Interested in learning more about craft beer, but struggling to know your pale ale from your pilsner? Here’s a foolproof guide to the main styles of beer you’ll find out there.
Wheat beer (weissbier)
Wheat beers have a light colour and low alcohol level, making them perfect for an afternoon pint in the sunshine. Their fruity flavours match well with a slice of orange or lemon as garnish.
Lagers are a classic entry point for drinkers new to beer, pale in colour and known for their crisp and refreshing taste. Most light lagers do not have a strong flavour, and they are rarely hoppy or bitter. This style of beer is one of the most popular in Ireland.
German pilsner is a particular style of lager, pale gold in colour with a medium hop flavour and a slight note of maltiness.
Blonde ale can be anywhere from pale yellow to a rich golden colour. They tend to be crisp and dry, with medium or low bitterness, some hoppy aromas and a touch of sweetness.
Pale ales are usually hoppy but carry a lower alcohol content than IPAs. This category can include American amber ale, American pale ale, blonde ale and English pale ale. Most types are malty, medium-bodied and easy to drink.
Indian pale ale (IPA)
IPAs are characteristically hoppy with herbal, citrus or fruity flavours. Most of them contain reasonably high alcohol levels. IPAs were first invented by British colonisers looking to bring beer to India, where it was too hot for brewing. The standard pale ales of the period wouldn’t last the arduous six month voyage, and so extra alcohol was added to keep them fresh for longer.
Double IPAs – also known as Imperial IPAs – are a stronger, very hoppy variant, typically with an alcohol content above 7.5% ABV; triple IPAs are stronger again, often over 10%.
Irish red ale
Irish red ale is known for its unique malty taste, with flavours of caramel and biscuit and typically very little bitterness. It’s relatively low in alcohol and has a dark red hue that comes from the addition of roasted barley.
Brown ales are dark beers that don’t carry the bitterness of porters and stouts. They have a dark caramel colour and often nutty, malted flavours with toasted notes and a hint of toffee.
Porters are dark in colour, and include notes of chocolate, coffee and caramel. They tend to be more chocolatey than brown ales, with less coffee flavour than stouts. Porter is most often made with malted barley, which is what differentiates it from stout (usually made from unmalted roasted barley).
Stout is a deep, dark style of beer, the flavour of which depends heavily on its country of origin. Irish and British stouts are known for their low bitterness and a touch of sweetness, with hints of coffee and cream. By comparison, American stouts contrast this creaminess with roasted, bitter and hoppy flavours.
Imperial stout, also known as Russian Imperial stout, is a strong dark beer with a high alcohol content, usually over 9% ABV. They are smooth and bittersweet, with deep treacle and espresso flavours, a hint of residual bitterness and a slow alcohol finish.
Sour beer has become increasingly popular in the last year or two the last few years, finding appeal with those wanting to try something new. Their tartness is often matched with a hint of sweetness from fruits like cherry, grapefruit or peach.
Your questions, answered…
What is craft beer?
There is no single definition of craft beer, but it is typically used to differentiate small-batch beers made by independent breweries from those manufactured by bigger corporations. Craft beers have seen an explosion of interest in the past 4-5 years, and there are now upwards of 75 craft breweries in operation on the island of Ireland.
Is craft beer better?
Not all craft beer is good; not all large-scale manufactured beer is bad. Really, what it all comes down to is enjoyment. What do you like to drink the most? If it makes you happy, then that’s the beer you should buy. You do you.
What are hops?
Hops are the flowers) of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus. They are used as a stabilising agent in beer, and also impart bitterness as well as distinctive floral, fruity, or citrus flavours and aromas. There are plenty of different varieties: you may have heard of some of these, such as Citra, Chinook or American Cascade. A brewery may choose to use a combination of hops, although creating ‘single hopped’ beers has become quite trendy.
What is unfiltered beer?
The transparency typical of many beers is achieved by filtering the beer through finings. Some beer-makers choose to leave their bees unfiltered (or semi-filtered), which gives them a hazy, cloudy appearance; some people believes this leaves more of the character and flavour of the beer intact.