You’d better know what you’re looking for before walking into the beer section of a liquor store or sidle up to a bar. The options are dizzying, and if you don’t know the difference between a pale ale and a lager there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to walk out with something you don’t really want to drink (or pull a Scott Walker and settle for a commercial beer when there are far superior options).
While you may think “a beer is a beer,” that’s not at all true. There are tons of characteristics that distinguish one type of beer from another, so before you waste another dollar on a beer you don’t like, it’s a good idea to understand the qualities you like and don’t like in each style.
1 India Pale Ale, More Popularly Known As IPA
Flavor: A strong hoppy flavor, with a slightly (or extremely) bitter taste.
Color: Usually amber and cloudy, but IPAs come in a range of darker and lighter colors now.
Strength: Typically 4.5-6 percent ABV, but some brewers have tried to recreate the original IPAs with an ABV closer to 8 or 9 percent.
Fun Fact: During the 1700s, when English troops lived in India, the typical pale ale brew most Englishmen drank would spoil before the ship reached the Indian shores. In order to prolong the beer’s shelf life, brewers added more hops, which is a natural preservative. And that’s how the hoppiest beer style was born.
2 Pale Ale
Flavor: In the U.K., this brew has a strong malty and woody flavor. In the U.S., the hops are ramped up during brewing, making it a hoppy beer (but not as hoppy as an IPA).
Color: Pale gold to amber.
Strength: 4-7 percent ABV
Fun Fact: They’ve been brewed since 1642, when coke was first used as a form of fuel to roast malt. Coke (not to be confused with the brand of soda) is a fuel with few impurities, made from coal.
Flavor: Strong hops (but not as strong as IPAs), softer malt, fragrant, and pleasurably bitter flavors.
Color: Light golden color and a notable clarity.
Strength: Usually 5 percent ABV.
Fun Fact: Pilsner is one of the youngest beer styles in the world, first brewed in 1842.
4 Wheat Beer
Flavor: The flavor ranges greatly depending on wheat styles, but they’re typically light in flavor, low in hops and have a yeasty flavor that makes them great summer beers.
Color: Just like the flavor, the colors range in wheat beers but…