Nearly all beer is made from water, hops, cereal grains and yeast, which makes brewers among the most creative people in human history. With those four ingredients, they've concocted simple beverages with a range of colors, tastes, aromas and potencies.

Nearly all beer is made from water, hops, cereal grains and yeast, which makes brewers among the most creative people in human history. With those four ingredients, they've concocted simple beverages with a range of colors, tastes, aromas and potencies.

They earn a pat on the back for variety. It's the spice of life. It also can be the annoyance of life, as when encountering lukewarm suds far darker than your Natural Light. Fear not: We're here to help you through the finer points of pints.

Ales

Are brewed at warmer temperatures, usually 60 to 75 degrees, and with top-fermenting yeast. This process allows for the production of chemicals called esters that result in secondary colors, smells and tastes.


Pale ale

In short: Popular among microbreweries, this type includes American and India Pale ales

Color: Deep golden to amber; usually clear

Taste: Often dominated by bitter taste of hops, though varieties can be fruity, malty or buttery

Alcohol: 4%-7%

Fun fact: IPAs were first brewed in England and shipped to British troops in India during the 1700s; the brews had to be extra hoppy to survive the long boat trip.

Examples: Bass, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sam Adams Boston Ale


Stout

In short: This is the dark, heavy stuff that most often scares novice drinkers

Color: Reddish-brown to jet black; often opaque

Taste: Thick, creamy texture and coffee-like notes, thanks to roasted barley and ingredients like oatmeal

Alcohol: 4%-8%

Fun fact: Darkness doesn't always mean stronger beer. Guinness Draught has less alcohol and fewer calories per serving than Budweiser.

Examples: Guinness, Murphy's, Sam Smith's Imperial Stout


Wheat beer

In short: Also known as "white beer," it's brewed with significant portions of malted wheat and barley

Color: Dark yellow to bright red; often murky or cloudy

Taste: Varies significantly, due to rampant specialization, but often sweet

Alcohol: 4%-7%

Fun fact: In America we often cut the taste with lemons (for German "hefeweizen") or oranges (for Belgian "witbeer").

Examples: Blue Moon, Bell's Oberon, Elevator Hefeweizen

Lagers

Are brewed at cooler temperatures, usually 45 to 55 degrees, and with bottom-fermenting yeast. This process allows for a clearer, cleaner and crisper liquid.


American lager

In short: This type of pale lager has little to no hop character or malt flavor. It's the beer you think of when you think of beer

Color: Light or golden yellow; almost transparent

Taste: Crisp, cold and delicious during 30-hour game-day benders; little to no aftertaste

Alcohol: 4%-6%

Fun fact: During World War II, many brewers started malting rice, along with barley, to offset the high cost of grain; this led to weaker color and flavor.

Examples: Budweiser, Coors, Miller Genuine Draft


Bock

In short: This strong German lager is usually brewed for special occasions

Color: Varies, but often amber; generally transparent

Taste: Malty flavor, often with hints of caramel or toffee, outweighs bitter taste of hops

Alcohol: 6%-14%

Fun fact: Bock's disputed origin includes Christian and pagan traditions. Many have a goat's head on the label as a nod to the custom of only brewing during the sign of Capricorn.

Examples: Shiner Bock, Michelob Amber Bock, Sam Adams Winter Lager


Pilsner

In short: It's a common alternative for those looking to move on from American standards

Color: Pale to golden yellow; always transparent

Taste: Very crisp, with strong hop character

Alcohol: 5%

Fun fact: Upset with dark, cloudy beer from Germany - which was sometimes of low quality - the people of Pilsen (now in the Czech Republic) founded their own brewery in 1839.

Examples: Beck's, Pilsner Urquell, Stella Artois

Sources: BeerAdvocate.com, Wikipedia, Sir Thomas the Alcohol Man, Tastings.com, CAMRA.org.uk, 18 years of combined drinking experience