Our brief and incomplete summary of the wide world of beer
By Jessica Cassyle Carr
Made with top-fermented yeast—meaning the beer is brewed at relatively warm temperatures of 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit—ales usually have a rapid aging time of a few weeks, although some varieties can age for months.
Encompassing a wide variety of beer types like bitter, India Pale Ale (IPA) and Extra Special Bitter (ESB), pale ale tends to be a considerably hopped-up British variety and can vary from light golden to dark amber in color. Ever growing in popularity, American-style IPA is hoppier and less malty than its English brethren and is thus more bitter.
Pair with: Strong, greasy foods like pizza and burgers, and fried foods like fish and chips
Wheat beers are made with ... wheat, duh. They're typically German or Belgian in origin and, much like the people of those nations, tend to be on the paler side. Sometimes these beers are flavored with exotic spices, as seen with Belgian wits. Wheat beers like hefeweizens can be served with citrus.
Pair with: This is a summery beer, so serve it with lighter foods like grilled chicken.
Made from roasted malts on the darker end of the color spectrum, brown ales originated in England but are now pervasive with wide variation around the Western world. They range from mild and sweet to strong and hoppy.
Pair with: Spicy foods like red chile cheese enchiladas
Stout and Porter
Very dark roasted malts lend stouts and porters their bitterness (think of dark-roasted barley as you would a dark-roasted coffee) and deep opaque hues. Milk, chocolate, coffee and oatmeal are all food flavors in this multinational variety, which is home to a large family of smooth beers.
Pair with: Oysters, steak, chocolaty desserts
A darker ale that ranges in color from amber to brown to black, barley wine is a sweet and fruity, yet bitter beer that can be as strong as wine—hence the name.
Pair with: Desserts like crême brulée, bread pudding or bananas Foster
Made to store, lagers are born of bottom-fermented yeast, a slow fermentation and aging process that takes place in colder environments.
Also known as pale lager, pilsners are a very light-colored brew. Bohemian in origin, Pilsner Urquell being the original, other name-brand pilsner examples include Stella Artois, Heineken, Bitburger and Warsteiner. Pilsner is the model upon which American-style lagers are based, typified by large-scale beer operations like Anheuser-Busch and Molson—although these beers contain corn and rice.
Pair with: If drinking a mass-produced American pilsner, go ahead and have some chips and processed cheese dip. If having a more respectable pilsner, drink it with anything from Mexican food to a salad with a vinaigrette.
Bocks have been around since the end of the Middle Ages. Originally strong, dark, German beers, bocks now range in color and strength. Bocks are on the malty side, which contributes to their creaminess and lack bitter hoppiness.
Pair with: Pour this delicate beer with rich foods like grilled tuna or an avocado BLT.
This is a light, crisp, yet malty pale lager synonymous with Märzen varieties (März, German for March, is when the beer is made so it's ready by October). Amber in hue, Märzen beers (like Oktoberfest) can range from pale to dark.
Pair with: Sauerkraut, bratwurst and spicy mustard
Otherwise known as “black beer,” and similar to porters and stouts, this lager has also been brewed in Germany since the Middle Ages. For its darkness, schwarzbier tends to lack the roast-derived bitterness of stout ales, having a lighter-bodied, yet not uncomplex taste.
Pair with: Bread and soft cheeses
A cross between helles (a pale lager) and Oktoberfest, this beer lost popularity in Europe, but immigrants who brought it to Mexico in the 19th century kept it alive. Crisp and slightly sweet, the Vienna variety is found in Mexican cervezas like Dos Equis Dark and Negra Modelo. It is also responsible for Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
Pair with: Grilled fish, shrimp
Spontaneously Fermented Beer
Most beer is fermented using cultivated yeasts. What makes this type of beer different is that its fermentation takes place in the open air and is derived from wild yeasts (which was how beer was made at its historical inception). When this process begins, the beer ferments in barrels for one to three years.
Classically from Belgium's Senne Valley (the region is renowned for its unique yeasts), today Lambic is practically the only type of spontaneously fermented beer made in the world. These old-school beers tend to be fruity and sour—sometimes extremely so.
Pair with: Tart, fruity desserts ... like a cherry tart, perhaps?
Special thanks to Daniel Jaramillo and Ryan Staudhammer at Marble Brewery for recommending food pairings.