Too many people walk into a bar thinking, "A beer is a beer", but that’s not at all the case. There are so many unique characteristics that distinguish one type of beer from another, that it can give you the spins before you even have a drink. So, in order to help you get a quick handle on what you're dealing with, here is a fast primer on the three most popular beers: Ales, IPA's, and Pilsners. Buckle up, here we go...
There are many different types of ales, but the two most popular are Pale Ales, and Brown Ales.
Pale Ale Characteristics:
Flavor: In the U.K. where Ales were first developed and brewed, they usually have a strong malty, and woody flavor. This is due to the local ingredients used, the time fermented and time in bottle or keg before serving. The beers tend to taste a little heavier than what most of us in the U.S. are use to. In the U.S., the hops are increased during brewing, making it a hoppy beer, and a little bit softer aftertaste. It's generally an easy beer to drink in most situations in the U.S.
Color: Pale gold to amber.
Strength: 4-7% ABV
Pale Ale Fact: Ales have been brewed since 1642 in the U.K., where the brewmasters used coke as fuel to roast malt. Coke (not to be confused with the brand of soda) is a fuel with few impurities, made from coal.
Brown Ale Characteristics:
Flavor: Brown ales have a higher level of malt, which makes them more earthy and less bitter, but even a little heavier in taste than the pale ales. Flavors vary from sweet, to slightly hoppy, to earthy and malty. These are great beers for cold Fall and Winter nights.
Color: Dark, dark amber.
Strength: 4-8% ABV
Brown Ale Fact: It's a very old style beer, dating back to the early 1700s.
Flavor: A strong hoppy flavor, with a distinctly bitter taste. Everyone seems to think their IPA is the best, and usually, they're right! From experience, IPA's in India are very hoppy, yet mild, which fits well with the extreme heat and humidity, whereas IPA's from the U.S. tend to have a bitter aftertaste, and be a little heavier, making them a good pour all year long.
Color: Usually amber and cloudy, but IPAs come in a range of darker and lighter colors dependant upon ingredients, brewing times, bottling times, and country of brewing.
Strength: Typically 4.5-6 percent ABV, but some brewers have tried to recreate the original IPAs with an ABV closer to 8 or 9 percent.
IPA Fact: In the 1700'2 with the English troops were living in India, the Pale Ales shipped from England would go bad during the journey, leaving the soldiers with "Skunky" beer that was useless to the men. In order to get fresh beer to these troops, brewmasters added more hops, a natural preservative, to keep the beer fresh until it had arrived. That my friends, is how the hoppiest of all the beers was born.
Flavor: Strong hops (but not as strong as IPAs), softer malt, fragrant, and pleasurably bitter flavors. Pilsners are very popular in Europe, and in colder climates where heavier meals are eaten. They pair well with almost anything, have a solid flavor, and are just a beautiful beer to view. Clear, bubbly, and a rich foamy head.
Color: Light golden color and a notable clarity.
Strength: Usually 5% ABV.
Pilsner Fact: Pilsner is one of the younger beer styles in the world, first brewed in 1842.
We've barely scratched the surface here, but at least you've got a quick primer to walk into any bar with. The more beers you try the better, eventually, you'll find a style or flavor profile that fits you like a glove, but never stop trying new brews. You'd be surprised how season, outside temperature, time of day, mood, and about 50 other factors can influence the way a beer tastes to you from day to day.