Types of beer

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Types of beer

There are three main types of beer. These are top-fermenting, bottom-fermenting and spontanious-fermenting beers.


  • Ales

  • Altbeer

  • Special

  • Wheatbeers


  • Lagers

  • Vienna, Marzen

  • Munich, Bock, Dopple Bock, Rauchbeer


Abbey beers

Abbey beers are strong fruity ales and brewed in Belgium by commercial companies. They copy the style of the surviving beers produced in monasteries, or name their brews after a church or a saint. Examples are Leffe, Grimbergen and Maredsous.


Ales are brewed with "top-fermenting" yeasts at temperatures from 10-20 degrees Celsius. Ales  include bitters, pale ales, porters, stouts, barley wines, trappist, and alt. In  England ales are very popular.

Alt beers

This is a bitter-tasting brew produced by the ancient style of brewing using top-fermentation. Alt is a copper-colored aromatic ale, made in the city of Dusseldorf and a few other cities in the north of Germany. It's a firm-bodied but quite bitter beer that contains just over 4.5% alcohol. Examples are Diebels, Schlosser and Uerige.

Barley wine

Barley wine is the English name for a powerful, almost syrupy, strong ale, that is usually sold in small nip-size bottles. These well-matured brews can be golden or dark in colour. The darker versions of barley wine were once called Stingo.

Berliner Weisse

A light, sharply acidic German wheat beer made predominantly in Berlin, this refreshing brew is relatively low in alcohol and is often laced with a dash of green woodruff or raspberry juice to add color to its cloudy white appearance.

Biere de Garde

A top-fermenting "beer for keeping" from north-west France, this was originally made in farmhouses, but is now produced by commercial breweries. This style produces medium to strong spicy ales; some are bottle-conditioned, and many are sealed with wired corks.


The distinctive style of draught ale in England and Wales is generally served in pubs. It is usually dry and hoppy with an alcohol content of 3.5%. Traditionally reddish amber in colour, paler varieties are now proving popular in England. Stronger versions used to be called Best or Special.

Black beer

In Germany, Schwarzbier is a strongtasting, bitter-chocolate lager. It is not a stout but a very dark lager and is a speciality of eastern Germany, particularly around Bernau. The town of Kostritz in the former East Germany is noted for its black lager, and Kulmbach and Erlangen are also known for their deep brown beers. This style is also made in Japan. In England, especially Yorkshire, black beers are strong, pitch-black, treacly malt extracts, usually bottled for mixing with lemonade to make distinctive shandies.


A strong malty, warming German beer of about 6.5% alcohol, bock was originally brewed for the colder months. Traditionally dark in colour, today it is more likely to be golden-bronze. This powerful smooth brew originated in Einbeck in Lower Saxony, but is now more associated with Bavaria. Bock is also produced in Austria, the Netherlands and other countries surrounding Germany. The word bock means "billy goat", and a goat's head often features on the label. The brew is sometimes linked with seasonal festivals, such as Maibock which celebrates the arrival of spring. Extra-potent versions are called doppelbocks (and are chiefly associated with Bavaria), with more than 7% alcohol, such as Paulaner Salvator.

Brown Ale

A sweetish, bottled mild ale, dark in colour and low in alcohol, from England, brown ale was once a popular workers' drink, although sales have declined heavily in recent years. The north-east of the country produces stronger, drier versions like the well-known Newcastle Brown Ale. Belgium boasts its own sweet and sour brown ales from East Flanders. The main producer is Liefmans of Oudenaarde. The sour taste comes from a slow simmering rather than a boil, and from the addition of a lactic yeast. Other producers include Cnudde, also of Oudenaarde, the nearby Roman Brewery and Vanden Stock.

Chilli beer

Produced by only a handful of American breweries this is an odd, slow burning speciality. The Pike Place Brewery of Seattle produces an occas ional Cerveza Rosanna Red Chilli Ale, while the hotter Crazy Ed's Cave Creek Chilli Beer of Phoenix, Arizona, has a whole chilli pod in each bottle. It reputedly goes well with Mexican food.

Cream Ale

A sweetish, smooth, golden ale from the United States, cream ale was originally introduced by ale brewers trying to copy the Pilsner style. Some cream ales are made by blending ales with bottom-fermenting beers.

Diat Pils

Nothing to do with dieting, diat pils is lager which undergoes a thorough fermentation which removes nearly all the sugars from the bottom fermented, Pilsner derived brew. This leaves a strong, dry tasting beer, which is still packed with calories in the alcohol. It was originally brewed as a beer suitable for diabetics, rather than slimmers. Because it misled many, the word "diat" has now been removed.


An extra-strong bock beer; doppelbock is not double in strength, but usually around 7.5% alcohol. It is rich and warming. The names of the leading Bavarian brands usually end in "ator", Salvator from Paulaner of Munich, for example.


