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Beer School 101

(or a Layman’s Education on Your Favorite Libation)

We thought that we needed to do more than simply list beers and what we thought of them. It doesn’t matter how much we talk about beer if you the reader have no idea what it is. So below we will give you a lesson on beer of all shapes and sizes. So here comes the family tree. It all starts with Lagers and Ales. Those two are like the Adam and Eve of beer. It all started there. From there it goes all over the place. In our first lesson we will tackle Ales. So grab yourself a pint of your favorite brew, kick back and learn something new. Cheers!

Index of Beers Covered:

Abbey Ale
American Wheat
Barley Wine
Belgian Ale
Blonde Ale
Brown Ale
Dry Stout
Imperial Stout
India Pale Ale (IPA)
Pale Ale
Scoth Ale
Scottish Ale
Sweet Stout/Milk Stout


Part One – Ales

Abbey Ale – Abbey Ales are similar to Trappist Ales in that they originate from Belgian breweries, but the Abbeys are not made by a monastic order like Trappists are, with very few exceptions. In other words, if you want a brew from a Belgian monk, you have a Trappist Ale. Abbeys are a sister to the Trappist, but are generally not brewed and overseen by the monastery. They can vary in color and strength. You may be familiar with the term Dubbel or Tripel. These will be covered later.

Example – Corsendonk, Ommegang Abbey Ale, St. Bernardus Back to top


American Wheat – Light bodied, the American wheat beer is a crisp and refreshing ale, often with spices that accentuate the wheat flavor. Like many wheat styles, these are often served with fruit, like a lemon or orange wedge.

Example – Goose Island American Dark Wheat Ale, Magic Hat Hocus Pocus, Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat Back to top


Barley Wine – A very strong, rich ale. This one isn’t for the faint of heart. It is called Barley Wine because it can be as strong as wine, but it is in fact a beer. The color can range anywhere from amber or reddish brown to almost black. This is often best served in a snifter glass and sipped on. It will put hair on your chest.

Example – Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine, Rogue Old Crustacean, Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary – Jack & Ken’s Ale Back to top


Belgian (Trappist) Ale –These are typically harder to find. There are only six Trappist breweries in the world. These have a rich history, brewed for hundreds of years by Belgian monks. To be classified a Trappist Ale, it must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, by or under control of Trappist monks. Only one exception exists, La Trappe. It is brewed in the Netherlands. These are generally top-fermented beers and range in color. Often they are labeled in a color representing the type of beer in the bottle.  For instance, white labels on a blanche or blonde ale. If you’re looking for something in this area, you could also seek the Abbey Ale.

Example – Achel, Chimay Ale, La Trappe Back to top


Blonde Ale – Similar to a pale ale and German Kolsch beer, blonde ales are most notably pale yellow to golden in color. Light to medium body. Brewed almost completely with all malts, with a very slight hop notation. A mild hint of fruitiness can also be present.

Example – Duvel, Molson Golden, Shiner Blonde, Terrapin Golden Ale Back to top


Brown Ale – With darker malts and subtle hop notation, these medium bodied beers are often nutty in flavor. They also have a mild bitterness from the hops. They are usually reddish brown to brown in color, as their title would dictate.

Example – Newcastle Brown Ale, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Back to top


Dry Stout – This beer is dark, rich and slightly bitter, unlike the milk/sweet stout variety with a hint of creaminess in it. These beers are quite full-bodied, almost like having a meal when you’ve finished your pint. Great for wintertime, but some beer enthusiasts drink them regardless of the time of year.

Example – Guinness Back to top


Dubbel – The Dubbel is named as such because it is a stronger version of a Trappist or Belgian ale. Basically the ale is brewed but with a different formula making it stronger than your average brown ale. A stronger variety is the Tripel, which will be covered later.

Example – Chimay Red, Ommegang Dubbel Back to top


Hefeweizen – This is German wheat beer. Generally unfiltered, it pours a cloudy body and often leaves sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Swish a little bit of remaining beer to loosen the sediment and pour it into your glass for an added dimension of flavor to the beer. Often you will taste citrus and spices when you drink one of these, as they are common ingredients in a hefeweizen.

