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Beer Styles

Beer style is a term given to beer to differentiate and categorize them by factors such as colour, flavour, strength, ingredients, production method, recipe, history or origin.

Beer styles are predominantly based on a book titled ‘The World Guide To Beer’ by writer Michael Jackson which was published in 1977. In 1989, Fred Eckhardt furthered Jackson’s work publishing ‘The Essentials of Beer Style’.

In basic terms, beer styles generally fall into one of two main categories – either Ale or Lager.

There are two primary differences between an Ale and a Lager, being the yeast and the fermentation temperature.

  • Yeast – Ales are brewed with “top-fermenting” strains of yeast which means that the yeast ferments at the top of the fermentation vessel. Ale yeasts also tend to produce chemicals called esters that can affect the flavour of the beer, depending on which strain of yeast is used. Lagers use “bottom-fermenting” yeasts which sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. The yeast in lagers does not normally influence flavour too much.

  • Temperature – Ale yeasts ferment best at warmer temperatures, usually around room temperature and up to circa. 24-26 degrees celcius. For this reason, they tend to mature and ferment faster than lagers. Lagers ferment at colder temperatures (circa. 7-15 degrees celcius). Historically, lager beers came from continental European countries like Germany, brewed where cooler temperatures are the norm. The word “lager” comes from the German word “lagern” which means “to store” which refers to the lagering process where the beer typically ferments over longer periods of time than ales. The combination of colder temperatures and bottom-fermenting yeast is responsible for the mild and crisp taste of most lagers.

Further to the two main beer categories beer is regularly described as being of a certain style. Below is a summary of some (but not all) of these styles along with a short description of each. Every year breweries (most notable micro-breweries) bring out new hybrid beers and in a lot of instances the ale / lager characterisation is becoming increasingly mixed


A Belgian or Dutch strong ale in the style of the local monastic brews.


A German style of top fermenting beer, altbeir comes from the German alt, meaning “www.” Copper to brown in colour, this style is more similar in taste to a lager than an ale. Altbier originated in Düsseldorf, and has a medium body and malty flavour. The overall impression is clean, crisp, and flavourful.


Ambers are reddish brown, or copper coloured and usually very malty in taste and aroma. The level of hop taste and aroma will vary.


Barleywine is a strong ale that ranges from copper to dark brown in colour. These beers have a full body and bold maltiness balanced by a strong hop character. This is a complex ale with extraordinary alcohol content.


Bitter is the term for draught pale ale in the UK. Copper coloured and hoppy, this is the most popular style of ale produced by British brewers.


Bocks are traditional German style beers that are strong, malty, and medium to full bodied. Bocks can range in colour from golden to deep copper to dark brown, they are generally stronger than typical lagers. This style came from the town of Einbeck, and the name was eventually corrupted to Ein Bock, the German word for goats, explaining why goats are pictured on many bock beer labels.

Brown Ale

Brown ale is typically considered a British beer style, although France and Belgium also produce brown ales. The British make a sweet, dark brown ale in southern England, as well as the drier Northern version. Both are low in hops and get their colour from a blend of roasted malt.

Cream Ale / American Lager

A true American style, cream ales are mild, pale, light bodied ales or lagers. These beers are crisp and refreshing and are low in hops, with a creamy head.

Cream Stout / Milk Stout / Sweet Stout

Cream stouts have less roasted bitter flavour and a full bodied mouthfeel. The style can be given more body with milk sugar (lactose). Malt sweetness, chocolate, and caramel flavour should dominate the flavour profile. Hops should balance sweetness without contributing apparent flavour or aroma.

Dark Stout

This beer’s malt aroma and flavour are low but notable. Its colour ranges from a very deep copper to a deep, dark brown. Its body is light. Non?malt adjuncts are often used, and hop rates are low. Hop bitterness, flavour, and aroma are low.


Doppel means double in German and although doppelbocks are not actually twice as strong as a bock, it is definitely an extra strong beer. Doppelbocks are full bodied and deep amber to dark brown in colour. The hop flavour and aroma is low and the alcoholic strength is high.

Dortmunder / European Style Export

This German style originated in the city of Dortmund. Also referred to as Export, this lager is pale golden and slightly strong with a medium hop bitterness and medium body.

Dry Stout

Dry stouts have an initial malt and caramel flavour profile with a distinctive dry roasted bitterness in the finish. Dry stouts achieve a dry roasted character through the use of roasted barley.


This Belgian style ale is medium to full bodied It is dark amber to brown in colour and has a malty sweetness and nutty, chocolate like, and roast malt aroma. Dubbels are also characterized by low hop flavour and yeasty fruity esters.

Dunkel Weizen

Dunkel Weizen is a German dark wheat style characterized by a distinct sweet maltiness and a chocolate like character from roasted malt. The colour can range from copper brown to dark brown. Both hop flavour and aroma are absent.

Extra Special Bitter (ESB)

English style extra special bitters (ESBs) display medium to strong hop qualities in aroma, flavour, and bitterness. The residual malt sweetness of this richly flavoured, full bodied bitter is more pronounced than in other bitters. It is golden to copper coloured.

English Pale Ale

Classic English pale ales are golden to copper coloured and display English variety hop character. Medium to high hop bitterness, flavour, and aroma should be evident. This medium bodied pale ale has low to medium malt flavour and aroma.

Fruit Beers

Fruit beers are any beers using fruit or fruit extracts as an adjunct in either primary or secondary fermentation, providing obvious (ranging from subtle to intense), yet harmonious, fruit qualities.

Fruit Lambic

These beers, also known by the names framboise (raspberry), kriek (cherry), peche (peach), and others are characterized by fruit flavours and aromas. The colour reflects the choice of fruit. Sourness is an important part of the flavour profile, though sweetness may compromise the intensity. These flavoured lambic beers may be very dry or mildly sweet and range from a dry to a full bodied mouth feel.


