There millions of combinations of these ingredients. Add spices, honey, fruit, or any of the other additional tools in the brewer’s kit and the possibilities for creating unique beer flavors are literally endless.
Ale vs. Lager
It is generally agreed that there are two broad subcategories of beer, ale and lager. The main difference between the two is the type of yeast used to ferment them.
Ale yeasts ferment at warmer temperatures (between 60 and 75°F) compared to the colder fermentation temps of lager yeasts (45 to 55°F).
The warmer fermentation of ale promotes the production of flavor and aromatic compounds, while the colder lager fermentation inhibits them. This is why lagers tend to have a crisper cleaner profile and ales are more fruity and spicy in flavor. Beyond these differences associated with yeast, the full range of beer flavors is available to both ales and lagers.
Beyond Light to Dark
Beer styles fall on a spectrum of flavor intensity from lighter to stronger.
Many think that flavor intensity corresponds to color: Light colored beers are light and darker beers are heavy. Wrong! Color really tells you little about the intensity of flavor in a beer.
A Belgian tripel looks very much like a pilsner, but 9% alcohol and the funky flavors of Belgian yeast make it significantly more intense. The black lagers of Germany are as dark as coffee, but drink more like a pilsner than a stout, with just a dash of roast.
Blond ales and golden lagers like pilsners fall on the lighter end of the scale. At the other end you find the big and brawny barley wines and imperial stouts, along with the tart and funky Belgian sour beers. Beers at this end tend to be higher in alcohol, but that’s not always the case.
In between, beers run up the scale from the luscious, caramel-tinged amber and Scottish ales to brightly bitter pale ales and rich, roasty porters and stouts.