Beer 101

Love beer, but want to learn more?


Beer is the world’s oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea. It is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches, mainly derived from cereals- the most common of which is malted barley, although wheat, corn and rice are also widely used. Most beer is flavored with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative, though other flavorings such as herbs or fruit may occasionally be included. 


Malt is derived from processing grains to develop enzymes that are required to modify starches into sugars. Barley is the most commonly malted grain.


The flower of the hop vine is used as a flavoring and preservative agent in nearly all beer made today. Hops contribute a bitterness that balances the sweetness of the malt and also contribute floral, citrus, and herbal aromas and flavors to beer.


Yeast is the microorganism that is responsible for fermentation in beer. Yeast metabolizes the sugars extracted from grains, this produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, and thereby turns the fermenting ingredients into beer. In addition to fermenting the beer, yeast influences the character and flavor. The dominant types of yeast used to make beer are ale yeast and lager yeast. Their use distinguishes ale and lager. 


Ale is brewed from malted barley using a top-fermenting brewers’ yeast that ferments the beer quickly, giving it a sweet, full bodied and fruity taste. Most ales contain hops, which impart a bitter herbal flavor that helps balance the sweetness of the malt and better preserve the beer. Fermented at higher temperatures, ale yeast produces significant amounts of flavor and aroma by-products, and the result is often a beer with slightly “fruity” compounds resembling apple, pear, pineapple, banana, plum and others. Typical ales have a sweeter, fuller body than lagers. 

Ale Styles:

Pale: Pale ales are brewed using a pale barley malt, the classic example being the bitter of English Pubs. Strengths vary greatly, as do hop levels, ranging from barely noticeable to exceptionally high in some examples of India Pale Ale,.

India Pale Ale (IPA): IPA is an ale that is light amber to copper in color, medium to medium-high alcohol by volume, with a hoppy, bitter and sometimes malty flavor.

Red Ale: Red ale is Irish in origin. The slightly reddish color comes from the use of roasted barley. The beers are typically fairly low in alcohol and tasted less bitter or hoppy than an English ale, with a pronounced malty, caramel flavor.

Brown Ale: A darker barley malt is used to produce brown ales. They tend to be lightly hopped, and fairly mildly flavored, often with a nutty taste.

Amber Ale: Amber ale is the term sometimes used in North America for pales ales which range from light copper to light brown in color.

Blonde/Golden Ale: Blond ales, also called golden ales range in color from that of straw to golden blond. They are clear, crisp, and dry, with low to medium bitterness and aroma from hops, and some sweetness from malt. The use of “lighter” hops and malt can make blond ales a good introduction to craft industry beers for consumers only familiar with mass-marketed beers.

Stout/Porter: Stout and porter are dark beers made using roasted malts. Stouts are differentiated from Porters by the addition of roasted barley.

Imperial Stout: Imperial stout, also known as “Russian Imperial Shout,” is a strong dark beer that was originally brewed in London, for export to the court of Catherine II of Russia. It has a higher alcohol content than most beers and exhibits very strong malt flavors, hints of dark fruits and a rich, chocolaty taste.

Cream Stout: Cream stout is a stout containing lactose, a sugar derived from milk and unfermentable by yeast. This allows it to retain it’s cream sweetness.

Oatmeal Stout: Oatmeal stout is a stout with a proportion of oats, normally a maximum of 30%, added during the brewing process. Oatmeal stouts usually do not specifically taste of oats. The smoothness of oatmeal stouts comes from the high content of proteins and gums imparted by the use of oats. The gums increase the viscosity and body adding to the sense of smoothness.

Barley Wine: Barley wine is a style of strong ale that typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% ABV (as strong as most wines). But since it is made from grain rather than fruit, it is in fact a beer.


Lagers are the most commonly consumed type of beer in the world. They typically ferment at much lower temperatures, and are then stored in even cooler temperatures for several weeks to mellow and clear. Lagers with the most complex flavors are typically the darkest, although few lagers feature strong hop flavoring. In general, however, lagers display less fruitiness and spiciness than ales, simply because the lower temperatures associated with lager brewing cause the yeast to produce fewer of the chemicals associated with those flavors.

Lager Styles:

Pilsner: Pilsner is a pale lager, developed in the 19th century in the city of Pilsen, Bohemia. A modern Pilsner has a very light, clear color from very pale up to a golden yellow, and distinct hop aroma and flavor.

Bock: Bock is a strong, dark lager, brewed from high-colored malts and can be dark, amber or pale in color. Bock was traditionally brewed for special occasions, often religious festivals such as Christmas, Easter or Lent.

Doppelbock: Doppelbock, or double bock, is a Bavarian specialty beer. Most versions are dark colored, but pale versions do exist. The flavor is very rich and malty, and are fairly sweet, due to little or no hop flavor.

Dunkel: Dunkel is a traditional style brewed in Munich and popular throughout Bavaria. With a lower percentage of alcohol by volume, dunkels are weaker that Doppelbocks. Dunkels are produced using Munich malts which give the beer its color. Other malts or flavors may also be added. 

Schwarzbier: Schwarzbier, or “black beer,” is a German dark lager beer. Is has an opaque, black color and a full, chocolatey or coffee flavor. Although they share some similar flavors, they are quite a bit milder tasting and less bitter than Stouts or Porters.

Kolsch: Kolsch is a local beer specialty, originally brewed in Cologne, Germany. It is a clear beer with a bright straw yellow hue, and it has a prominent, but not extreme, hoppiness. It is less bitter than the standard German Pilsner.

Wheat Styles:

Weissbier/Hefeweizen: Weissbier, as it is called in German, refers to several different types of wheat beer. Weissbier, or Weizen, is Bavarian in origin. The term Hefeweizen refers to wheat beer in its traditional, unfiltered form. The Hefeweizen style is particularly noted for is low hop bitterness and relatively high carbonation considered important to balance the beer’s relatively malty sweetness.

Witbier: The Belgian Witbier, or White beer, gets its name due to suspended yeast and wheat proteins which cause the beer to look hazy, or white, when cold. It is a descendant from those Medieval beers which were not brewed with hops, but instead flavored and preserved with a blend of spices and other plants referred to as a “gruit.”

Sours: This family of wheat beers uses the spontaneous fermentation of fruits alongside malts to balance, sweeten and flavor the brew. Among the sub-styles of Sour beers are Lambics, and Belgian or Flemish Ales.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV):

A measure of the strength of a beer by the level of alcohol it contains. If measured by volume the units would be millilitres of alcohol per 100 grams of beer. Beer ABV ranges from 3% in weak ales and milds to 10% in strong ales and barley wines.

International Bitterness Unit (IBU):

The measure of the bittering substances in beer (analytically assessed as milligrams of isomerized alpha acid per liter of beer, in ppm). This measurement depends on the style of beer. Light lagers typically have an IBU rating between 5-10 while big, bitter India Pale Ales can often have an IBU rating between 50 and 70.


Cask ale of cask-conditioned beer is the term for unfiltered and unpasteurized beer which is conditioned and severed from a cask, usually without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. 


Draught beer from a pressurized keg is the most common method of dispensing in bars around the world. A metal keg is pressurized with carbon dioxide (CO2) gas which drives the beer to the top.