January 30, 2019

The Homebrewer's Guide to Beer Styles

This is not your average beer style guide. It's tailored to the homebrewer, with flavor profiles, aroma characters, and color descriptors helpful to creating these styles. Brew on, homebrewers!

Wheat Beer


Cloudy, delicate, & full-bodied, the German hefeweizen is at least 50% wheat. The other half is usually Pilsner, Munich, or Vienna malts. Its classic clove & banana notes come from the hefeweizen yeast strain. Hefes are often served with the yeast mixed in. If serving from the bottle, swirl the last bit of liquid, then pour. High level of carbonation is ideal, and they're best when cracked fresh, rather than aged.


Cousin to the hefe. Includes darker grains, which create a reddish-brown color & greater malt intensity. Munich malts (& occasionally Vienna malts) give a rich, bready flavor that compliments the wheat. Dunkelweizen is richer and denser than hefe, but undeniably refreshing.


The iconic German wheat beer, but at bock strength. Rich malt, banana, & clove. Occasional tart/fruity notes. With the ABV climbing toward 9%, expect distinguished alcohol-forward flavor. When aged, full-bodied flavor & creamy wheat texture combine for a deliciously rich beer. Perfect for winter.


Belgium's idiosyncratic example of wheat beer. Similar to the hefe in color, but with an emphasis on tart fruitiness & spices. One of the few beer styles commonly brewed with spices, particularly coriander & orange peel. The spices lend pleasant sweet citrus and spice aroma. Witbier typically starts sweet & full-bodied, then moves into a dry finish. Traditionally brewed with oats & unmalted wheat, which can be challenging to work with.

American Wheat Beer 

The American wheat beer is derived from the hefe, with the yeast's influence pared back. A neutral yeast removes the clove & banana flavors, but keeps the beer crisp & malty, with a dry finish. Unlike Belgian or German wheat beers, American brewers usually add hop flavor to their wheat beers. The hoppiness ranges from subtle to fully IPA-style wheat beers. Cascade and Amarillo hops are general used.

Other Styles:

Hybrid Beer


Alt means "old" in German, so "Altbier"is an old style of beer. Amber in color from Munich or roasted malts, a touch of richness. Similar to a pared-back Dunkel or Bock. Usually dry, with a good amount of bittering hops. Some examples display intense bitterness. If labeled "Sticke," or "Secret Alt," it will be bigger & bolder in terms of both flavor and alcohol.


Kolsch embraces German lagering techniques, but is made with an ale yeast. Often brewed with 100% Pilsner malt, but some homebrewers use a bit of wheat for pale color & additional fullness. Kolsch is the official beer of Cologne, Germany, where it is traditionally served in a special cylinder-shaped glass called a "stange."  Pale, clear, with a malty aroma and clean flavor. Has a decent heft of bitterness, which helps impart a dry finish and keeps the beer nicely drinkable. Though brewed with ale yeast, to make a Kolsch a Kolsch, the beer is usually lagered for a few weeks for a clean final product.

California Common

Once common in California, this style is also known as “steam beer.” You may be familiar with Anchor Brewing’s Steam Beer; it's the brew that saved California Common from extinction. Fermented with an unusual lager yeast able to function at higher temperatures. The Northern Brewer hops  variety is often featured, which gives firm bitterness & some deep, earthy flavor. American hops like Cascade can also be used. Including crystal malts & other specialty grains will give the finished pint a reddish-gold color.

Brown Ale

English Brown Ale 

Brown Ale’s heritage reaches back through the ancient, murky tradition of English brewing to a time before pale beer was common. Newcastle Brewery revived this style in the early 20th century with their Northern English Brown Ale. The Southern English Brown Ale (yes, there is a difference) is sweeter, with less hoppiness & a closer focus on dark crystal malt. Both use British yeast strains, of course, which lend fruity, mineral complexity.

Mild Brown Ale

Mild is a brown ale with low ABV. You might compare it to Ordinary Bitter, because it's a session beer with some character. In true ale fashion, it's made for early consumption & served at a low carbonation. Displays toasty, chocolatey malt flavors, alongside bready & somewhat fruity notes, which come from the yeast. Rarely seen in the commercial US market, but perfect for homebrewing. 

