In the world of beer, there are two categories: Ales and Lagers.
So what makes them different? Glad you asked. In general, ales are fermented with top-fermenting ale yeast at warmer temperatures, while lagers use bottom-fermenting yeast at lower temperatures.
The type of yeast used to make ales, along with the warmer fermentation temperature, generally produces a fruitier, spicer flavor. Ahh, science... Learn more about the who's who in the ale family below.
American Pale Ale (APA)
Characterized by floral, fruity, citrus, piney, or resinous character that produces medium hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma. They have a medium body, medium maltiness, and moderate to low alcohol levels. Pair with roasted or grilled meats, mild or medium cheddar, and apple pie. Best served at 45-55 degrees in a tulip glass.
New England India Pale Ale (NEIPA)
Characterized by a distinct unfiltered haze, this up and coming style of beer is sweeping the nation. While similar in flavors to a West Coast IPA, New England IPAs are much more juicy and citrusy, without any pine flavor. This comes from a late dry hopping technique that delivers a burst of tropical taste—not too much different sipping on a glass of OJ. Pair with a cobb salad, fish and chips, or pineapple upside-down cake. Best served at 45-55 degrees in a nonic pint glass.
West Coast India Pale Ale (WCIPA)
Characterized by floral, fruit, citrus, piney, or resinous American-variety hop character, WCIPA places hop flavor, aroma, and bitterness in the forefront. High in hop bitterness with moderate alcohol levels, this beer pairs with a variety of foods. Try spicy tuna, blue cheese, or carrot cake. Best served at 50-55 degrees in a tulip glass.
Imperial or Double India Pale Ale
Featuring high hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma, the hop character is fresh and evident. Interestingly, because more malt is needed to increase the alcohol percent, these beers tend to be more balanced than the IPAs. Pair with bone-in pork chops, miso salmon, and rich cheeses. Best served at 50-55 degrees in a tulip glass.
Generally brewed with at least 30% malted wheat, this style is typically packaged with yeast in the bottle and pours cloudy. Pale to light amber in color with mild hop bitterness and moderate alcohol levels, this style varies greatly from its German and Belgian cousins as it does not offer flavors or aromas of banana and clove. A refreshing summer style, offering flavors and aromas of citrus fruit, this beer has a substantial amount of carbonation and a thick, foamy white head. Pair with salads, seafood, chevre, and fruit-based desserts. Best served at 40-45 degrees in a flute.
Straw to amber in color and made with at least 50% malted wheat, this wheat beer (German in origin) contains aromas and flavors of banana and clove. The flavor in these beers comes largely from the yeast strains used during the fermentation process—hence the name. “Weizen” means “wheat” and “hefe” means yeast. It has low acidity, moderate alcohol levels, and is very highly carbonated with a long-lasting head. Pair with seafood, chevre, and key lime pie. Best served at 40-45 degrees in a hefeweizen glass.
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Medium brown in color, medium hop bitterness, medium range alcohol content, this beer is far from middle of the road. Roasted malt, caramel, and chocolate character predominate the aroma and flavor profile. Somewhere in style between English-style brown ale and porters, this beer is bitterer than both. Pair with grilled meats and vegetables, aged gouda, and pear fritters. Best served at 50-55 degrees in a nonic pint.
This dark-colored beer has a medium malt flavor with a lightly burnt character and a bit of roasty dryness on the finish. The bitterness of the black malt is in harmony with its malty sweetness. A hint of chocolate may also be present. Pair with roasted or grilled meats, gruyere, and chocolate peanut butter cookies. Best served at 45-50 degrees in a nonic pint.
With an extremely rich mouthfeel and malty flavor, this dark-colored beer has notes of coffee, chocolate, caramel, and other roasted flavors, along with a slightly bitter finish. It pours nearly black with a creamy tan to white head. Medium to high alcohol content makes this beer an ideal partner for darker and heavy cuts of meat. Pair with grilled lamb, sharp cheddar, and coffee cake. Best served at 50-55 degrees in a nonic pint.
Russian Imperial Stout
The strongest alcohol and heaviest body of the stout family, this beer is black in color with an extremely rich malty flavor. The aroma is full of sweet malt character. Bitterness is usually high and comes from the roasted malts and addition of hops. A rich beer needs rich food; pair with foie gras, aged cheeses, and flourless chocolate cake. Best served at 50-55 degrees in a snifter.
Overwhelmingly malty with rich and dominant sweet malt flavor, scotch ale appears to be very sweet, but is actually checked by low to medium hop bitterness. The alcohol content is generally moderate to high with caramel character almost always part of the flavor and aroma profile. Additional tasting notes include dark fruit and earth. Pair with beef, lamb, game, pork, smoked salmon, pungent cheese, and creamy desserts with fruit. Best served at 50-55 degrees in a Thistle glass.
Full of character (thanks to lactic sourness and acetic acid) and marked by balance, this trending style is summarized by a slight to strong sourness. It’s considered a champion of flavor complexity from a unique combination of malt, yeast, acidity, and low astringency. Several styles include Berliner Weisse, Flanders red ale, old bruin, lambics, lambics with fruit added, gueuze, gose, and non-traditional kettle sours, to name a few. The thing to remember about sours is that they don’t taste like traditional beers—but they’re crisp and refreshing and ready to be explored. Pairings will vary by style, but beef, aged cheese, and fruit or pumpkin pie are fun ones to try. Best served at 45-50 degrees in a tulip glass.