People have been drinking beer for centuries, and it has had plenty of time to evolve into many different types. All of the various flavors, body and colors of the many styles generally fall under two classifications, either lager or ale. Together, these two classes collectively make up thousands of varieties of beer.
The two categories of beer differ in the type of yeast used to brew them and the temperature at which they are brewed. Beer that is classified as lager uses special yeast that ferments best at cooler temperatures. That classified as ale uses another type of yeast that ferments best at warmer temperatures. Both lagers and ales contain hops, malted barley, yeast and water.
There are basically four types of beer that fall under the lager category: American style pale lager, pilsner, light lager and dark lager. Pale lager usually contains more carbonation than the other types of beer. It tends to be light in color as well as in body. The most popular brands in the United States, such as Coors and Budweiser, are examples of a pale lager.
Pilsner is another type of lager that is pale in color. However, pilsners tend to have more distinct flavors and are often more bitter than American style pale lager. In the U.S., light lager contains less hops and barleys, which reduces the caloric content. Light beer also has a slightly lower alcohol concentration than regular beers. In Europe, a light lager is a beer that is light in color rather than calories. Dark lagers are made with roasted barley and hops, and therefore have richer flavor, a very dark color and a full-bodied taste.
The main types of beer that are referred to as ales include brown ale, porter and stout. Brown ale is usually red or copper colored rather than brown. It has a milder flavor than the other types of ale.
Porters are darker and more full bodied. They usually have a more noticeable barley flavor that is reminiscent of chocolate, along with a mild hop flavor. Stouts are the darkest type of beer, almost black in color. They are thick and taste strongly of the barley and hops that they are made from.
Although there are generally only two types of beer, several thousand unique varieties are created through different combinations of ingredients and added flavors. Fruit, vegetables, spices and so on are added to both lagers and ales to create beverages with flavors like cherry wheat and pumpkin spice, for example. The variety in these creative brews is enough to whet any palate.