Beer Varieties (& Food)

From Bro Mike of Devotion

A very brief history of Beer

Beer has been a popular beverage for a very long time. Babylonian clay tablets show detailed recipes of beer making in 4300 BC. Beer was also brewed by the ancient Chinese, Assyrians and Incas. An Egyptian text of 1600 BC gives 100 medical prescriptions using beer. A few years ago, the New Castle Brewery in England brewed 1,000 bottles Tutankhamun Ale from a 3,200-year old recipe found in the sun temple of Queen Nefertiti.

Commercial beer making was established in 1200 AD in present day Germany. In 1506, the German Purity Law was issued, specifying that beer ingredients must only be water, barley, wheat and hops. Bottling of beer started in 1605. Today over 20,000 brands of beer are brewed worldwide in around 200 different styles and thousands of varieties.

Why is beer so popular?

People have been drinking beer for a long time because it is brewed from natural ingredients common in many ancient societies and had nutritional and medicinal value as well as religious significance but maybe they just liked the refreshing taste and its effects. So beer has had plenty of time to evolve into many different types. Today, drinking beer is a favourite pastime, not only for the variety of different types of beer you can choose from and the relaxing feeling a good glass of ale can bring, but also for the overall experience of savouring a cold mug of your favourite brew. If you are interested in expanding your knowledge of beer and experiment with beer and food pairings, it's important to understand the various types of beer.

So what’s in beer?

All beer is made from four basic ingredients: hops, malted barley, yeast and water. However many beers have other botanicals-spices, fruit or vegetables-added to the basic beer recipe.

Although there are generally only two main types of beer, several thousand unique varieties of beer are created through different combinations of ingredients and added flavours. Fruit, vegetables, spices and so on are added to create beer with flavours like cherry, wheat and pumpkin spice, for example. The variety in these creative brews is enough to whet any palate.

All of the various flavours, body and colours of the many styles of beer generally fall under two main classifications, either lager or ale. Together, these two classes of beer collectively make up a multitude of different styles and varieties of beer.

Know Your Types of Beer

Beers are divided into these two major categories by the kinds of yeast used during their creation and by the temperatures used to ferment the two different kinds of beer. Lagers use a yeast that best ferments at cool temperatures, and ales use a yeast that best ferments at warmer temperatures.

Ales are fermented warm and made with a top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cervisiae), which is, just like it sounds, a yeast that rises to the top of the brew during fermentation. Ales are generally stronger and more forceful in taste than lagers because of their relatively fast and warm fermentation. Many countries, including England, serve their ales at room temperature. Ales have been around a lot longer than lagers.

Lagers, from the German word “lagern” meaning to store, are made with a bottom or cold-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces Uvarum) that sinks to the bottom of the brew during the fermentation process. While ales can be brewed in as little as 7 days, lagers traditionally need to age before their brewing process is complete. This can increase their brewing time to more than a month or more. This longer, colder fermentation process inhibits the production of esters (which give beer a more fruity taste) and avoids other fermentation by products common in ales. The lager process creates beers with a generally cleaner, smoother, crisper, and mellow taste. Unlike ales, lagers should always be served cold. The lager is also the most popular style of beer in the world, possibly accounting for 90% of all beers consumed (a large portion of this is from the mass produced watered down lagers of the major US breweries). Dark lagers are made with roasted barley and hops, and therefore have richer flavour, a very dark colour and a full-bodied taste.

There is a third rather obscure type of beer, called a Lambic, which is made only in Belgium, and is produced by spontaneous fermentation when it is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria that are said to be native to the Brussels area. It is this unusual process which gives the beer its distinctive flavour: dry, vinuos and cidery, usually with a sour aftertaste. Whilst not as popular as lagers or ales, wine drinkers tend to enjoy it. The Lindemans Lambic Framboise (raspberry) is a well known example of a fruit lambic.

