Your Beer Cheat Sheet

Do you get overwhelmed when looking at an extensive beer list? Afterall, there are over 20,000 brands of beer in the world! It can be difficult to understand what a beer tastes like by just glancing at it's name. For example, a wheat and a wit are two different beers.  Confusing, right?

We don't want beer to be overwhelming for you. Instead, we want it to be a source of pure hoppy-ness. We're aiming to bridge the gap between beer drinkers and beer lovers. And while this cheat sheet won't solve all the world's problems, we hope it will help you choose what beer you want to order next time you're out.

1. Check out the type of beer and its origin.

The first type of beer is Ales. Ales ferment at warmer temperatures and therefore often provide fruity, sometimes spicy flavors. A couple of examples include:

  • American Pale Ale: It's smooth and a bit fruity. You can also bet on a liberal use of hops which adds zest to this year-round beer. Think: Boulevard Pale Ale or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Belgian Pale Ale: This beer is typically amber to copper in color. It also has a fruity and lightly to moderately-spicy flavor. Think: Blue Moon Belgian Pale Ale

The other type of beer is lagers. They ferment at cooler temperatures and are known as a “cleaner” beer. That means you can taste the malt and hops more explicitly. A couple examples include:

The Brewers Association Style Guidelines and BJCP Style Guide are great resources, too. These guidelines provide typical charactiaristics and specifications for a wide variety of beers.

2. Decide on how dark or light you'd like your beer to be.

Light/Pale-colored beers are grainy and bread-like. Amber-colored beers tend to be toasty. Brown-colored beers can carry the flavor of roasted nuts or chocolate. Finally, when you think of black-colored beers, think about dark chocolate, coffee and espresso. 

Here's a list from lightest to darkest:

  • Very light
  • Straw
  • Pale
  • Gold
  • Light Amber
  • Amber
  • Medium Amber
  • Dark Amber
  • Copper
  • Light brown
  • Brown/Reddish
  • Dark brown
  • Very dark
  • Black

The color of the beer is a result of the quantity of different types of malted barley used in the beer recipe. Beers that incorporate more highly kilned/roasted malts tend to be darker in color and provide a more robust, bold malt character. Beers that use more lightly roasted or unroasted malts tend to be golden or amber, and have a lighter malt flavor profile.  

If you're interested in how malted barley is made, Breiss Malt & Ingredients Co. has a good article with more information on the malting process.

3. Read the description of the beer.

This one probably goes without saying, but key words in the description give you the best clues of all. Here's a list of the most common words used to describe beers:

  • Aggressive: Boldly assertive aroma and/or taste

  • Balanced: Malt and hops in similar proportions; equal representation of malt sweetness and hop bitterness in the flavor

  • Complex: Multidimensional; many flavors and sensations on the palate

  • Crisp: Highly carbonated; effervescent

  • Estery: Fruity aromas caused during the fermentation process

  • Floral: Full of aromas reminiscent of flowers

  • Fruity: Flavors reminiscent of various fruits; often a result of fermentation conditions

  • Hoppy: Herbal, earthy, spicy, or citric aromas and flavors of hops

  • Malty: Grainy, caramel-like; can be sweet or dry

  • Roasty/toasty: Malt (roasted grain) flavors

  • Robust: Rich and full-bodied with high malt character

In the end, don't be afraid to branch out and try a new beer. You never know - you may find a new favorite. You can also download apps that help you discover new beers. But that's enough information from us, we want to hear from you!

What's your favorite and least favorite type of beer? Leave a comment below with your answer.