If you've been known to enjoy a pint or two, then chances are, you'll be raising a glass this month in honor of St. Patrick. But 'fess up: between all that Guinness and red ale, do you know what you're really imbibing? For those who don't, we're here to educate you. It's true that unless you're a science fiend, home brewer, or brewing aficionado, it can be confusing to wrap your head around the different beer varieties — especially since they're all made of water, malted barley, yeast, and hops.
For the most part, beer can be broken down into two major categories. Learn what they are — and their defining characteristics — when you keep reading.
Most beers are either ales or lagers. Ales, which originated in England, are made by brewing a top-fermenting yeast (a fungus that grows at the top of the fermentation vessel) at room temperature. They have lots of hops and malt, which gives them a more characteristically bitter taste and darker color. Beer varieties that are ales include:
- India Pale Ale, a very hoppy (read: bitter) brew.
- Hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat beer.
- Irish red ale, whose roasted barley content creates a signature red color and tea-like flavor.
- Porter, a London-style dark ale made with roasted malts.
- Stout, the darkest and heaviest of beers, packed with toasted flavors like those of chocolate, coffee, oatmeal, or cream.
Unlike ales, lagers, which originated in central Europe, are created when bottom-fermenting yeast is cold-brewed at low temperatures (between 45 degrees F and 57 degrees F) for long periods of time. They tend to be lighter in color, and mild- and fruit-flavored. Beer varieties that are lagers include:
- Pilsner, a light yellow lager with a bitter, hoppy flavor.
- American light beer: A watered-down version of pilsner that's lower in calories (and in taste).
- Bock: A strong lager that's brewed for extra months and has a robust malt characteristic.
- Märzen: A copper-colored, high-alcohol beer with a toasty flavor, full body, and dry finish.
Am I missing any of your favorites? What brew will you be sticking with today?