Courtesy of 2B a Snob

There are many beer types available to consumers. In fact, there are literally hundreds of different styles to choose from.

To get an understanding of these different beer types, let’s first look at what beer is actually made of.

The basic building blocks of beer are the four ingredients:water, malted barley, hops and yeast.

In its simplest terms, the factors that go into deciding the style of beer to be made are the type and amount of malt being used, the type, amount and method used when adding the hops, and the strain of yeast used to ferment the beer.

To get an even broader range of beer types, brewers will use specialty grains (malts) in a certain way that adds color and flavor to the beer without adding fermentable sugars.

In specialty beers, just about anything goes. People will use spices, fruit juices, candy, and just about anything else you can think of.

Types of Beer

Basically, beer is categorized into one of three different categories: lagers, ales, and the rest fall into a category called specialty beers.
The difference between a lager and an ale is the type of yeast used in fermentation.


An ale yeast is called top fermenting because of its tendency to flocculate (gather) at the surface of the brew during the first few days before settling to the bottom.

To brew an ale, fermentation must take place in warmer temperatures for the yeast to multiply and do its magic. Ales are usually higher in alcohol and will be noticeable fuller and more complex.

Here are a few of the more popular ales. Most of these types can be faithfully reproduced in your own home.

Barley Wine

– Despite its name, Barley Wine is indeed an ale (beer). Barley Wine is a very intense and complex beverage with alcohol content equal to most wines. It is not for the faint of heart. It has a hearty, sweet malt flavor which is offset by a strong and bitter flavoring from the hops for balance. Because of the preserving qualities of alcohol, this is the best beer for storing over a long period of time. The color ranges from copper to medium brown. The strong scent of malt, hops, and even the alcohol are evident. You can even feel the warmth of the alcohol as you swallow. The bitterness ranges from medium to the highest of all beer types.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.09–1.12
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.015–1.020
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 50–100
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 14–22
Alcohol (% by volume): 6-12
Examples: Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot Barley Wine, Adnam’s Tally-Ho Barley Wine


English Bitter

– There are three classic styles of English Bitters. They are the Ordinary (mild), the Special (moderate strength), and the Extra Special (a stong bitter). They are typically characterized with traditional hops such as Kent Goldings, Fuggles, or Brewers Gold. Just as they range from mild to strong, the color and alcohol percentage also follow. Here is the technical information for the average Special Bitter:

OG (Original Gravity): 1.039–1.042
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.006–1.012
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 28–46
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 12-14
Alcohol (% by volume): 4.2–4.8
Examples: Young’s London Special Ale, Fuller’s London Pride


Pale Ale

– As in the English Bitters, there are varying styles of pale ales. They all share a pronounced hop flavor and aroma with low to medium maltiness. There is also a good deal of fruity esters. Among the types of pale ales are the English, the India (IPA), and the American. English have a dry character usually due the high sulfate content of the water. The India Pale Ale is usually stronger and hoppier because the higher alcohol content and hop acids acted as a preservative on the long boat journey from England to its colonies in India. The American is usually amber in color and has a bit more maltiness flavor than the other two. When brewing pale ales, fresh, quality hops is a necessity. Here is the technical information for the India Pale Ale:

OG (Original Gravity): 1.050–1.070
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.012–1.018
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 40–60
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 8-14
Alcohol (% by volume): 5.0–7.6
Examples: Anchor Brewing Co.’s Liberty Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s Pale Ale


Scottish Ale

– Scottish ales are close cousins to the English ales with the exception that they are usually darker, maltier, and have less carbonation. They range in color, maltiness and strength in the order of Scottish Light(60 Shilling), Scottish Heavy (70 Shilling), Scottish Export (80 Shilling), and the Strong Scotch (wee heavy). The term 60-80 shilling dates back to when beer was taxed by gravity and strength and is still the way to order a Scottish ale in a Highland pub. The Strong Scotch is usually dark brown, high in alcohol (6-8 percent) and can have a lightly smoky character. Here is the technical information for a Scottish Heavy Ale:

OG (Original Gravity): 1.035–1.040
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.010–1.014
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 12–20
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 10-18
Alcohol (% by volume): 5.0–7.6
Examples: Samuel Smith’s MacAndrew’s Stock Ale, Scottish Courage’s McEwans Export


Belgian Strong Dark Ale

– Belgium is known for having hundreds of unique styles of beer. One of my favorites is the Belgian Strong Ale. Though very diverse, they are usually medium to dark in color with a high alcohol content. They are very malty and with a low hop flavor and aroma. The most important ingredient in this style of beer is the strain of yeast. The yeast and warm fermentations create a unique biscuity flavor with fruity and spicy overtones and a good deal of carbonation. These beers are usually very aromatic and are best served in a goblet so as to better smell the beer while drinking. Often considered the champagne of beers, the Belgian Strong Ale is definitely a beer to be savored. This is also one of the harder beer styles to try to achieve at home.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.064–1.096
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.012–1.024
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 20-50
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 10-20
Alcohol (% by volume): 7.0-11.0
Examples: Bières de Chimay’s Chimay Grand Reserve, Brouwerij Westvleteren’s Westvleteren Abt 12 (Yellow Cap)



