After water and tea, beer is the world’s most popular drink, but “beer” encompasses such a huge range of possible styles and flavors that even beer buffs and connoisseurs can become confused.
Furthermore, within each category, you invariably find innumerable sub-categories, so trying to give a list of all the beers in the world would be an impossible task.
Instead, here’s a selection of 29 types of beer, including some of the most popular, famous or tasty beers in the world, to help you understand the different styles – and to give you an idea of some of the more interesting possibilities to track down and sample.
Common Types of Beer
Ale is one of the two main categories of beer, the other being lager. The family of ales is large and encompasses many different styles, but what they all have in common is that they are top-fermented.
This means fermentation takes place at a warmer temperature using a yeast that settles on the top, and this fermentation process has given rise to a truly bewildering array of beers.
2. Pale ale
Within the large family of “ales”, many can be described as “pale ales”. Unsurprisingly, the name is derived from the light color of these beers, which was traditionally due to the use of malts that were dried with coke.
They tend to have a hoppy flavor, although not as pronounced as an IPA; alcohol content is also usually lower than the kind of ABV associated with IPAs.
IPA stands for “India Pale Ale” and is the name given to a type of pale ale that is characterized by an intense hoppy flavor and a relatively high ABV of around 6% or more (although IPAs with less alcohol also exist).
IPAs were originally brewed in England for export to India during the colonial era when the higher hop content helped the beer survive a sea voyage of up to six months or more.
This style fell out of favor for many years, becoming more or a niche drink – but in recent years IPA has made a comeback, establishing itself as the current darling of the craft beer movement.
4. West Coast IPA
Part of the renewed interest in IPAs came about with the explosion of craft brewing in the US, which originally started on the West Coast.
There, brewers began experimenting with local hops rather than the traditional European varieties, creating a style of IPA that is unmistakably American.
Generally speaking, they combine an extreme hoppiness with plenty of fruitiness and bitterness to provide balance – these are beers that don’t mess about.
There are many worth checking out, but if you’re looking to sample the full-on hoppy explosion of a bold West Coast IPA, Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo would be a great place to start.
5. British IPA
British IPAs are more faithful to the original IPA style and can be picked out by their strong bitterness and a maltier flavor than their American counterparts.
In the last couple of years, Punk IPA from Scottish brewer Brewdog has established itself as one of the best-selling craft-style beers in Britain, although there are many other interesting British IPAs worth tracking down and sampling.
6. New England IPA
An unruly newcomer to the IPA scene, New England IPAs are beers with a distinctive fruity taste and a cloudiness that gives them their other name: “hazy IPAs”.
Some New England IPAs have such strong notes of fruit that they have sometimes been compared to drinking orange juice and derided as beers for people who don’t like drinking beer.
Nevertheless, they can be highly refreshing on a hot day and have grown immensely in popularity in recent years, so love it or loathe it, this is a style of beer that looks like it’s here to stay.
If you want to know more about the science behind the haziness of New England IPA, check out this video for more info.
A traditional British style of ale, bitters are usually relatively low in ABV (although they can sometimes reach as high as 5.5% or more) and are intended to be drunk at room temperature.
Confusingly, bitters in the UK are also sometimes sold as IPAs, although the ABV of these beers will usually be lower than the kind of alcohol content most people associate with an IPA.
Bitters with ABVs in the range of 3-4.5% are referred to as “session bitters” and are intended to be drunk in relatively large quantities during a “session” without leaving you (too) drunk at the end.
8. Brown ale
As you can probably guess from the name, brown ales are dark-colored beers. The appearance comes from the malt, which also imparts a distinctive flavor that can be sweet and nutty, sometimes with hints of caramel.
One of the most famous brown ales in the UK is Newcastle Brown Ale while in the US, Brooklyn Brown Ale and Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown are among the best-known.
9. Amber ale
Amber ale is an emerging style of ale based on amber malts that give the beer both its color and its name. These amber malts are combined with the traditional malts used to make pale ales, resulting in a darker brew.
The flavor of hops is prominent in amber ales, although nothing like what you would find in an IPA. The ABV is also lower than the kind of alcohol content usually expected in an IPA.
10. Red ale
Red ales are similar to amber ales, and the choice of name can be simply down to the brewer. The color resembles that of amber ales, and the taste profile often displays notes of caramel, dried fruit or even a hint of coffee. A good example of an American red ale is Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale.
11. Scotch ale
Although originally used to refer to beers exported from Edinburgh in the 18th century, the term “Scotch ale” is now most commonly used to refer to Scottish beers exported to the US that are normally sold under different names back in their land of origin.
This type of beer is usually sweet and malty with a full body and a relatively high alcohol content.
12. Old ale
Old ales are strong English beers that are dark in color and displaying strong malty flavors. They are generally high in ABV, with the lower end of the scale being around the 5% mark.