American Brown Ale 

American Browns take the classic USA approach to brewing: more of everything! Higher in alcohol, more intense malt flavor, deeper roasted color. Hop levels vary. Some brewers stick to British minimalism, while others craft almost IPA-level browns. In either case, focus on balance & drinkability.

Honey Brown Ale

All the goodness of our Nut Brown Ale recipe kit (a mild), plus floral notes added by the presence of honey.

Pale Lager

To make a lager, you must follow the 3 traditional steps of lager fermentation. Learn how to lager here.

American Lager

When FDR lifted the ban on alcohol in 1933, he began the era of the American lager. Before the Great Craft Beer Revolution of today, it was practically the only style brewed in the country. It's pale, clear, and smooth--the perfect base for a homebrewer to build upon. Barley is the base, but up to 40% corn or rice gets added, to lighten the body and lend crisp, corn-like flavor. A high level of carbonation heightens this crispness.

Many homebrewers consider the American Lager a challenging style to brew, as its purist palette makes faults more obvious. But with trial & error, you can make a great lager with your own homebrew twist.

For a trip back in time, try making a Pre-Prohibition American Lager


Intensely popular. Widely imitated. Drunk with abundance. Invented in Bohemia with the genius combination of lagering technique plus very, very pale malt, the original Pilsner recipe is still produced today. Czech Saaz hops are a must for balance & delicacy. Round malt taste, mellow bitterness, spicy hop flavor, & a solid body.

Pilsner spread quickly. The German version has lighter body & pronounced bitterness. The American Pilsner was brewed liberally before Prohibition, but after the ban was lifted, it disappeared. Interestingly, some macro American lagers billed themselves as Pilsners, but use corn or rice in the mash, which represents a stark departure from the original. The classic recipe now pops up in craft breweries across the country.

Test out a Honey Pilsner for an extra sweet treat.


Helles, first brewed by the Spaten Brewery, was the German response to Bohemia's Pilsner. Different from the German Pilsner, the hops are subtle, letting sweet maltiness shine through. Clear, pale, with an impressive head of white foam. Pilsner malt often makes up 100% of the grain bill. Hops are the German noble varieties, like Hallertau and Tettnang. Lagering lends excellent clarity & very clean flavors.

India Pale Ale (IPA)

Ah, yes. The India Pale Ale. As you can imagine, an entire novel could be written on the different varieties of IPA that now pepper the United States. For this list, we've included a few of the most popular variation on the American IPA, plus some international takes.

Black IPA

Alternately labeled American Black Ale, India Black Ale (IBA), Black IPA (BIPA), or Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA), this beer has seen a recent uptick in popularity. It combines big hop bitterness with dark color (some might even call the color... black). Features heightened malt character & subtle roasty notes. This style walks a precarious line. When made well, the fabulous chocolate & coffee notes balance with the citrus and pine of American hops.

Brut IPA

It began on the West Coast. It swept across the country practically overnight. And now, the Brut IPA is a staple in breweries everywhere. ... A beer so dry it's practically champagne. 

Double IPA

The style of 1,000 acronyms: IIPA, DIPA, I2PA, or Imperial IPA. In classic American style, the Double IPA is what happens when you take an IPA and do it as big as possible: more malt, more alcohol, more hops. Intense in every way. Over 7% ABV. Sometimes, over a pound of hops is used for just one 5 gallon batch. 

DIPAs present a special challenge to homebrewers, because as the mountain of hops can clog equipment or soak up wort. On the flip side, the hefty hoppiness provides a great cushion for off-flavors. Double IPAs need great yeast starters, as the starting gravity is extra high.

Belgian IPA

Fruity, spicy Belgian yeast and citrusy, aggressive American hops: an unexpected partnership that yields some fascinating new flavors. When American craft brewers aren’t cooking up a blisteringly hoppy IPA, they like to look to the great brewing traditions of Europe for inspiration. With Belgian brewers now paying attention to innovative American craft beers, it seems an inevitable collaboration, but a surprising combination of flavors. Belgian IPAs meld unique Belgian yeast flavors with American-style hoppiness. The result is a substyle that shows a lot of promise.

