As the most popular and widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world (and the third most popular beverage behind only water and tea), beer has been an integral part of celebrations, rituals and culture for millennia. And while you certainly don’t need a special holiday or event to make you feel better about consuming this liquid sunshine in large quantities, it never hurts. Thankfully, the Bavarians have developed a veritable religion around the celebration and consumption of beer – with their main holiday being the annual festival known as Oktoberfest. Held every year in…wait for it…October, the festival has grown in popularity to the point where even North Americans now feel comfortable with co-opting this uniquely German bit of culture in order to justify a few days of excessive beer consumption. And while official Oktoberfest celebrations have ended in Germany, Americans can celebrate at any number of Oktoberfest celebrations throughout the month.
Now you may not be much of a beer fan. Maybe you prefer wine, or a nice apple martini. Maybe you think that Miller High Life really is the “Champagne of Beers.” If you’re hanging out with some of your beer drinking friends and are worried that you may be ostracized for your lack of beer knowledge, look no further. We’ve put together a quick cheat sheet describing a few of the most common types of beer so that you don’t embarrass yourself in front of your beer loving friends.
Popular brands: Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Corona, Coors, Tecate, Molson
While there are a number of different styles of Lagers, the most common type of Lager (and the most widely produced and consumed style of beer in the world) is the Pale Lager. With its crisp, clean, refreshing taste and lack of bitterness (some would say lack of flavor), a pale lager is what most people think of when they picture a beer. Popular at fraternity houses, tailgate parties and college dorm rooms across the globe, pale lagers are generally considered to be the Black Eyed Peas of the beer world - inoffensive, ubiquitous and watered-down.
Popular brands: Franziskaner Weissbier, Spaten Oktoberfestbier, Samuel Adams Octoberfest
While it may technically be a Lager, Märzen beer has a style all its own. As the official "Beer of Oktoberfest," Märzen beers are usually dark brown and full-bodied, with a moderate to high alcohol content. Historically, Märzen beers were brewed only between the months of September and March (where it gets its name), since refrigeration hadn't been invented in the 16th century when it started being brewed. Luckily for us, we do have the luxury of refrigeration - meaning that we can enjoy a rich and toasty Märzen year round. However, if you do make it to an Oktoberfest celebration, this is the style of beer that you are most likely to see in festival-goers steins.
Popular brands: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stone Pale Ale, Bass
Pale ales occupy a nice middle ground between the watery taste of lagers and the overwhelming “meal-in-your-mouth” flavors of some of the more complex, darker brews. Made with pale malt and a healthy portion of hops, pale ales usually have an amber or copper color and feature a nicely balanced mix of bitterness, malt flavors and floral notes. With a level of flavor and complexity that is satisfying without being overpowering, a good pale ale can often be a beer novice’s first step towards becoming a discerning beer connoisseur – or towards a serious hangover.
Popular brands: Widmer Hefeweizen, Paulaner, Pyramid Hefeweizen
While it may look more like a glass of orange juice than a beer, a Hefeweizen can still pack a flavorful punch. A Hefeweizen is what is generally known as a “wheat beer” – so named because they are produced using malted wheat as opposed to malted barley. Light, refreshing and fruity, these beers are great on a hot summer’s day and are often served with an orange or lemon slice to enhance the flavor (or detract from it if you’re a purist). If you notice that your beer is cloudy, don’t worry, it’s not backwash. It’s just the yeast that hasn’t been filtered out. It won’t kill you.
India Pale Ale
Popular brands: Lagunitas IPA, Ranger IPA, Stone IPA, Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA
While technically a member of the Pale Ale family, the IPA is for people who like their beer hoppy and full of flavor. Born during the British colonial occupation of India during the early 1700s, the beer was brewed in England with an extreme amount of hops in order to help it survive the long boat ride to India without spoiling. The extra hops produced an intense flavor that was an instant hit with the British troops.
Popular brands: Newcastle Brown Ale, Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale
While Brown Ales may seem like they’re going to be strong and bitter like a lot of the darker beers out there, in reality they are usually smooth, sweet and with low alcohol content. Sometimes known as “Amber” ales, Brown ales often contain chocolate or caramel flavors – with some having an almost ‘nutty’ taste to them. While they aren’t my favorite, they are less challenging to a beer newcomer than an IPA or a stout.
Popular brands: Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, Fuller’s London Porter, Anchor Porter
Here is where we start getting into the darker beer territory. Don’t be scared though, these beers won’t bite you. They just require a bit more work from your taste buds. The Porter (so named because it was a favorite of transportation workers in 18th century London) is a dark beer that is brewed using black or chocolate malt and featuring a rich, complex, spicy flavor. Originally made from a combination of three different beer styles, Porters are great if you’re looking for something different and unexpected in a beer. While you probably don’t want to get drunk entirely on Porters (that could make for a pretty rough morning), they are a great way to start out the night (or day…I won’t judge you).
Popular brands: Guinness Stout, Murphy’s, Beamish
Now we come to the godfather of all beers: the Stout. As the darkest style of beer, the term “Stout” actually originated as a way to describe the strongest (or stoutest) Porter available. While there are a number of different styles of Stouts (Imperial, Oatmeal, Irish, Chocolate, Coffee), in general, most stouts have a rich, coffee-like flavor and a nice thick head of foam. While Guinness is probably the most famous stout in the world, there are a ton of other great stouts to choose from.
Life is all about variety. If you’re getting tired of the same old watered down beer or fruity cocktail, you owe it to yourself to venture outside your comfort zone. You never know, you may find your new favorite beer. So whether you’re planning on attending an Oktoberfest celebration in your area or just having a few friends over for bratwurst and bingo, be sure to keep your mind open and your taste buds on full alert. The Bavarians would be proud!
Are you a lager lover or a staunch stout supporter? Tell us your favorites in the comments!