Dortmunder is a strong, full bodied export style of lager from Dortmund in Germany, the
biggest brewing city in Europe. It was originally brewed for export and was once sold under this name across the globe, but is now declining in popularity Malty, dry and full bodied, these brews usually have an alcohol strength of around 5.5%, being firmer and less aromatic than a Pilsner. The leading examples include DAB, Kronen and DUB.

Dry beer

First produced in Japan by the Asahi Brewery in l987, this is a super diat pils with a parching effect, which was widely adopted in North America. The beer taste is so clean it has been swept away almost entirely through further fermentation. Dry beer, in which more of the sugars are turned to alcohol leaving little taste, was developed in Japan and launched in America in
l988. After an initial surge in sales when Anheuser-Busch introduced Bud Dry, the market has faded almost coompletely away.


German lagers were traditionally dark, and these soft, malty brown beers are associated with Munich, often being known as Munchner like the paler hell, they contain around 4.5% alcohol. Most of the major Munich breweries produce a dunkel.


This is a term used to describe dark, medium-strength Trappist and abbey beers in Belgium.


An extra-potent bock, eisbock is produced by freezing the brew and removing some of the frozen water to leave behind more concentrated alcohol. The most notable producer is Kulmbacher Reichelbrau in Northern Bavaria. Eisbock is the original ice beer.


This term was originally used to denote a better-quality beer, worth selling abroad. The Dortmunder style is also known as Dortmunder Export, since it became popular around the world. In Scotland, the term export is widely adopted for premium ales.


Once the most common manifestation of Belgian lambic beer, faro is a weak lambic sweetened with sugar. Now this style has largely disappeared.


These are Flemish and French names for a Belgium fruit beer made by adding raspberries to a lambic. Framboise has a sparkling, pink champagne character and the raspberries impart a light, fruity flavour. Because the whole fruit is too soft, producers usually add raspberry syrup. In recent years a whole variety of other fruit juices have been tried, from peaches to bananas, with varying degrees of success.

Ginger beer

Despite its name, this is a refreshing, low or non alcohol soft drink flavoured with root ginger However. long before the hop appeared, ginger was used in beer and some pioneering micro-brewers are trying it again: Salopian in England adds ginger to its dark wheat beer, Gingersnap.

Green beer

Any young beer which has not had time too mature is known as a green beer. The term is
also used to denote a beer made with organic malt and hops. Organic green beer is known as
biologique in France (where Castelain makes an organic beer called Jade) and biologisch in Germany. In Scotland, the Caledonian Brewery of Edinburgh has pioneered organic ale with Golden Promise.


This is a ripe blend of old and new Belgian lambics. By blending young and old lambics, a secondary fermentation is triggered. The resulting distinctive, sparkling beer, often sold in corked bottles like champagne to withstand the pressure, packs a fruity, sour, dry taste. Blending is such an art that some producers do not brew, but buw in their wort. Often this beer is matured for many more months in the bottle. In some cases the seconday fermentation is triggered by the addition of various fruits. Traditionally gueuze should not be filtered, pasteurized or sweetened, though some more commercial brands do all three.


Scottish brewers use this term to describe a standard strength ale, between a Light and an Export. A "wee heavy" is a bottled strong ale. the wee referring to the small nip size of the bottle.


The German word for yeast is used to describe a beer that is unfiltered, with a sediment in
the bottle. Draught beers "mmit Hefe" are usually cloudy.


This word means. pale or light in German and indicates a mild, malty golden lager, often from Munich. Notable examples include Hacker-Pschorr and Augustiner.

Honey beer

The Celts and other ancient peoples used to make mead from fermented honey. They
also produced a beer, bragot, to which honey was often added as a soft sweetener. A hazy honey brew called Golden Mead Ale was produced in England by Hope & Anchor Breweries of Sheffield, and was widely exported until the early l960's. Today, a few breweries have revived the style, notably Ward's of Sheffield with Waggle Dance and Enville Ales of Staffordshire. Some
new American brewers also use honey, as do the innovative Belgian De Dolle Brouwers in their Boskeun beer.

Ice beer

A chilling innovation of the early l99O's; the brew is froozen during maturation to produce a purified beer, with the ice crystals removed to increase the strength. Many ice beers were originally developed in Canada by Labatt and contain around 5.5% alcohol. Canadian brewers. Labatt and Molson introduced the new beer style in l993 in which the beer is frozen after fermentation, giving a cleaner, almost smoothed away flavour. Sometimes the ice crystals are removed, concentrating the beer. Most major US brewers have launched their own brands such as Bud Ice and Miller's Icehouse, but ice beer still accounts for less than 4% of the beer market. ln 1996, Tennent's of Scotland produced a Super lce with a strength of 8.6%.


