Types of beer
With the wide variety of types of beer now available in restaurants, pubs and retail outlets, beer shopping can be a bit confusing. We’ve come up with some descriptions that we hope will help you identify your favourite beers.
A lager is typically a pale beer – crisp, dry and refreshing. It is fermented for significantly longer and at a lower temperature than ales.
In 1842, Czech brewers created a new kind of lager, the pilsner. Pilsners have an instantly recognizable golden colour and a pronounced hop accent. Pilsner is a bottom-fermented version of lager.
Among ales you’ll find much more flavourful beers that often have strong individual personalities. Many of them are beers with fruity, herbal or spicy characteristics. Ales are made with top-fermenting yeasts that do not require the refrigeration that other yeasts do.
Surprisingly, pale ales can vary in colour from golden to deep amber. They were named pale ales because they were a lot lighter in colour than the dark porters and stouts that preceded them.
Pale ales are generally more highly hopped and are lightly carbonated. Pale ales are robust beers that go well with strongly spiced foods, with India Pale Ale being the most well-known type.
Porter is an ale brewed with a special combination of malts to create a beverage with a stronger flavour, aroma and colour. To complement their heavier taste, Porters generally have a fuller body and are slightly sweeter. Like stouts, porters can be dry or sweet, flavoured with brewery-roasted malt barley, oats or certain sugars, and are dark in colour.
Stouts are often made with a portion of unmalted roasted barley, which gives them their dark appearance and a slightly astringent character, like coffee. Stout has a rich, creamy head and is similar to a dark Porter, but is usually less sweet-tasting and more heavily hopped.
Wheat beers often have an unfiltered pale and hazy appearance because of the types of yeast used. Since a number of spices are used in the brewing process, wheat beers have a wide range of flavours. They are brewed with a large proportion of wheat and malted barley. There are two great traditions of wheat or “white” beer, in Belgium (Witbier or Tarwebier) and in Bavaria (Weizenbier).
Light and Extra-light beer
Light and extra-light beers are brewed in a similar way to ales and lagers, but are lower in alcohol and generally contain fewer calories. In Canada, a light beer has between 2.6 and 4% alcohol by volume, and extra-light beer has less than 2.5%.
In recent years, brewers have shown great innovation by introducing fruit and vegetable flavours and, in many cases, real fruit and vegetables into the brewing process in order to create a wide variety of new beers. While most fruit beers are ales, they rarely have ale-like characteristics. To allow the fruit flavour to stand out, the impact of the malt’s flavour is reduced and the beers are only mildly bitter.
In most provinces, a beer with less than 0.5% alcohol by volume is considered to be a non-alcoholic beer. To brew this type of beverage, a brewer may use a very short fermentation cycle to produce a regular strength beer, then remove some or all of the alcohol.