Beer Guide

Your Guide To Understanding The 7 Primary Categories of Beer

The world of beers is colorful, flavorful, tasty, and full of variety. Whether you are a beer enthusiast, a bartender, or a bar looking to educate its employees about beers, this guide can help you.

As a bartender, your knowledge of beers helps you impress your customers. It also enables you to offer valuable suggestions about beers that match customers’ tastes. If you are a beer enthusiast or a novice to the world of beers, then knowing how to describe beers helps you to experiment with different choices available out there.

When it comes to modern beers, there is immense variety in styles, flavors, and tastes. But there are seven primary or main beer categories. An understanding of these categories is essential to understanding the world of beers.

Malt-Flavored Beers

Malt is a classic beer flavor. Malt beers feature a characteristic nutty or fruity flavor. If you are looking for a beer that is non-alcoholic, then you must try malt beers. These beers are sweet to the taste. Malt beers are considered healthy and are said to be consumed by even lactating mothers.

Malt-flavored beers can be fruit and toffee type, or toast and nutty type. The fruit and toffee malt-flavored beers complement the typical malt-rich flavor with additional flavors of dried fruit, caramel, and toffee. The fruity flavor is mild. These beers also carry a whiff of oranges, plums, and red apples. Some notable beers in this category include Scottish Ale, Best Bitter, and Irish Red Ale.

In toast and nutty variety of malt-flavored beers, bold malt flavors combine with mild crispy notes, leading to heavy and delicious nutty and biscuit-like flavors. Intense versions exhibit flavors of mild caramel, dates, figs, raisins and other dry fruits. Some popular beers of this type include Dark Lager, Doppelbock, English Mild, and English Brown Ale.

Malt is basic to every type of beer. The type of malt used and the way it is brewed differentiates one category from another.

Malted beers are usually produced by employing the following method:

  • Barley is soaked in water, which is later drained. This process sets the stage for the germination of the barley seed.
  • Once germination begins, new enzymes are activated. These enzymes convert the seed’s proteins and starch content into amino acids and sugars, which are, in turn used by the plant to grow.
  • Once sprouting begins, barley grains are kiln-dried to stop the production of enzymes.
  • The malted barley produced in the above way is crushed by the brewer.
  • The barley is then soaked in hot water to initiate the enzyme activity once again, this time in an accelerated manner.

Barley grains produced through the above process are called malted barley grains.

The enzymes act by converting barley’s starch content into sugars. Since enzyme activity is intense and accelerated, the conversion into sugars takes place within a very short period of time.

The sugar produced in this way is boiled along with hops (female flowers of hop plant). The sugar then undergoes fermentation by yeast, which produces beer.

Smoke-Flavored Beers

A smoked beer has a smoky flavor that is very similar to the smell of chestnuts that have been roasted on an open flame. This distinctive smell is a result of the brewing method used for making such beers.

Malt is dried in a malt house, which in brewing means a place used for malt preparation and storage. The malt undergoes the steeping and germination process in the malt house. Steeping is the process where crushed malt is soaked in hot water for extracting its flavor and color. The malt is crushed either fully or partially.

The malt is then dried on a kiln that is fired directly. The distinct smoked flavor of these beers is a result of the smoky fuel used to fire the kiln. Some common fuels used are pint, beechwood, and juniper. The smoky flavor, however, tends to dissipate over time.

Smoke-flavored beers can be spicy and meaty, or of a subdued smolder flavor type. A sausage-like and strong smoke flavor is the signature profile of the spicy and meaty variety. A range of other aromas make their presence known, although mildly. These include biscuit-like-malt flavor and that of nutmeg, clove, bananas, toffee, raisins, and nuts. Rauchbiers is a noted beer of this type.

The subdued smolder type of smoke-flavored beers possess a milder smoke flavor. The dominant flavors are that of roasted or toasted malt. The strong flavors are balanced by smoked spicy, woody, and peaty flavors. Some popular beers of this type include Smoked Porter and Smoked Beer.

Roast-Flavored Beers

Roast beers are made from malt grains that have undergone heavy roasting. The heavy roasting imparts a cocoa and coffee flavor to these beers. Another highlighting characteristic of these beers is their dark appearance, which is again due to the heavy roasting.

People that love to “feel” their beer may find roast beers highly attractive. These beers feature intense tactile characteristics. They have a rich mouthfeel and can be full-bodied.

Mouthfeel is how you feel your beer inside the mouth. It is not about the taste of the beer, though. For example, you will be able to feel the effervescence of a bubbly beer inside your mouth, but this feeling is no way related to the taste of the beer.

