What’s On Tap? 13 Of Your Favorite Beer Types Explained

C'mon get hoppy!

Gone are days when you could sit down at the bar and simply ask for a beer. That order involves plenty more follow ups these days for one good reason: there are a lot of styles to choose from being made from breweries big and small.

Next time you belly up to the bar, use this handy cheat sheet to learn more about the liquid in your glass.


This strong German style of beer was historically brewed in the fall, aged throughout winter, and drunk in the spring around Lent and Easter. Bock beer started (and ultimately gets its name from) in the German town of Einbeck in the 1300s. As the story goes, when the beer made its way to Munich in the 1600s, the local pronunciation used was closer to ein bock. This small error in how things are said influences how we see the beer today—ein Bock can mean “a billy goat” in German, and you’ll see the animal on many bock labels. Variations include maibock, a hoppier and paler version, and doppelbock (or “double bock”), which is a heavier and darker style.


Lagers are the most consumed style of beer in the world. Think of a lager like a parent category. It’s one of two main subsections of beer along with ale, and every beer style is one or the other. In lager’s case, it’s a crisp and easy-drinking beer that’s fermented with a yeast that works from the bottom instead of the top. The name comes from the production method: lager comes from the German for “a store, stock,” and the beer does indeed need to be stored for several weeks to six months before it’s ready to drink. This was originally done in caves where the temperature stayed steady, but that’s not the case anymore. Many of the mass-produced beers are lagers, and pilsners are a type of lager.


This lager beer originally comes from, and gets its name from, the city of Plzeň in the Czech Republic. Pilsners are pale and light in alcohol, and were created in the mid-1800s by Bavarian brewer Josef Groll. He relied on the soft waters of the region and sandstone tunnels for lagering his beer. Today, pilsners are brewed around the world, not just in Plzeň.


A dunkel is a German lager that’s the opposite of a light-colored pilsner. The color can be inferred from the name: Dunkel means “dark” in German (it’s sometimes called a Munchner dunkel, as in Munich dunkel). The toasted malts used to make the beer give chocolatey and bready notes.

IPA (India Pale Ale)

Easy drinking lagers may be the most popular beer in terms of sales, but few beer styles can match up to the popularity of IPAs among craft beer producers and drinkers. The acronym stands for India Pale Ale and gets its name from when the British colonized India and were shipping beer to the country in the late 1700s. A large proportion of hops were added to barrels as a preservative to keep the barrels of beer drinkable after they arrived (a higher alcohol content helped, too). This had another effect beyond preservation: it added a distinct bitterness. American craft brewers popularized the style in the modern era, and today you’ll find a range of IPA styles, including West Coast style IPAs that are clear and more bitter and New England style IPAs that are hazier with more fruity notes than bitterness.


Do you know what “craft beer” actually means? Take a look here.


A porter is a heavy, dark-brown ale that’s made with a malt browned from drying at a high temperature. The style started in the early 1700s in England. The story goes that it was originally a type of beer made for or drunk by porters (a person whose job is to carry various goods) and other working class people, hence the name.


If you’re struggling with the pronunciation of this beer style, you’re surely not alone. Gose is named after the German town of Goslar where it originally comes from, and the beer type is pronounced go-suh. The original goses started a thousand years ago. The slightly salty local water used carried over into the flavor of beer itself, though brewers making the style around the world today typically add salt to these lightly sour beers.


A stout is related to a porter and is made in a similar way. The dark beer, however, sets itself apart in that it’s stronger (that is, more stout or “bold”) than porters—the beers were originally called stout porters before being shortened to just stout. The line between the two can be a little hazy today, but in general the rule is that a stout has more alcohol in it than the similar porter. Today, it’s popular to barrel-age stouts for a strong added flavor of the barrel itself and whatever the barrel previously stored.


Sour beer is more of a descriptive than a distinct type like pilsner or IPA. In fact, you can have sours of various beer styles, from goses to IPAs. The thing that ties all sours together is, you guessed it, a sour taste. Sometimes it’s mouthwateringly sour, other times it’s just a hint. Whatever the level, the flavor comes from a type of yeast called Brettanomyces and various bacterias. Brewers can either add the souring agents for a consistent flavor through many years of making the same beer, or allow the beer to ferment with wild yeasts in the air, which can add a sour note.


If you’ve had too much, your next drink might be the hair of the dog. Do you know what that means?


A shandy is not a straight beer. Instead, this English drink is made by mixing beer (the type doesn’t matter, but English ales are a good place to start) with lemonade. This has the dual effect of lowering the alcohol and creating a refreshing drink that’s perfect for a hot summer day. The name was first recorded in 1885–90 and is a shortened version of the full name shandygaff, which was first recorded in 1850–55. The ultimate origin of shandygaff is unknown. In Germany, this mix is known as a radler.


The other parent category of beer is ale. Unlike lagers, ales use a top-fermenting yeast that can hold up to warmer temperatures than lager yeast can (it also works faster and doesn’t have to be lagered). Ales are the oldest beers that date back to the first beers early humans made some 4000 years ago. The number of styles that fall into this parent category can feel endless, and includes everything from porters to IPAs.

hefeweizen, witbier, and other wheat beers

Another popular ale style are wheat beers, which fall into three main types you’ll see at breweries and on beer store shelves: hefeweizen, witbier, and the straightforward Americanized wheat beer. All use wheat as primary grain as opposed to barley. The name witbier comes from the Dutch and translates to white beer (wheat can add a light cloudy color). Citrus, coriander, and other spices are often added. In Germany, white beers fall under the German word for white: weiss. The most popular is hefeweizen, which combines the German words for  “yeast” and “wheat.” Like witbiers, hefeweizens are often cloudy and have spices added, though the type of yeast used also often adds clove and bubblegum characteristics.


Saison is a type of ale, but like the parent categories of ale and lager, the name saison can refer to a wide range of beers. Simply put, saison means “season” in French. They were originally brewed in the summer for farmhands in Belgium using wild yeasts and bacterias, which can include Brettanomyces and lactic acid. Sometimes saisons can be a little sour, and oftentimes the taste is described as fruity or funky. They’re no longer summertime beers and are enjoyed year-round.

Time for happy hour yet?

It may not quite be time for happy hour just yet, but we have another way for you to put your beer knowledge to good use until it’s 5pm. Take our quiz here and strut your hoppy stuff!


If you liked this article, you might raise a glass to another one on wine terminology. Take a look!

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