Beer styles

Historically, beer has been divided into 2 different classes, lagers and ales. Ales are top-fermented at higher temperatures for shorter periods of time and are more fruity and wine-like than lagers. Lagers are bottom-fermented at lower temperatures for longer periods of time, and then are Lagered (German for “to store”) before consumption. They generally have “crisper” flavor characteristics.

With that said, it’s no longer true. The proliferation of microbreweries and subsequent experimentation has greatly blurred those distinctions. Brewers now may use multiple brewing methods with exotic yeasts and hops with the result that many current beers can no longer be so easily pigeon-holed into either “lager” or “ale”. The tables below explain the “classic” types of beers, and it’s good to know, but don’t get too hung up on the definitions.

After the table below, I’ve added a few links where you can learn more about different styles of beer.

Lagers
Pilsner Light in color and body with a pronounced Hop Flavor, named after the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
Oktoberfest/Vienna Copper-colored, medium-bodied, with a sweet finish, originated in Vienna, but now found mostly in Southern Germany as Marzen beers, or as Oktoberfest beer.
Munchner Indigenous to Munich, this beer is heavier and finishes sweeter than Pilsners or Export styles. Both Light and Dark styles exist.
Export Light in color, these beers are drier than those found in more Southern regions of Germany.
Bock & Doppelbock Style originating in the German town of Einbeck, these beers are of higher than normal alcohol content (in Germany, but not in the so-called Bocks of the U.S.) generally much sweeter and heavier than other lagers. Dopplebocks all end in -ator in honor of the original Salvator from the Paulaner brewery of Munich. They are extremely high in alcohol content.
Ales
Pale Ale Generally copper colored, with varying degrees of hops, indigenous style of Great Britain. Range of alcoholic strength from bitters, at the low end designed for all night consumption, to best bitters, of medium strength designed for just-a-few, to special, for when you only want one or two.
Brown Ales Light brown in color, slightly sweet, with much less hops than paler styles.
Old Ales Rich, dark in color and of medium strength.
Barleywine Very high alcohol content, thick and sweet, designed to be drunk in small quantities as an after dinner drink or to finish the night.
Porter & Stout Very highly roasted grains give these beers their flavor and black color. Porters are of relatively lighter body than stouts. Stouts originated in Dublin with Guinness.
Abbey/Trappist Dark, rich, Belgian ales of monastic origins.
Wheat Beer Beer containing malted wheat (35-65%) in addition to the barley malt, giving it a slightly acidic and very effervescent nature. Hefe-Weizens are bottle conditioned and cloudy; Kristall-Weizens have the yeast filtered out and are not fermented in the bottle. Wheat beers are sometimes served with a slice of lemon to enhance their thirst-quenching ability.
Lambic This is a style of Belgian ale that is often flavored with fruit.
Cask Conditioned Second fermentation and maturation occur in the cask, creating natural carbonation.

On-line guide to Belgian beer

Beer Advocate – just lots of good information

Wikipedia section on “beer” -an ongoing collaboration

BeerPal – another good site for all sorts of information and reviews of beer

Beer Me – another good site for reviews and brewery information