Body of a beer refers to its thickness or weight. It refers to the heavy or light sensation that you experience while consuming a beer. A light-bodied Roast beer feels light on your senses. A full-bodied Roast beers feel quite a mouthful. Roast beers can be medium-bodied too.

Roast beers can be deep copper or intense black in color. They are also available in varying ABV levels, from low to high. ABV, or Alcohol By Volume, refers to the amount of alcohol present in a beer.

The flavor of roast beers is surprisingly in contrast with their darker appearances. The less intense roast beers exhibit a latte, milk chocolate, or hazelnut taste. Roast beers that are medium-intense exhibit the taste of dark fruits. But overall, the taste profile of roast beers inclines toward a rich malty taste.

For those that love the darkest and the most roasted flavor profile, there is the darkest brew version of roast beers. These beers emanate flavors of burnt malt, dark chocolate, and tar. The most intense types of emanate flavors of fruits such as prunes, raspberries, cherries, and plums. Sweet Stout, Imperial Brown Ale, and Schwarzbier are some examples of less intense roast beers. Examples of darker variants include Dry Stout, American Stout, and American Brown Ale.

Fruit and Spice-Flavored Beers

Beers of this category exhibit a strong fruity and spicy flavor. These beers taste sweet, dry or partially dry. But they are not bitter. People that love a sweet taste will find these beers interesting.

The fruity flavor of these beers is imparted by the yeast used during brewing. The spicy flavor is derived by the addition of spices. Sometimes, more spices and fruits are added to increase the fruity and spicy flavor of these beers. Fruits may be added in the form of real fruits or fruit puree. Fruit & spice beers are great for any occasion. They can be consumed all through the year.

Beers of different desired characteristics are available in this category. Fruit and spice beers featuring low to high ABV and low to high beer body are available. Color ranges from golden to dark brown. Some fruit beers can be purple and bright pink.

Fruit and spice beers can be of bright or dark types. Bright styled beers exhibit a flavor profile of that of bright fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, apricots, lemons, bananas, and peaches. Spice flavors that these beers carry include that of coriander, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and vanilla. The bubblegum aroma is also found in some bright beers. Bright beers that are stronger exhibit a strong flavor profile similar to malt notes of fruits of deep dark colors, caramel, toffee, and toast. Some examples of bright fruit and spice beers include Witbier, Tripel, Gruit Ale and Saison.

The dark varieties of fruit and spice beers exhibit a flavor profile of fruits of darker colors. Such fruits include raisins, strawberries, figs, raspberries, and plums. Some dark fruit and spice beers carry the aroma of red wine. Spice flavors include those of pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, rose, and cloves. In some cases, a smoky flavor may also be present. A malt note is also common to dark beers. A malt flavor profile similar to that of caramel, chocolate, and nuts, may be exhibited by these beers. Some examples of dark fruit and spice beers include Quadruple, Dubbel, and Belgian Strong Dark Ale.

Dark or Bright, fruit and spice beers are a great choice for people looking to try something different and new that is not bitter. These beers are a popular choice of many beer lovers, as they are perfect companions for any meal and great for any occasion.

Crisp-Flavored Beers

Crisp-flavored beers are a great choice for people looking for a refreshing drink on a hot summer day. Crisp beers are popular because of their low alcohol content and their unique taste. Crisp beers are, as the name suggests, firm and fresh.

Crisp beers have a clean finish. This means these beers leave a clean, refreshing feel in your mouth after you finish swallowing them. The color of the beers ranges from straw to amber. Crisp beers rate low to medium on the IBU scale. IBU (International Bitterness Units) gives the measure of a beer’s bitterness. Crisp-flavored beers can be malt-rich, fruity, or have a hop-flavor.

Hop-flavored crisp beers use hops, usually from hop plants grown in Germany and Czech. The hop note is dominating in these beers. One can also experience a lot of spicy, floral, and herbal aromas in these beers. They deliver a finish that is drier and wonderfully snappy. Some popular beers in this category include Imperial Pilsner and Hoppy Lager.

Malt-rich crisp beers possess dominant malty notes. They do not have a fruity or spicy flavor profile. They do, however, exhibit a mild hop profile. The malt flavor of these beers imparts a biscuit-like flavor profile to the beers in addition to their dominant crispiness. Some examples of beers in this category include Helles Bock, Pale Lager, and Amber Lager.

Fruity crisp beers exhibit a fruity disposition of the likes of pears, berries, and green apples. This fruity profile is due to the use of ale yeast in the brewing process. These beers may show hop or malt-flavors, but not too much of either. Some examples of beers in this category include Wheat Ale, American Blond Ale, and Kolsch.