– The Porter’s name comes from the Porters at London’s Victoria Station. They would frequently mix several styles of beer into one glass and drink large quantities of the mixture. A style was eventually created to approximate this blend and came to be known as a Porter. Arthur Guinness and Sons was the first brewer to offer a Porter commercially. Later on, they increased the alcohol content of the Porter and the new drink became known as the Stout Porter (which eventually became Stout). The Porter is a good beer for those who want a full flavored, dark beer without the bitterness from the roasted barley that a Stout now possesses.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.045–1.060
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.008–1.016
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 25-40
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 30+
Alcohol (% by volume): 4.5-6.0
Examples: Anchor Brewing Co.’s Anchor Porter, Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter, Fuller Smith and Turner’s Fuller’s London Porter


Imperial Stout

– The Czarist rulers of Russia so loved the English Stouts that they would have it shipped to them from England. The beer didn’t hold up too well on the long journey, so the English increased the gravity and alcohol content just as they did when creating the India Pale Ale. Thus the birth of the Russian Imperial Stout. An Imperial Stout is dark copper to very black in color. It has a rich and complex maltiness with noticeable hop bitterness. The two main ingredients are the dark roasted barley and black malts. The Imperial Stout is like the espresso of beer styles, full flavored and intense.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.075–1.090
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.020–1.030
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 50-80
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 40+
Alcohol (% by volume): 7.0-9.0
Examples: Grant’s Imperial Stout, Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout


The lager yeast simply flocculates (not at the surface) and sinks to the bottom. Therefore it is known as bottom fermenting. Lager yeasts need cool temperatures during fermentation to perform their magic.

Lagers tend to be lighter in color and usually taste drier than ales. They are generally less alcoholic and complex. This is the most common beer type sold in the U.S.

American Lager

– This is basically the main style of beer in America. It is a mass produced, inexpensive product that’s aimed at the broadest possible demographic. Since it is very watery and has little flavor characteristics, it is the least likely to offend a large number of consumers. In the health craze of the 70’s brewers started offering Light Beer. Light Beer is simply an American Lager with an even lower gravity. American Lagers achieve a low gravity by adding corn or rice syrup which is highly fermentable. This means that a higher percentage of sugars ferment into alcohol leaving behind less flavor.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.040–1.046
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.006–1.010
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 5-17
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 2-4
Alcohol (% by volume): 3.5-4.5
Examples: Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser, Coors Brewing Co’s Coors Light



– Pilsner style beer originated in Plzen, Czechoslovakia in 1842. It was the very first light colored beer. Today, it is the world’s most popular style of beer. The original Pilsners’ defining elements were the extremely soft water that was pumped locally and the unique aromatic hops that were also grown nearby. Pilsners are malty sweet, and well hopped. Caramel flavors are often noticed accompanied by medium to high bitterness. Pilsners have a good amount of carbonation and are clean and crisp.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.044–1.056
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.014–1.020
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 35-45
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 3-5
Alcohol (% by volume): 4.0-5.0
Examples: Plzensky Prazdroj’s Pilsner Urquell, Pivovar Velke Popovice’s Kozel Pilsner



– Originating in Germany, Bock beer is a hearty beer with high alcohol content. Contrary to the rumor, bock beer is not what’s cleaned out of the bottom of the vats at the end of the year! Bock beer has a pronounced malt flavor with just enough hop bitterness to tame the sweetness. The German word for lager “lagern” means to store. This being said, Bock beer is a well lagered. In other words, the beer is matured for a long period of time during the second fermentation. A variation on Bock beer is the Doppelbock. A Doppelbock has a higher gravity and slightly higher alcohol content. Traditionally, most all breweries end the names of their Doppelbocks in “ator” (such as Optimator or Salvator) which makes them easy to find.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.066–1.074
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.018–1.024
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 35-45
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 3-5
Alcohol (% by volume): 4.0-5.0
Examples: Pennsylvania Brewing Co.’s St. Nick Bock, Spaten-Franziskaner’s Optimator


Oktoberfest (Marzen)

– Marz, the German word for March, is when the last batch of beer was brewed before the warm summer months (before refrigeration). This beer was stored in Alpine caves to keep cool and consumed throughout the summer. At harvest time and the beginning of the new brewing season (around October), the remaining beer in storage was taken from the caves and consumed during a celebration. This celebration still takes place in Munich for 16 days and ends on the first Sunday in October. This beer is amber in color and is slightly heavy. It is malty sweet as typical with beer from southern Germany and Austria. There is low to medium bitterness but enough to offset the sweet. This is a favorite of many homebrewers because it’s fairly easy to make.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.050–1.056
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.012–1.020
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 18-25
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 35-15
Alcohol (% by volume): 5.0-6.0
Examples: Paulaner-Salvator’s Paulaner Oktoberfest-Bier, Great Lakes Brewing Co.’s Eliot Ness