English IPA

The original India Pale Ale developed as an off-shoot of the Pale Ale style that was often brewed at Burton-on-Trent. The water in this area was particularly high in carbonates, lending itself well to both IPAs and pale ales. Though originally made for export to India, the IPA found a happy drinking audience at home in England, as well as in America and Canada. It had a high level of hops and a slightly higher alcohol than the usual pale ale, but also had high attenuation. English IPAs feature English hops, like East Kent Goldings, and have a different type of hop flavor than many American IPAs. Expect grassy, earthy, or floral hop flavors.

More Styles:

Scottish Ale

60, 70, 80, 90 Shillings

The Scottish system of rating beers by their cost (and thus their gravity/alcohol) is divided into different shillings. 60 Shillings are low in gravity (sometimes only 1.030), but feature pleasant malty fullness that keep them from being too thin. Though 60 shillings can be found on cask in Scotland, their export is very rare and they are generally not available in the US. A more standard gravity beer, but still quite drinkable, 70 shillings are between 1.035 and 1.040. 80 shillings have a wider range, from about 1.040 to 1.054 starting gravity, and 90 shillings are even more loosely defined, ranging up to fairly high abv% levels.

Wee Heavy

The Scottish Barley Wine. This style is deeply malty and ages very well. The body is full and thick and the color ranges from coppery red to dark amber. Some homebrewed examples feature small amounts of peated malt for a slightly smokey tinge, or small amounts of roasted barley to add color and complexity. The gravity can range quite a bit and can be astronomically high, up to 1.130 in some cases!


Dry Irish Stout

This is the classic style embodied by Guinness, but Murphy’s and Beamish also make fine examples. The dryness comes from big use of roasted barley and firm bittering, without caramel malts to add sweetness. This type of stout is often served on draft using a blend of nitrogen and co2 called “beer gas” and a special stout faucet that contains a degassing restrictor plate. The secret to the full-bodied texture lies not just in the beer gas, which lends a low level of carbonation, but also in the use of flaked barley. This grain can’t be used in extract brewing, just partial mash and all-grain, but it is well worth the trouble.

Milk Stout

Sometimes called “sweet stout” or “cream stout” as well. A British invention, occasionally claimed to be a healthy, nutritious beer for nursing mothers! The “milk” part comes from the addition of lactose, an unfermentable milk sugar. This gives the final product a pleasant, slightly sweet flavor and full body, which balances nicely with the coffee/chocolate flavor of roasted barley.

Oatmeal Stout

Another British invention, this style has really taken off in the past few decades and is a commonly brewed stout in America. The addition of oats, in malted or flaked forms, gives the standard stout a slick, silky mouthfeel and slightly nutty oat flavor. Using oats requires either partial mash or all-grain brewing, as their starches won’t be broken down with extract brewing techniques.

Oatmeal Cookie Stout

Pleasant, subtle aromas and flavors of raisin, cinnamon and vanilla engage with the velvety body of a traditional oatmeal stout to create an immensely pleasing and highly elaborate sipping experience.

American Stout

Craft breweries in the US have been interested in stout from the start. Characteristic American hops such as Cascade are often used to create a hoppier beer, usually a bit more bitter and with more hop flavor than their English counterparts. The roasted character is generally strong, but the body can vary quite a bit, from smooth to sharp.

Imperial Stout

Rich, dense, STRONG. Imperial stout is one of the biggest, baddest beers around. Originally brewed in England for export to the Russian Imperial court, but now the darling of many American craft breweries. Imperial stouts have everything scaled up: higher gravity, more hops, more roasted grains. Expect them to take months to age into their prime, but when they do they are deliciously intense sippers.

Peanut Butter Stout

You got peanut butter in my stout! You got stout in my peanut butter! Why argue, it's a great combo.


Brown Porter

This is a brown to almost-black beer of fairly moderate alcohol, with some balanced roasty notes. Some versions use a high percentage of Brown malt, others use small amounts of Chocolate malt, Black malt, or similar dark roasted grains. Brown porters are often more distinctly British, with fruity esters from the yeast and earthy notes from the hops common. Try experimenting with specialty grains like Victory or Biscuit malt for added complexity.