Example – Hacker-Pschorr, Magic Hat Circus Boy, Paulaner Hefeweizen, Sierra Nevada Kellerweiss Back to top


Imperial Stout – A stronger version of the traditional stout, imperial stouts are commonly referred to as Russian Imperial Stouts. They are dark, heavy bodied and high in alcohol content. Taste is predominantly or burnt malt, coffee, and dark chocolate. Strong enough to keep you warm through the winter.  

Example – Firestone Parabola, Founders Imperial Stout, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Back to top


India Pale Ale (IPA) – Similar to the pale ale, the IPA has a bolder flavor. This is brought on by the much stronger hop presence than is common in most pale ales. Often bitter. Color ranges from pale blonde to amber or reddish brown.

Example – Abita India Pale Ale, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale, Victory HopDevil Ale Back to top


Kolsch – This style of beer comes from a specific area in Germany. Just like tequila can only be made from blue agave in Jalisco county, Mexico, a true Kolsch is only made in Cologne, Germany. There have been several domestic varieties to bear this name though. This is a top-fermented beer, using pale malts. This produces a light to medium bodied beer with a clean crisp taste and often a mild fruit notation.   

Example – Gilden Kolsch, Pyramid Curveball Kolsch Back to top


Pale Ale – Originated in Britian, this has become a popular choice of beer worldwide. A nice balance of malt and hops, with varying levels of each, produces a wide array of options across the flavor spectrum.

Example – Ballantine XXX, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stone Pale Ale Back to top


Porter – Originated from 18th century London, porters are dark, complex beers that are full-bodied and often mistaken for Stouts. Brewed with dark malts and aged over long periods of time, sometimes several months to a year.  Flavor is heavily influenced by the malt.

Example – Fuller’s London Porter, Samuel Adams Honey Porter, Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter Back to top


Saison – The word saison is French for “season.” It was named so because the beer was traditionally brewed in the fall and winter in preparation for the summertime. It is generally light golden in color and often has a mild spice character in the taste, often brought forth by orange zest and coriander.

Example – Hennepin Farmhouse Ale, Saison Dupont Back to top


Scotch Ale – Also referred to as a Wee Heavy, these beers are quite strong. They are boiled for an extended period of time, causing the brew to change to a darker color. The end result is a dark copper or brown ale that is medium to full-bodied, and higher in alcohol content than most beers.

Example – Belhaven Wee Heavy, Samuel Adams Scotch Ale, Smuttynose Scotch Ale Back to top


Scottish Ale – Similar to the Scotch Ale, these beers are created by boiling the wort for an extended period of time, allowing the brew to caramelize and create a dark copper or brown color. However they are not quite as full-bodied or high in alcohol as the scotch ale. They have a lower hop presence and still hold a strong malty note. 

Example – Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale, Long Trail Hibernator Back to top


Sweet Stout/Milk Stout – It is typical of a stout for being very dark brown or black in color. Yet this particular stout is known for it’s smoother, creamier taste than most others, often known as dry stouts. The “cream” helps to balance the strength of the dark roasted malt and give you more body and sweetness than a dry stout would. 

Example – Keegan Ales Mother’s Milk Stout, Samuel Adams Cream Stout, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout Back to top


Tripel – Like the Dubbel, this beer is stronger than the average Belgian or Trappist Ale. The Tripel however is one of the strongest of the Trappist varieties, only inferior to the mighty quadrupel. The alcohol content on a Tripel often ranges between 8 and 10%.

Example – Allagash Curiex, La Fin Du Monde, Victory Golden Monkey Back to top


Witbier (White Beer) – This Belgian wheat beer is unfiltered and has a hazy texture. Like many of the other wheat beers, this is likely to be accentuated with orange and coriander to add some spicy notation to it.

Example – Allagash White, Blue Moon, Hoegaarten Back to top


Coming Soon – Lagers…