Basics of Beer: Building Your Knowledge like a Brewmaster

Long gone are the days when you look at a menu and only big beer brands appear. Bars and restaurants have diversified their options to the point that you might not even recognize the type of brew that sits before you. Craft beers have become so popular that more establishments are even distilling their own distinct flavors.

Knowing the difference between the main types of beer can help you narrow down the extensive list to the ones you know will make your taste buds take flight. Depending on the yeast used and the way the beer the brewed, determines the type that fills up the glass.

Here are the basics you need to know, so you can say sayonara to freezing up and choosing a brewsky at random the next time you’re asked “What can I get you to drink?”


Beers can be broken into two categories – lagers and ales. Lagers are fermented at cooler temperatures, leaving the yeast to process at the bottom of the vat. The low hop levels give the lager a lighter, malty taste, while the high carbonation levels leave a crisp and refreshing finish. Traditional lagers tends to be yellow in color.


Pilsner styles are medium- to medium-full bodied with high carbonation and a dry, bitter finish. The variety of hops provide floral aromas, and they are best known for the dense, white head at the top of the glass. While pilsners originated in the Czech Republic, German and imperial pilsners are growing in popularity.

Pale Ales

As yeast feeds at the top of the tank in ale production, a fuller-bodied beverage is the result. While pale ales can range in flavor and aroma, most have hints of citrus and fruit. The pale ale has a relatively low alcohol content and the color can be between gold and amber.


The India Pale Ale (IPA) has higher alcohol content and more hops than the regular pale ale. Depending on the mix of hops, IPAs can range in flavor – from citrusy and fruity to herbal and bitter. If you are concerned about the bitterness, International Bitterness Units (IBUs) will help you quantify it. Ask before you order, as a higher number might lead it to be harder to palate.

Wheat Beers

If there is a beer that is perfectly paired with summer, this is it. Lower in alcohol level and lighter in taste, these easy to drink beers use, you guessed it – wheat – as the malted ingredient. Popular types include the hefeweizen, Berliner Weisse and witbier. Add a slice of lemon or orange to complement the spicy essence.


If you’re ready to go to the “dark side,” this is your beer. While dark in color, the sweetness balances out the bitterness, making it easier to drink than you might think. Some can even exude notes of coffee or chocolate, due to the roast, hop and malt flavors. — Josh Johnson, head brewer at Ranch House Grill & Brewery at SaddleBrooke Ranch, a Robson Resort Community. The 55-plus active adult community has its own brewery that makes at least five types of beer weekly.

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