Associated beers include Burton ales, ales of this style brewed in Burton upon Trent, England, and “winter warmers”, beers with a high alcohol content that are not quite as dark as porters or stouts.
In the US, winter warmers are usually referred to as Christmas beers.
13. Blonde ale
A large category that includes many common and well-loved beers, these ales are known for their light golden color. Blondes are most closely associated with France and Belgium, and a number of famous blonde ales are brewed there.
In Belgium, one of the best known is Duvel, a strong blonde beer with a light, crisp flavor and a high alcohol content of 8.5%. It is one of the country’s best selling and most popular beers.
Leffe blonde is another famous example from Belgium and is characterized by a rich and complex flavor profile. One other example from Belgium that’s worth tracking down and tasting is Affligem blonde.
14. Bière de garde
Also known as “farmhouse ales”, these are beers from France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais region just across the border from north-western Belgium.
According to the tradition, they were brewed in winter and spring since the behavior of yeast was more unpredictable during the warmer months of summer.
The beers were then matured in cellars, usually in corked bottles. The result is a strong pale ale with an attractive golden hue, with the 3 Monts from Brasserie de Saint-Sylvestre among the most famous examples. The Belgian “saison” beer is a related style.
Porters are a traditional dark style of ale originally from England and especially associated with London. These beers were generously hopped and were brewed using a type of dark malt that gave them their color.
Porters were strong beers that first appeared in the early 18th century, and they quickly became popular with porters in the city, which explains the origin of the name. Nowadays, although they are perhaps not among the most common beers, they are still brewed and enjoyed on both sides of the Atlantic.
They are characterized by a sweet flavor with notes of chocolate, coffee or caramel. American versions tend to have a higher ABV than their British counterparts – US versions usually come it at around 7-12%ABV while UK porters tend to be in the 4.5-6% range.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Porter is a classic American example while Shipyard Longfellow Winter Ale is a British option that’s worth sampling.
Stout is a type of beer that evolved from porter, and without doubt, the world’s most famous stout is Guinness.
The word “stout” originally referred to the strength of the beer, and at first, a “stout porter” simply referred to a porter with a higher alcohol content.
It was only later that the word “stout” came to mean the strong dark ale we think of today. Most people who enjoy beers of any kind will have tried Guinness at least once, but another traditional Irish stout to look out for is Murphy’s.
On the other side of the Pond, Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout is an American take that’s worth tracking down.
17. Sour ale
A beer that remains below the radar for many but that is slowly but surely growing in popularity is the sour ale. As you can probably guess from the name, they are predominantly sour in taste, coupled with a tartness and a relatively low alcohol content.
They are traditionally brewed with “wild” yeasts and can be combined with fruit to create original and enticing flavors.
18. “Real Ale”
In recent decades, the UK’s Campaign for Real Ale – or CAMRA for short – has promoted the brewing and appreciation of what they refer to as real ales, but what does this mean?
According to CAMRA, “real ales” should be brewed according to certain strict rules, generally using traditional methods that ensure a high-quality product (click here for the full definitions).
This means that the “real ale” appellation tells you about the conditions under which a beer was brewed rather than anything about the style of the beer.
In this way, the label is more analogous to buying food labelled “bio” – it tells you about the way the beer was produced but doesn’t tell you anything about the kind of beer you’re going to drink.
Lager is the other of the two main categories of beer, and like ale, it encompasses a huge range of different styles. The main difference between lager and ale is that lager is brewed at colder temperatures using yeasts that settle at the bottom.
It usually takes longer to brew beer using this method. For many people, due to its global prevalence, lager is probably seen as a kind of default or standard beer, especially among non-beer drinkers.
Furthermore, some people tend to turn their nose up at the idea of a lager since this category contains a large number of nondescript beers from across the globe.
However, while many uninspiring lagers certainly do exist, it would be a mistake to write off all lagers just for this reason since there are also plenty of high-quality, interesting brews that more than merit a taste.
What many people probably think of as a standard lager is the pilsner, also known as pilsener or simply pils.
The original pilsner, Pilsner Urquell, was brewed in the city of Pilsen (Plzeň) near Prague in the modern Czech Republic and is still among the best examples of this style of beer.
Chinese brand Snow, American Budweiser and Chinese Tsingtao, the three top-selling beers in the world, are all pilsner-style pale lagers, although none of them is likely to win any prizes for sophisticated, complex flavor profiles.
All three are the kind of archetypal, uninteresting lagers that give the style a bad name among beer aficionados.
The German Helles beer is another type of pale lager, quite similar to the pilsner, that is native to southern Germany and particularly associated with Munich.
