What’s On Tap? Beer Types Explained

C'mon get hoppy!

"Gimme a beer, willya?" That might've been the thing to say to the barkeep way back when there were just a few beer choices. But, in the mid 1970s, Miller rolled out Miller Lite, and the beer landscape would never be the same. Craftbeer.com says "Today is the best time in US history to be a beer lover. As a nation, the US now has more beer styles (150+) and brands (20,000+) to choose from than any other market in the world."

How do you know what to order with so many choices? Well, take a seat at the end of the bar where everyone knows your name (make sure your peanut dish is full,) and let's quaff a few of these interesting beers.

And, if you need to buff up on more than just types of beer, read more about the slang of suds here!

Bock

Bock beer dates back to medieval times. (Can't you picture a gladiator going out for a joust, then coming back to the castle to pound a flagon or two of bock.) This brew started out in the northern German town of Einbeck. It gradually moved south to Munich, and language differences changed the name to ein bock. This means "billy goat" in German, which is why you generally see a goat on this beer's logo.

Hops: Hallertauer, Hersbrucker, Liberty, Mt. Hood

Color: light copper to brown

Flavor: stronger than a lager, with robust malt flavors

Pairs with: German food and cheese

(Pro tip: Some US breweries have started dabbling in bocks, including Sam Adams, so keep any eye out for this type of beer if you're looking for something new.)

Lager

A lager beer is kept in tanks for six weeks to six months before it is ready to drink. It is stored in tanks at just below the freezing point. This is the most popular and commercially available beer worldwide.

Hops: Angus, Ahtanum, AlphAroma, Amethyst, Bullion, Celeia, among many others

Color: deep amber to dark brown

Flavor: clean and crisp

Pairs with: seafood, pork, and chicken

Pilsner

Pilsners are a type of pale, lager beer. They originated in the Czech Republic. According to BrewConductor.com, "A classic pilsner has a clean fermentation profile. They traditionally have a dry, crisp finish and a slight bitter aftertaste."

Hops: Hersbrucker, Kazbeck, Liberty, Magnum, among many others.

Color: pale yellow to light gold

Flavor: according to VinePair.com, "basically, pilsner is lager turned up to 11"

Pairs with: spicy Thai and Vietnamese foods, Mexican food, and cheese

Dunkel

In German, the word dunkel means dark. So, a dunkel is the opposite of a pilsner, which is pale. Craftbeer.com notes "A German-style dunkel, sometimes referred to as a "Münchner" dunkel, should have a 'chocolate-like, roast-malt, bread-like, or biscuit-like aroma.'" That certainly sounds delicious and like something a little different than what you'd pour to watch the big game on Sunday.

Hops: Crystal, Hallertau Aroma (New Zealand), Horizon, and Opal (Germany) to name a few

Color: dark

Flavor: smooth and malty

Pairs with: sausages and roasted vegetables

IPA (India Pale Ale)

IPA stands for "India Pale Ale." It is "a pale-colored ale with a higher hops and alcohol content than average."

The website Beerconnoisseur.com says the term debuted in an ad in The Liverpool Mercury newspaper on January 30th, 1835. Hopandwine.com adds that "according to legend, it was George Hodgson of East London’s Bow Brewery who eventually created the first IPA. It was bitter and highly alcoholic."

The alcohol and hops in this brew act as preservatives for long sea voyages, say to India (for colonization), under challenging climate conditions. You have to keep the crew hoppy, after all.

Hops: Admiral, Amarillo, Apollo, Bravo, Bitter Gold, among many others

Color: black, white, or red

Flavor: citrus, floral, piney, bitter, malty

Pairs with: grilled meat, Mexican food, and Indian curries

Lambic

"Funky." That's what the website TheKitchn.com calls this type of Belgian brew. (Hmmm. Part of our definition of funky is "having an offensive smell." No matter, let's press on.

They also add that once lambics are ready for consumption, having been stored in barrels for up to three years, "the result is a distinctly sour beer with mild carbonation, a cloudy appearance, and a thick mouthfeel."

Hops: Kent Golding

Color: yellow, gold, or dark red

Flavor: sour

Pairs with: white meat and dessert

Porter

We define a porter beer as "a heavy, dark-brown ale made with malt browned by drying at a high temperature." This beer's name came from a subset of the working population that enjoyed it upon introduction.

Back in the 1700s, porters were beers with more flavor than a watered-down ale and cheaper than other beers. This of course made them fairly popular with the transportation workers (porters), especially in cities like London.

Hops: Bullion, Cluster, First Gold, and more

Color: dark brown

Flavor: the book Tasting Beer calls it a "creamy roasty-toasty malt"

Pairs with: oysters and grilled meats

Trappist beer

Yes, as in Trappist monks. And, only 10–12 brands of this beer can officially carry the name for their suds. It has to be brewed by the monks themselves or under their supervision, and it has to be made inside the monastery walls.

The brewery also can't be a profit-making venture—it should exist just to handle the monk's overhead.

Hops: Saaz, Perle, Cascade, "Fuggles," among many others

Color: gold to dark

Flavor: sweet, but yeasty

Pairs with: smoked or grilled meats, pungent cheese

Gose

Gose beer (HuffPo says it's pronounced like goes with an uh at the end) originated in the German town of Goslar. AmericanCraftBeer.com comments, "This top-fermented ale is brewed with at least 50% malted wheat, possessing flavors of lemon tartness, herbs (often coriander or cilantro), and salt."

Hops: not much

Color: medium yellow

Flavor: tart and salty

Pairs with: cheese and seafood

Irish Stout

Guinness is a very well-known brand of stout, founded in Dublin in 1759. The beer is usually dark, very dark, and it can sometimes contain hints of coffee. The word stout has several different definitions, too (including "bold," "hearty," and "strong," all of which can describe this beer).

Hops:  European-type hops

Color: black to very deep brown

Flavor: malty and bitter, with hints of coffee

Pairs with: seafood, ham, and chocolate

Time for happy hour yet?

It may not be quite 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 the What's On Tap? Quiz below and strut your hoppy stuff!

Sign up for our Newsletter!
Start your day with weird words, fun quizzes, and language stories.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The Dictionary Is More Than The Word Of The Day

Enter your email for quizzes, quotes, and word facts in your inbox every day.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.