Hefeweizen is a Bavarian style wheat beer made with at least 50 percent malted wheat. This is a medium to full bodied beer style that is very pale to pale amber in colour. Because yeast is present, the beer will have yeast flavour and a fuller mouthfeel. Spicy, clove flavours are derived from the special yeast strain and it is often cloudy in appearance. Hop flavour and aroma are absent.


The German word helles means light coloured, and as such, a helles is light straw to deep golden in colour. This beer has a relatively low bitterness. It is a medium bodied, malt emphasized beer.

Imperial Russian Stout

Imperial Russian Stout was originally brewed for the Russian Court. Dark copper to very black in colour, imperial stouts typically have high alcohol content. The extremely rich malty flavour and aroma are balanced by hops.

Indian Pale Ale

India Pale Ale (IPA) is a very hoppy, somewhat stronger version of pale ale, made to last the voyage from the UK to India in the 1800s. India pale ales are characterized by intense hop bitterness with a high alcohol content. IPAs are crisp, dry ales that are pale gold to deep copper coloured. India pale ales possess medium maltiness and body.


Kölsch is a golden, fruity beer from the German city of Cologne. It is characterized by a golden colour and has a slightly dry, subtly sweet flavour. The body is light. This beer has low hop flavour and aroma with medium bitterness.


Lambics are a Belgian style that is brewed with unmalted wheat and malted barley. The beers are naturally and spontaneously fermented using wild yeast. The result is a dry, sour and cloudy beer. Lambics are sometimes casked with cherries, raspberries or other fruits.


Light in body and colour, lagers are very clean and crisp and aggressively carbonated. This is the most popular beer style made by all the large breweries. Malt sweetness is absent. Corn, rice, or other grain or sugar adjuncts are often used. Hop aroma and flavour is mild or negligible.


Maibock is a bock beer that is traditionally available in Germany in May, although it is brewed year round by some brewers. Maibocks are also light coloured with a medium to full body. The malty character should come through in the aroma and flavour, with a low to medium hop flavour and aroma.

Marzen / Oktoberfest / Vienna

This German style is characterized by a medium body, malty aroma, and slight malt sweetness. Beers in this category are usually reddish brown or copper coloured. Sweet maltiness should dominate slightly over a clean, hop bitterness. They are usually slightly higher in alcohol content.


Mild is a British style light bodied ale that is low in hops and alcohol. Most are dark brown in colour with a full bodied flavour.

Munchener / Munich Style

Based on a lager brewed in Munich, this German style is full bodied with a sweet malt flavour and slight hop taste. Its dark brown colour and malty flavour come from roasted barley.

Oatmeal Stout

Oatmeal stouts include oatmeal in their grist, resulting in a pleasant, full flavour and a smooth profile that is rich without being grainy. A roasted malt character that is caramel like and chocolate like should be evident. This is a smooth, medium to full bodied beer.

Old Ale

Old ales are English strong beers containing more alcohol than regular ales, but less than barleywine.

Oud Bruin Ale

This light to medium bodied deep copper to brown Belgian style ale is characterized by a slight to strong vinegar or lactic sourness and spiciness. A fruity/estery character is apparent with no hop flavour or aroma and low to medium bitterness.

Pale Ale

Originally brewed in England, pale ales are popular hoppy ales. American pale ales range from golden to light copper in colour. The style is characterized by the American variety hops used to produce high hop bitterness, flavour, and aroma. American pale ales have medium body and low to medium maltiness.


Pilsner originated in the Czech city of Pilsen. True Pilsners are golden in colour, medium bodied, and have a hoppy aroma and dry finish. Many light lagers are modelled on the Pilsner style but have less body and character.


Porter is based on a style of beer made in London in the early 1700s. Porters range from brown to almost black in colour and have a roasted malt flavour. Porters have less pronounced hop flavour than other ales and a slightly sweet taste.


Rauchbiers originated in the Bamberg region of Germany. Very smoky and malty, Rauchbier is an amber lager made with beech wood smoked malt. The beer is generally malty, full bodied, with a low to medium hop bitterness and should have smoky characters prevalent in the aroma and flavour.

Red Ale

Red ales are uniquely American and are one of the most popular styles brewed by craft brewers. The colour ranges from light copper to light brown. Many red ales are quite hoppy.


German in origin, these very dark brown to almost black beers have a roasted malt character without the associated bitterness. Malt flavour and aroma are low in sweetness. Hop flavour and aroma should be low but perceptible.

Scottish Ale

Scottish style ales are moderate in strength and dominated by a smooth, sweet maltiness. Scottish ales have a medium body with the colour will ranging from golden amber to deep brown. The maltiness is balanced with low, hop flavour and aroma.


Stout has a dark, almost black colour and a rich malty flavour. There are four main versions of this style: Dry Stout, Cream or Milk Stout, Oatmeal Stout and Imperial Stout.


Belgian style Tripels are often characterized by a complex, spicy flavour. Yeast generated fruity banana esters are also common. These pale to light coloured ales are medium to full body. Alcohol strength and flavour are evident.

Wheat / Weiss

Brewed from wheat instead of the more traditional barley, wheat beers are brewed using a top fermenting yeast. Generally unfiltered and pale in colour, this German style is known for its cloudy appearance, yeasty aroma, and spicy, clovy like flavour.

Wit / Belgian Style White

Unfiltered Belgian wheat beer, called wit, or white, because of its cloudy appearance is brewed using unmalted wheat and malted barley. This very pale beer is spiced with coriander and orange peel. The style is characterized by a low to medium hop bitterness and hop flavour, and low to medium body.
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