The Germans have always known how to brew their beers, and a good Helles is usually full-bodied and slightly sweet with a low bitterness. The name comes from the light color of the beer – “hell” in German means “bright”, “light” or “pale”.
A Bock is a strong German beer – usually a lager but sometimes an ale – traditionally with an ABV in the 6.3–7.2% range. The flavor is usually slightly sweet with hints of malt but very little hoppiness, and the color is dark, ranging from copper to brown.
Sub-categories include Doppelbock, a version with a higher alcohol content and a stronger malty flavor, and the Eisbock, a beer that is partially frozen so that the ice crystals can be removed, creating a stronger beer.
“Dunkel” is the German word for “dark”, so it will come as no surprise that these beers are characterized by their dark color, which ranges from dark amber or dark reddish-brown to almost black.
The term “Dunkel” can cover a broad range of dark-style beers that are found throughout Germany, but they are most associated with Bavaria.
Traditional Dunkel beers from that area generally tend to have a lower alcohol content than Doppelbock beers brewed in the same region. One of the most iconic Dunkel beers is the Paulaner Dunkel brewed in Munich.
A Scharzbier is a very dark German lager, darker even than a Dunkel and more similar in appearance to a stout – the name “Schwarzbier” means “black beer” in German.
The flavor profile is broadly similar to a stout too, and you can expect to detect notes of coffee or chocolate that are derived from the malt content – like stouts, they are brewed using roasted malts. ABV tends to hover around the 5% mark, give or take half a percent.
25. Weissbier, witbier
When talking about Weissbier, Weißbier (Germany) or witbier (Belgium), there is confusion over the name, with some using the English term “white beer” and others preferring “wheat beer”.
The confusion comes from the fact that the German word literally means “white beer” – but this is probably derived from the term Weizenbier, meaning “wheat beer”. Naming conventions aside, these beers are brewed using wheat to replace a significant proportion of the barley, creating a smooth and fruity beer with a light yellow color.
Three of the most recognizable examples from Germany are Erdinger, Paulaner and Franziskaner, while Belgium’s Hoegaarden is also extremely popular.
Blue Moon Belgian White and Vedett Blanche (the latter brewed by the Duvel brewery) are also worth sampling if you see them. And in terms of the name? In English, “white beer” and “wheat beer” are both correct – so use whichever you prefer!
26. Abbey and Trappist beers
Something you may sometimes see is a beer labelled as “Trappist” or “Abbey” – so what does this mean? Trappist beers are beers brewed by Trappist monks, a Catholic religious order of cloistered monastics.
Currently, only 14 monasteries worldwide are allowed to use the term “Trappist” for the beer they brew. Of these, six are located in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, and one each in Austria, Italy, England, France, Spain and the United States.
“Abbey beer” (or “Bières d’Abbaye” or “Abdijbier”) refers to beers brewed according to monastic tradition or in the monastic style but not brewed according to the strict definition of a Trappist beer by Trappist monks.
Often, calling a beer an “Abbey beer” is little more than a marketing device, and the label tells you little about the beer you are buying. Trappist and Abbey beers can be brewed in a range of styles.
Lambic beer is brewed in the Pajottenland region of Belgium and is distinguished by the fact that it is produced using wild yeasts that are native to the area.
This is different from most other beers that use brewer’s yeasts cultivated specifically for the brewing of beers. The flavor profile is usually dry and tart, although variations are possible.
Lambic beers include Gueuze, a blend of young lambic beers that undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, Kriek, made with the addition of sour cherries, and a range of other fruit beers produced by adding fruit flavorings.
28. Fruit beer
Separate from lambic beers, fruit beers are simply beers that have fruit flavorings added at some point during the brewing process.
This can give rise to a huge range of styles and flavors, with alcohol content also varying widely – anything from 2.5% to 12% is possible.
The production of fruit beer is something of a free-for-all, and this type of beer can include anything a brewer feels like throwing in.
Beer connoisseurs are more than likely to turn their noses up at such creations, but if you enjoy drinks like this on a hot summer’s afternoon, there’s nothing to stop you ordering one!
The Radler was a German invention and originally consisted of a mix of beer and lemonade. The name comes from the German word “Radler”, meaning “cyclist”.
According to legend, the drink was created by a German innkeeper who began to run out of beer due to the large number of cyclists passing by his establishment, so he began to mix what he had left 50:50 with lemonade.
Nowadays, radlers are produced as a low-alcohol alternative to beer and are available in several fruit flavors.
They are found all over the world in countries as diverse as Spain (San Miguel, Cruzcampo and Alhambra all produce radlers) and Indonesia (Bintang).
So many beers to sample
Diversity is what makes the world such an interesting place, and when it comes to beer, the breadth of styles available is breathtaking.
There are so many to try, and you probably won’t like all of them – but with our list of 29 types of beer, at least now you have an idea of where to start.