Types of Lagers

There are basically four types of beer that fall under the lager category:

Pale Lager

Pale lagers have a light color and are light-bodied. They are highly carbonated and have a light taste. Examples of mass produced pale lager beer are Coors and Budweiser in the USA. But a lovely German pale lager is Wurzburger Hofbrau (worth trying for the name alone)


A pilsner beer has a pale color like a pale lager, but is more bitter in taste. The flavors of pilsners are more distinctive than pale lagers. The standout is Bohemian (Czech) pilsner known as Pilsner Urquell.

Light Lager

There are two different types of light lager beers. American light lagers use less hops and barley in order to create low calorie beers. European light lagers are lagers that are pale in color and light in taste.

Dark Lager

Dark lager beers are made with roasted hops and barley. This means they have much richer flavours and are dark in color. They are full-bodied and flavourful. The best of these are often German Dunkels such as Paulaner.

Types of Ales

The main types of beer that are referred to as ales include:

Brown Ale

Brown ale beer is red to copper in color and is rather mild in flavour. Englands Newcastle brown ale is a very popular ale.


Porter beer is darker in color and is full-bodied, with the barley flavors dominating over the mild hop flavours. They are richly flavoured and some porters even taste like chocolate. Fullers London porter is regarded as one of the best.


Stout beer is very similar to a porter. Stout beer is the darkest and thickest of the beers. The strong barley and hops flavours prevail in this dark beer. The best Irish stouts are Guinness and Murphy’s which are thick and creamy a good refreshing Australian stout is Coopers.

What Are Microbrews?

Microbrews are beers that are brewed in small, independent breweries. They often have unique properties to the beers because of the use of high quality local ingredients. Microbreweries often brew beer in much smaller batches, using these specialty ingredients.

Draught Beer vs Bottled Beer

Draught (also known as tap) beer is best served in a frosty beer mug with a full head of foam. Bottled beer will not form as full a head of foam as beer straight from the tap (although some like Guinness stout use a widget which releases liquid nitrogen on opening the can and it does a pretty good job). This is why many beer drinkers prefer draught beer to bottled beer, even if the beer offered on tap is not a favourite beer.

The major difference between a draught or bottled beer occurs during the pasteurization process. Draught or keg beer is not normally pasteurized, which means that the keg must be kept cold. Bottled beers go through the pasteurization process and are packaged at higher temperatures, which can affect the taste of the beer.

Tasting Beer

As covered in the previous FBF article, when tasting beer, take into account the look, color, head of foam, aroma, taste and aftertaste of the beer being sampled. Try pouring yourself four or five mini mugs of beer for a fun sampling experience, and take notes on the flavours and aromas detected in each beer.

Invite a few friends over for a beer tasting and have each friend bring some of his or her favourite beer. Serve peanuts, pretzels, oysters and cheese as palate cleansers and eat a little between each small mug of beer.

How to Pair Beer and Food

In general, it's good to pair foods of like heaviness and flavour with like beers. This is the process followed by most beer connoisseurs. When you are drinking a beer that you like a great deal, take some time to think about what food might complement the flavours naturally occurring in the beer. Take a sip of beer, close your eyes as you roll the beer around in your mouth, swallow and see what types of food come to mind.

The following are common beer and food pairings:

Light/pale Beer, Spicy Food

Light/pale ales and lagers go best with spicy Asian foods. Heavy beers will make the meal too oppressive for the taste buds, and complex beers will be lost once your taste buds are met by the spicy food.

Brown Ale, Brown Food

Brown ales go great with mushroom gravies, beef dishes and wild game.

Porter Beer, Hearty Stew

Try a porter with a bowl of Irish stew or Chilli con carne.

Dry Stout/Oysters

There's nothing like shucking a plate of oysters while enjoying a mug of stout.

Sweet Stout/Sweet Dessert

Pair a sweet stout with a rich dessert like chocolate cheesecake or flourless chocolate cake drowning in a raspberry sauce.


A pilsner is great with a plate of prawns, scallops or crab cakes.

Amber Beer/Pizza

Bring out the amber beer when you're serving up a homemade deep dish pizza.

So when enjoying a nice meal over the Christmas - New Year period try and match some different beer styles with the food.