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