Crisp-flavored beers are a perfect companion on a relaxing day at a beach. They are equally handy for people getting into intense activities, such as hiking or camping. The light body characteristic of these beers makes them a refreshing drink that is light on the senses. As they are low on alcohol, they do not deprive you of the pleasure of the intended activity, intense or otherwise.

Crisp-flavored beers are a great choice for casual drinking. They are a favorite of people looking for a casual drink while hanging out with friends. They are equally popular among couples setting an informal barbecue on their patios.

Tart-Flavored Beers

These beers taste sour, funky, tart, and vinous. They are perfect for people trying to experiment. They also form great companions for any season. There are tart beers with low alcohol for those preferring a light beer.

Tart beers can also be strong, with some containing high alcohol content. They are also available in light to medium and full-bodied versions. The color of the beers ranges from a straw shade to an intense brown.

Tart-flavored beers can be of multiple styles, including fruity and vinous, delicate, and earthy. Fruity and vinous beers resemble wines the most in their characteristics. Sour and fruity flavors dominate this sub-category of tart beers. Fruity flavors resemble those of black currants, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, and raspberries. More fruits are added during the brewing process to accentuate the fruity flavors. Beers using oak barrels for aging may exhibit toffee, vanilla, toast, and caramel flavors. Some popular beers in this category include Wild Ale, Traditional Fruit Lambic, and Flanders Red Ale.

Earthy varieties of tart beers exhibit rustic flavors in addition to their typical funky and sour taste. Beers that undergo aging in oak barrels possess these rustic flavors. A range of earthy flavors is available in this category, including those reminiscent of farms, barns, horses, leather, and the earth. Fruit notes are also common to earthy tart beers, though they are only mild in presence. Fruit notes reproduce flavor profiles of strawberries, grapes, peaches, and apricots. Earthy tart beers are highly carbonated, which makes these drinks quite refreshing. Some noted beers of the earthy Tart varieties include Traditional Unblended Lambic, Saison, and Sour/ Wild Ale.

The delicate variety of tart beers is a lighter blend. They are mildly sour, exhibit lighter body, and have a lower malt profile. They have a crisp taste, bringing to mind the refreshing but acute flavor of orange and lemon. These beers are not as acidic as orange and lemon though. The highlight of delicate tart beers is the absence of the funky flavor, which is a signature flavor of tart beers. The citrus freshness of delicate tart beers lingers in the mouth and on the senses – a perfect selection for those looking for a strongly-refreshing but lighter-impact beer. Some interesting Tart beers of the delicate variety include Gose, Faro, and Berliner Weissbier.

Hop-Flavored Beers

These beers are known for their bitter flavor profile and strong aroma. The strong characteristics are a result of addition of huge amounts of hops during the brewing process.

Malt flavor exists in these beers too, but it is the flavor of the hops that is dominant in presence. These brews are available in medium and full-bodied variants. Their color ranges from golden yellow to brown. They are available in high-and-low-alcohol variants (ABV). So these are a perfect selection for people keen on a strong flavor but not on intoxication.

Hoppy beers can be malt-rich, dry and earthy, or bold and intense. The bold and intense varieties of Hoppy beers exhibit a mild malt note. The use of heavily-flavored hops, however, leaves these beers with an intense flavor profile of tropical fruits, citrus, and resin. An intense floral profile is not uncommon either. Some popular Hoppy beers in this sub-category include American Pale Ale, American India Pale Ale, and American Fresh Hop Ale.

For people desiring a stronger malt profile in their hoppy beers, there is the malt-rich variety. These beers do have a hop profile, but it is the malt profile that is heavier. Other flavor characteristics include fruity and caramelized notes. Despite the presence of a stronger malt profile, these beers possess aromas that are purely hoppy. The hoppy characteristic manifests in the form of tropical fruit and pine flavors. Some noted examples of malt-rich Hoppy beers include California Common, American Amber Ale, and American Barleywine.

The earthy and dry variety of hoppy beers exhibits a lighter malt profile. The finish is dry. Use of flavorful hops during brewing lends an additional flavor profile to these beers, which include grassy, hay-like, woody and earthy flavors. Some popular beers of the earthy and dry type of Hoppy beers include Ordinary Bitter, English India Pale Ale, and English Pale Ale.

Photo by Juliano Ferreira on

An authentic knowledge of beers gives an opportunity to select and enjoy the choicest beer. When you gift or suggest a select beer, you are giving an incredibly good time to the other person. So take the time to know about your beers!

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