How do we start off? Basically, depending on what kind of yeast is fermented, the brew gets divided into either an ale or a lager. If warmer top fermentation is used you’ll get an ale, and a longer, cooler fermentation process yields a lager. (Note: Beers with higher alcohol concentrations are most likely ales, since the yeast has a higher tolerance for it.)
Lagers are going to be your lighter beers that tend to taste a bit malty. Basically, when you think of a “normal” beer taste, you’re thinking of a lager.
Meanwhile, ales are going to be hoppy, meaning you’re going to notice a certain spice and bitterness to the beer.
AKA India pale ales, if you want to be pretentious, the main characteristics of an IPA include major hop and citrus flavors. You’ll get more of a bitter taste on the tongue and should probably test out a number of different IPAs, including West Coast, British and New England style, before deciding whether you like them or not.
Not to be confused with the above, simple pale ales will have a lower alcohol content than IPAs but will taste just a tad less hoppy. Fairly easy to drink, they’ll still hold a malty, medium-body flavor.
On the lager side of things, the taste of pilsners varies depending on where a particular strain comes from. Originally sourced from the Czech Republic, Czech pilsners are high in bitterness and dark; German pilsners, alternatively, are a pale gold and taste nice and crisp. Around these parts, most pilsners will have a hint of bitterness with strong hop yet soft malty flavors.
You’ll know if you’re drinking a stout. You can’t miss its ultra-dark coloring, but flavors vary. Sweet stouts will come from England and Ireland, while U.S.-produced stouts will combine the creamy notes with the hop we’re so well known for. Some compare the strong, sweet-yet-bitter result to dark chocolate or coffee. No matter what, though, you’ll most likely get an espresso-like, roasty, full-bodied taste with any stout.
The cousin of the stout, porters will bear traces of that chocolate, roasty flavor, but without the hint of espresso.
You’ll find Belgian ales on basically any craft beer list you peruse due to the country’s beer culture greatly influencing our own. Belgian beers carry fruity, spicy-sweet traces without much bitterness, and hold a high alcohol content. A personal favorite.
Similar to Belgian beer, yeasty wheat beers can taste tangy and end up with a light color and alcohol level, which is why they’re so popular in the summertime.
Going beyond the hop found in your IPAs and other pale ales, sour beers turn up the bitterness and combine it with fruity flavors for a newly-popular variety of brew.