– The main beer consumed in Bavaria. Helles is a pale lager that is light in color, not taste or calories. It is low in alcohol and intended to be an everyday or session beer. The main quality that separates a Helles from a Pilsner or Pale Lager is a less potent hop aroma and flavor. Only a mild, short lived bitterness should be expected.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.044–1.050
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.008–1.012
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 18-25
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 3-5
Alcohol (% by volume): 3.8-5.0
Examples: Brauerei Weihenstephaner’s Weihenstephaner Original, Hofbrauhaus’ Hofbrau Original



– Commonly known as German dark beer. It’s basically a Helles with additional roasted malt added for color and a toasty, chocolate-like taste. Contrary to its reputation, it is really not as heavy or strong as many would think. It is slightly more bitter than a Helles, but the bitterness is a result of the roasted barley rather than from hops.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.052–1.056
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.014–1.018
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 15-25
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 17-20
Alcohol (% by volume): 4.5-5.4
Examples: Hacker-Pschorr Brau’s Munchner Dunkel, Pennsylvania Brewing Co.’s Penn Dark

Specialty Beers

Specialty beers are either ales, lagers, or a hybrid of the two that will contain other ingredients that cause it to not fit into a true ale or lager style.


Weizenbier (Weissbier)

– Weizen is the German word for wheat. Weizenbier is an ale made wheat. The German word weiss means white. This ale, is a golden color but is cloudy and sometimes casts a whitish appearance. Don’t worry about it being cloudy, it won’t hurt you! A Weizenbier is a very refreshing, effervescent beer. The taste has hints of cloves and banana. If when bottling, a little yeast is added, the Weizenbier is referred to as a Hefeweizen. “Hefe” means yeast. A Weizenbier has to have at least 50% wheat malt to be considered a Weizenbier. Many times, a Weizenbier is enjoy with a twist of lemon. Try this light bodied, spicy beer in the summertime.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.046–1.056
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.008–1.016
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 10-15
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 3-9
Alcohol (% by volume): 5.0-5.6
Examples: Brauerei Weihenstephan’s Weihenstephaner Hefeweisbier, Hacker-Pschorr Brau’s Hacker-Pschorr Weisse


Smoked Beer

– One of the more unusual beers is the smoked beer. In Bamberg Germany this style is very popular and referred to as Rauchbier. In this style, a brewer will fires his malt over a wood fire and lets the smoke absorb into the grains. This imbues a smoky character in the taste of the brew. Many homebrew recipes call for duplicating this smoky taste with liquid smoke. A Porter is a good beer for making a smoked beer because of its high malt, low hop ratio.

OG (Original Gravity): 1.048-1.052
FG (Finished Gravity): 1.012–1.016
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): 20-30
SRM (Standard Reference Method): 10-20
Alcohol (% by volume): 4.3-4.8
Examples: Alaskan Brewing Co.’s Alaskan Smoked Porter, Stone Brewing Co.’s Stone Smoked Porter


Fruit/Vegetable Beer

– Adding fruit to beer is a relatively new concept in America. However, in Belgium this has been done for centuries. Just about any beer can have fruit extracts or syrups added and they are readily available at homebrew supply shops. With fruit or vegetable beers, there’s no telling what you might find because the different recipes are so varied.

OG (Original Gravity): ?
FG (Finished Gravity): ?
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): ?
SRM (Standard Reference Method): ?
Alcohol (% by volume): ?
Examples: New Glarus Brewing Co.’s Wisconsin Belgian Red, Weyerbacher Brewing Co.’s Raspberry Imperial Stout


Herb/Spice Beer

– Herb or Spiced Beer is very similar to Fruit Beers in that it’s a fairly new trend for American brewers. With the amount of spices available, there are a myriad of recipes to satisfy any urge. As in Fruit Beer, any type of beer can be used as a base for selected herbs or spices. With these types of beers, you can really let you imagination run wild.

OG (Original Gravity): ?
FG (Finished Gravity): ?
IBU’s (International Bittering Units): ?
SRM (Standard Reference Method): ?
Alcohol (% by volume): ?
Examples: Highland Brewing’s Cold Mountain Winter Ale, Smuttynose Brewing Co.’s Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale


One Final Note:

There are many other ingredients typically used in specialty beers ranging from coffee to nuts to chocolate and just about anything else you can think of. Sure it’s good to have true beer styles consisting of only malt, hops, yeast and water, but it’s OK to experiment and try something new from time to time.

Durham Wine and Spirits
6D Main Street DurhamCT06422 USA 
 • 860.349.5646