Beers come in so many more styles than just “light” and “dark,” or ales or lagers. In fact, entire books have been written on the subject, and no less than three prominent organizations have compendiums of “style guidelines” for professionals and hard-core enthusiasts. But for the beginner, knowing a handful of the most common styles and their characteristics can be helpful. By knowing the names of different styles, it becomes easier to identify ones you enjoy, and can then ask for.
Pilsner. A style of lager born in Czechoslovakia, typically a very light, clear color from pale to golden yellow, with a distinct hop aroma and flavor. Example: Lagerhaus Royal Bohemian Pilsner.
Amber Ale. One of the most common styles of beer, ranging from a light copper color to a light brown. Typically more malty and sweet with less hop bitterness present. Florida Beer Company Key West Sunset Ale.
Brown Ale. Another common style, darker and maltier than an Amber. Medium alcohol level, flavors of roasted malt and caramel. Dunedin Brewing Brown Ale.
Pale Ale. As the name would indicate, these beers are a pale gold to deep copper, with more hop character than an Amber Ale. Tampa Bay Brewing Company One Night Stand.
India Pale Ale (IPA). Taking the Pale Ale to the next level of hoppiness and strength. More prominent hop bitterness, higher alcohol. Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai.
Stout/Porter. The dark side of beers. Deep brown to pitch black. Heavy malt flavors, chocolate and coffee flavors. Seventh Sun Stay Fly Porter.
Hefeweizen. A wheat beer, light with flavors of fruit and spices. Typically lower in alcohol with limited hop presence. Peg’s Cantina La Hefa.
Saison. A traditional “farmhouse” ale, usually characterized by high carbonation, fruity and spicy notes, and medium to high alcohol. Saint Somewhere Saison Athene.
This is by no means an all-encompassing list. There are literally hundreds of styles and variations on each, in addition to the beers that defy conventional guidelines. But this is a good place to start. The key is to keep trying new beers. There is no shortage of amazing new flavors and styles available.