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What are the different kinds of beers called? IPA, stout, lager, ale

For the beer connoisseur, ordering a simple beer becomes very complicated when the choice is opened up into its various forms.

Laguinitas DayTime, Anchor Steam, and Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes Brewery.
Chicago TribuneGetty

It’s a long time since the days in which brewers couldn’t make the same exact beer twice. Dozens of beers flood the market, each one enticing with different flavours: a spice here, a zest there, maybe even a piece of fruit. There are differing opinions on what makes the perfect Pilsner, or the difference between and an American and Indian pale ale.

Fortunately, organisations like the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and the Brewers Association (BA) have done that job for us. While their opinions differ, it gives a good framework to explain some of the differences and complexities of the drinks.

There are two styles of beer of which all others fall in to. These are the ales and lagers. The main difference is yeast. For ales, the yeast gathers at the top of the tank during fermentation, while the yeast in lagers gathers at the bottom, producing the main flavours.

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There are many different types of ale with the most prominent being the India pale ale (IPA). Typically much lighter in colour to a lager, a pale ale can be quite sweet due to the introduction of hops. The amount of hops added in the brewing process alters the flavour and is the difference between the IPA and some of the other pale ales.

Sticking close to pale ales, the wheat beer is a south German classic. These add a lot more wheat compared to barley and are the beer of choice at beer festivals like Oktoberfest in Munich, being held this year for the first time since 2019 due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Stout ales are the darkest of the beer family with some, like Guinness, being totally black save for the foam at the top. The barley in a stout is roasted before-hand, giving the ale its signiature colour and flavour.


Lagers are a bit more straightforward. These tend to be the beers you will find in your local pub or bar unless you prod around a bit. They also have a huge market dominance; in 2015 more than 71 percent of every beer drunk in the UK was a lager instead of an ale. In the US the difference is even starker as 87 percent of beers in the US are lager.

In one classic British comedy, the character Alan Partridge invents a cocktail in a bid to impress two producers that he thinks are big drinkers using lager, gin and tonic, and Baileys irish cream liquor. Tasty.

Many lagers taste pretty similar. Some which don’t, however, are Mexican lagers like Corona. They are brewed with corn and are thus a bit sweeter.


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