Robust Porter

This is a bigger, stronger-tasting porter favored by many American craft breweries. More focus on roasted grains brings out coffee and chocolate flavors. Chocolate malt is an old favorite for a robust porter, and it is common to give it a fairly big malt backing, often with some crystal or caramel malts. American versions typically use a clean American-style ale yeast, but may also have elevated hoppiness, even dry hops occasionally.

Baltic Porter 

British porters were often exported to the Baltic Countries, where their popularity encouraged local brewers to pick up the style. The result is an intriguing twist on the classic porter that ups the alcohol and complexity. Baltic brewers commonly used lager yeast instead of ale yeast, which helps promote a very clean, smooth flavor. The roasted character is still the focus of the beer, but it is not nearly as sharp or aggressive as many robust porters. A malty backbone supports the higher alcohol level, which can range up to 10%.

Other Styles:

Rye Beer


This is a historical German style of beer that has been revived only recently. Roggenbier is brewed with very high proportions of rye, 50% or more, and is similar to a Bavarian Hefeweizen or Dunkelweizen in many respects. Hops are minimal but the rye flavor is huge, and banana/clove character from a traditional Hefeweizen yeast is common. Roggenbier is a challenge to brew because of the high percentage of rye malt, which gets very sticky and gummy in the mash.


American rye beers range quite a bit, from easy-drinking rye ales that are similar to a wheat beer in recipe, to massive high-alcohol concoctions. But the RyePA is probably the most popular in the US. This is an American-style IPA with rye included in the grain bill, which lends a spicy, earthy note. A good RyePA will use the flavor of the hops and the flavor of the rye as counterparts, with neither one dominating the beer.


An unusual Finnish style of beer made with malted barley and rye and flavored with juniper berries. The traditional method uses entire juniper boughs to filter the mash, which provides the characteristic juniper taste along with some astringency from the wood. There is also traditionally no boil for sahti, the hot mash is simply run off, cooled, and fermented, and this gives the beer some complexity and sour notes. It also makes it quick to spoil, so many craft and homebrewers making sahti decide to boil it. The end result is usually cloudy, with banana and clove notes from the yeast, and noticeable juniper flavor.

Rye Brown Ale

Use your deductive powers to uncover a refreshing, easy drinking brown ale. You may observe a creamy biscuit, caramel, and toasty spice flavor, while an earthy cocoa and light hop character dominate the aroma.

Amber Lager & Dark Lager

Vienna Lager 

The Vienna lager is a ghost style; though it has all but disappeared in Vienna itself, it has been carried on in Mexico by breweries founded by Austrian immigrants. The Vienna lager is hopped somewhere in between a Pilsner and a Munich-style Marzen or Oktoberfest, amber in color, and has a lower gravity and intensity than an Oktoberfest. Nicely crisp and refreshing, but still exhibiting a fairly full body.


Marzen, or “March” in German, originally was a stronger version of Vienna lager. Marzen was brewed around March to be stored cold during the summer months, when high temperatures made it impractical to brew. Over time the Marzen style became tied closely to Munich, and a special Marzen called Oktoberfest was brewed in this city for the famous fall celebration. Oktoberfest/Marzen is richly malty with an amber color and usually contains a good proportion of Munich or Vienna malts combined with a Pilsner malt base.


An intensely rich dark lager, Dunkel focuses on Munich malt, sometimes using 100% Munich in the grain bill. This imparts a wonderfully malty flavor with notes of dense bread, while the use of lager yeast keeps fruitiness to a minimum.


It is easy to be surprised by your first taste of this nearly black beer. After so many porters and stouts we tend to associate dark-colored beer with roasted flavors from malts like chocolate, black malt, or roasted barley. The Schwarzbier style has only hints of roastiness, with no acrid or bitter flavors from roasted malt. Instead the beer is very smooth, with a clean maltiness and none of the fruity flavors associated with English and Irish yeasts. The trick lies in using dehusked Carafa malt, which makes the beer quite dark without the usual rough astringency of roasted grains.

