ales and Lagers differ in the type of yeast used in fermentation. To create a wider range of beer types, specialty breweries add anything from spices to candy in the fermenting process.

Types of Beer:

  1. Ale: An Ale is generally described by its robust and hearty flavor. Ales are top-fermenting, which means they will foam at the top due to flocculation. Ales are brewed in warmer temperatures and tend to have darker finishes with higher levels of alcohol content.

  2. Lager: Lagers are characterized by their crisp, elegant, and smooth flavor. These are bottom-fermenting because the yeast will do most of the work at the bottom of the vat. Lagers are fermented in cooler temperatures and are best served cold.

  3. Specialty: Specialty beers can be either an ale, a lager, or a mix between the two. Usually, the specialty brewers add in a lot of crazy, interesting things. As I wrote earlier, these include things like candy and spice. 

Flavor Factors:

  1. Hops: Hops contribute to the spice of the beer. These spices can make a beer taste woody, spicy, fruity, or floral.

  2. Malts: Malts are the grains that provide sugars for fermentation to create alcohol and CO2. Malts contribute a lot to the texture and the flavor of the beer. Some of the leftover sugar in the malts can create a little sweetness in the beer. The malts also give beer its basic grain-like flavor.

For precise descriptions of different ales, lagers, and hybrids, I would recommend using the following link: Beer Style Guides