The words behind the initials betray IPA's imperial origins India Pale Ale. This strong, heavily hopped beer was brewed in Britain, notably in Burton-on-Trent by companies like Allsopp and Bass. The recipe was designed to withstand the long sea voyages to distant parts of the British Empire like India. According to legend, a cargo of 30O casks of Bass's East India Pale Ale was
wrecked off the port of Liverpool in l827. Some of the rescued beer was sold locally and won instant fame among English drinkers. Specialist American brewers like Bert Grant's Yakima Brewing Company now proobably produce the most authentic versions.

Irish Ale

A soft, slightly sweet reddish ale from the 'Emerald Isle". Top and bottom fermenting versions are brewed commercially. This ale followed many of the Irish in migrating to other lands. George Killian Letts, a member the Letts family who brewed Ruhy Ale in County Wexford until l956, licensed the French brewery Pelforth to produce Geoorge Killian's Biere Rousse and the American brewers Coors to produce Killian's lrish Red. Smithwick's of Kilkenny (owned by Guinness is the best known ale in Ireland today.


The refreshing golden beer of Cologne may look like a Pilsner (though it may sometimes be cloudy), but its light, subtle fruity taste reveals it to be a top fermenting ale. Its fleeting aromatic nature masks an alcohol content of 4.5%. Kolsch is produced only by some 20 breweries in and around the busy cathedral of Cologne and it is usually served in small glasses. The leading producers include Kuppers and Fruh.


In this Belgian lambic beer, secondary fermentation is stimulated by adding cherries to give a dry, fruity flavour and deep colour. This is not a novelty drink, but draws on a long tradition of using local fruit to flavour an already complex brew, balancing the lambic sourness and providing an almond character from the cherry stones. The kriek is a small dark cherry grown near Brussels.


This term, taken from the German word for a crystal-clear beer, usually indicates a filtered wheat beer or Weizenbier.


Lagers are brewed with "bottom-fermenting" yeasts at colder temperatures of 2-10 degrees Celsius during a long period of time). This process is called "lagering". Lagers include bocks, doppelbocks, Munich, Vienna, Märzen and pilsners. These pilsners come from a  town called Pilsen in the Czech Republic. The pilseners are very popular all over the world and are mass produced.


Lambics are (only) brewed in parts of Belgium. The lambics are often flavoured using fruits like cherries.

Light Ale

In England, this term indicates a bottled low-gravity bitter. In Scotland, it means the weakest brew, a beer light in strength although it may well be dark in colour.


In North America, this term is used to describe a thin, low-calorie beer, the best-known being Miller Lite. In some countries, Australia for instance, lite can mean low in alcohol.

Low alcohol

Since the late l980's, many breweries throughout the world have added low or non-alcoholic brews to their beer range, usually in response to increasingly strict drink-driving laws. Low alcohol (or LA) can contain as much as 2.5% alcohol. Alcohol free brews should contain no more than O.O5%. Some of these near beers are produced using yeasts which create little alcohol, or the fermentation is cut short. In others the alcohol is removed from a normal beer by distillation or reverse osmosis. It has proved difficult to provide an acceptable beer taste. Some of the more successful brews, Clausthaler from Frankfurt in Germany and Birell from Hurlimann of Zurich in Switzerland, now sell or licence their low or non-alcoholic beers across many countries.

Malt liquor

In the United States, this term indicates a strong lager, often made with a high amount of sugar to produce a thin but potent brew. These beers are designed to deliver a strong alcoholic punch (around 6-8%) but little else. They are light beers with a kick, often cheaply made with a high proportion of sugar and using enzymes to create more alcohol. Sales of malt liquor account for about 4% of the total American beer market.


A full-bodied copper-colored lager, this beer style originated in Vienna, but developed in Munich as a stronger Marzen (March) brew (6% alcohol), which was laid down in March, to allow it to mature over the summer for drinking at the Oktoberfest after the harvest. It has largely been replaced in Germany by more golden "Festbiere". Smooth and malty, most are now stronger versions of the golden hell, containing more than 5.5% alcohol. Notable examples include Spaten UrMarzen and Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest.


Mild was the dominant ale in England and Wales until the 196O's, and later in some regions. It is a relatively low-gravity malty beer, usually lightly hopped, and can be dark or pale in color. Mild was traditionally the workers' drink and would be sold on draught in the pub or club. Today, the style has vanished from many areas; it survives mainly in the industrial West Midlands and the north west of England.


The German name for a beer from Munich traditionally refers to the city's brown, malty
lager style.

Old Ale

This strong, well matured, richa and dark ale is usually sold as a seasonal beer in England as a winter warmer. Sometimes such ales are used as stock beers for blending with fresher brews.

Oud bruin

Old Browns in the Netherlands are weak, sweetish lagers.

Pale Ale

An English bottled beer, pale ale is stronger than light ale and is usually based on the brewery's best bitter. See IPA.

More information on different types of beer can be found here.

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