Session Beer


Session IPA

Petite Saison

Session Ale

Mild Brown Ale

Sour Beer

Belgian Sour Beers

For many, sour beer means Belgium. The adventurous brewers of this small nation are definitely the torch bearers of the sour styles, and a direct link to their long traditions. The most famous Belgian sour is the Lambic. Lambics are traditionally made by inoculating the wort with wild yeasts from the air, which generally results in a mixed culture of regular saccharomyces yeast, brettanomyces, pediococcus, and lactobacillus. This results in a complex, wine-like character and a very dry finished beer. Aged, unblended lambics are among the most sour beers.

The Flanders red ale style is similarly intense, but includes some specialty malts that make the color a deep red. Fruit flavors such as plum can often be found along with the characteristic sourness. Oud Bruin (sometimes called Flanders Brown) is even darker and features some maltiness, which is unusual in sour styles. Some caramel flavors and sweetness, as well as fruity notes, can be expected.

Although you can occasionally find Flanders reds and oud bruins with fruit added, the practice is more common with lambic. A lambic with raspberries added is called a framboise, with cherries it is a kriek. The fruit is often added to the secondary fermentor and can remain the in beer for long periods of aging.

German Sour Beers

Germany has a long and celebrated history of sour beers, but few examples have survived to modern times. The most commonly brewed is Berliner Weisse, a very sour, highly carbonated wheat beer. Berliner Weisse is fermented by a blend of normal yeast and lactobacillus, and occasionally brettanomyces as well. The lactic acid character from the lactobacillus dominates, creating a very tangy, tart acidity. Carbonation is normally quite high to provide a very sparkling and refreshing quality. Berliner weisse is sometimes served with fruit or woodruff syrups to cut the acidity.


A very rare and unique beer called Gose is also brewed in Germany. Gose is similar to Berliner weisse in many respects, but also contains coriander and salt. The amount of salt ranges from barely noticeable to quite salty, and the sourness is usually the dominant feature. A mixed culture of normal yeast and lactobacillus is generally used to produce the sourness.

English and other Sour Beers

English beers are rarely thought of as being sour, but there is a long history of sour beers in England. Traditionally the “old ale” or “stock ale” that was kept in wooden barrels for long periods of time became slightly soured by bacteria such as brettanomyces claussenii and lactic acid producing bacteria. Beers of very high alcohol and gravity were given fruity, sour characteristics by these organisms. Few modern examples survive, but undeterred homebrewers have made fabulous interpretations of the style.

Belgian Ale

Belgian Pale Ale

The Belgian style of Pale Ale is a very drinkable, with some classic Belgian flavors but a modest gravity and more hop balance than most Belgian styles. Designed to be balanced, easy drinking beers, they are about 4-6% alcohol and are made mostly with pilsner or pale malt supplemented by some Belgian caramel malt varieties. The yeast often imparts some fruitiness but is more subdued than a Trappist beer yeast. Hops provide even bitterness and some flavor and aroma, but the balance is more towards malt character than in an American or English Pale Ale.


A dark amber Abbey ale with higher than normal alcohol and full, fruity flavors. Dubbels are usually made dark with the help of dark candi sugar and/or syrup, which also lends some raisin-y caramel flavors. These flavors are sometimes enhanced by the use of Belgian Special B, a very dark caramel malt. Dubbels feature Trappist or Abbey yeast strains that create fruity, dry beers with remarkable complexity.


One of the strongest of the monastic beers from Belgium, Tripel is a pale colored beer with high alcohol content (7-10%). This style of beer is usually made from pilsner malt with the addition of light candi sugar to create a thinner, more drinkable body. The yeast is usually the showcase of a Tripel. Classic yeasts come from the modern Trappist and Abbey breweries and exhibit high alcohol tolerance, strong attenuation, spicy and fruity aromas and flavors, and a high level of complexity. Tripels are highly carbonated, which brings out the dry finish.

Golden Strong 

This style of beer is a scaled up Belgian Pale Ale. It is quite similar to a Tripel, but can be even more dry, with an even higher alcohol level, and enhanced bitterness. Duvel (“Devil”) is the classic example of the style, and many subsequent examples have also used “devil” related imagery or words. Fruity or spicy contributions from the yeast are common, as is a warming alcohol note. Lots of complexity and often quite smooth, despite the high alcohol content.

Dark Strong 

One of the biggest Belgian beers; a complex and intense treat. Crafted by some of the Abbey and Trappist brewers, this beer has the same fruity/spicy yeast character of a Tripel or Dubbel, but with an even higher alcohol level and a lot of malt/caramel intensity. Dark plum, toffee, and raisin-like character can come from crystal malts or dark candi syrup. Some type of simple sugar is often used to keep the alcohol high while preserving a medium body to the beer.


Saison is a very flavorful Belgian farmhouse ale with some unique characteristics. Though Saison was traditionally made during the winter months as a keeping ale for summer, the Saison yeasts have a unique ability, shared with a handful of other Belgian yeasts, to ferment well at very high temperatures. They tend to produce fruity and spicy flavors, often with a lemon-like component. Some Saisons use spices in the boil, but more often the spicy flavors come from the yeast selection. Saisons are usually very dry, with an alcohol content a bit higher than normal. Some examples have hops added to the end of the boil for aroma and flavor. Modern brewers of Saisons have a quite a range of interpretations, and it is considered a very open style.

Biere de Garde 

This is a French style of beer that ranges in color from blond to brown and is characterized by a period of lagering and a malty body. Biere de Garde was traditionally made for long term storage, and as such was a higher alcohol beer (modern examples are about 6-8.5% or so). The lagering period lends a smoothness to the beer while a high attenuation level, aided sometimes by the inclusion of sugar in the recipe, means that the finish is dry.


Traditional Bock

Classic traditional Bock is an amber/brownish colored beer with a strong body and alcohol content to match. The focus is entirely on the malty goodness of German-style malts, with the hops contributing only enough bitterness to keep the beer from tasting syrupy or cloying. The dark color comes from darker base malts, such as Munich malt, with the occasional use of darker specialty grains. If you’re brewing all-grain, a decoction mash with a high final temperature rest will help make a dense, dextrinous wort. Because bock is a high-gravity beer, it is common for the beer to take a longer time lagering than most, a couple of months is common.


This is a pale beer, also called Helles Bock, that displays more balance than the average traditional Bock. The pale color comes from the prominent use of Pilsner malt, which is far more gentle and light in flavor than the Munich and Vienna malts used in dark Bocks. Maibock commonly has some Munich-style malts in lower proportions, and so exhibits a subdued version of malt richness. In addition, Maibock often has more hops than a regular bock, which increases the briskness a bit. Still a focus for fine German malts, but with a lighter approach. The “Mai” means May in German, and so Maibock is often a seasonal brew first tapped in the spring.


An even bigger bock beer, with higher alcohol and more and deeper malt flavor. This beer famously started as nourishment for the Paulaner monks during their Lenten fast. It was later sold as “Salvator”, still available today. Many other brewers who attempt the style use “-ator” in the name of their beer as a homage. The Doppelbock beer is usually over 7% alcohol, with some examples soaring higher than 10%. The hops serve only to provide a bit of balance, and allow a sweet malty fullness to dominate. Bready, chocolate, and caramel flavors play over an exceptionally smooth and full body.


Eisbock is an unusual beer made with a special technique. A Bock or Doppelbock is fermented completely, lagered, and then placed in a below freezing environment. Though the high alcohol content will keep the beer from freezing even at very low temperatures, a portion of the liquid will freeze and separate out. This frozen portion will be mostly water; once it is removed the beer left behind will be concentrated in all respects. A higher alcohol content, even higher than can be achieved by normal yeast fermentation, is often the goal, but the flavors are intensified as well. Any off flavors will become even more unpleasant after concentration, but if you have a perfect, malty bock, the intensity of the beer will be heightened.

Strong Beer



The Wee Heavy

American Strong Ale

Imperial Beers

Beers That Don't Fit Elsewhere

Rice Beer