IPAS, lagers, porters, and more: decodified
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A beginner's guide to beer styles

IPAS, lagers, porters, and more: decodified

Words— Kate Dingwall

For a drink seemingly tailor-made to help people unwind, the world of beer can seem dizzying. There are a seemingly limitless number of categories, subcategories, and styles: there are ales, and pale ales, and Indian Pales. There are witbiers and goses and saisons. What's the difference between an ale and a lager anyway? Why is Guinness so dark? 


The below guide will navigate you through the beer landscape, from lagers to ales to porters. Regardless of if your beer-drinking is restricted to patio sips, or if you're a serious suds nerd, the below guide breaks down each beer style by flavour, yeast, and tasting profile to help you traverse your next drinks menu with ease.



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Lagers are your light, approachable beers, friendly, crushable, and usually less boozy than your average pint. It’s the beer that makes the foundation for keggers and day drinking. Macro brews like Coors, Bud and PBR fall under this veil, though most local breweries offer an easy-drinking lager as well. Light and crisp are the operative words here but if you’re drinking local, most craft breweries make more malted lagers. 


Many confuse lagers with ales, but they are born from completely different yeast. Ales top ferment, and lagers, bottom ferment, referring to where in the brewing tank the yeast sits. Flavorwise, lagers tend to be easy-drinking across the board, while ales can range from light to the rich hop profiles of an IPA.



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Brown Ale


Brown ales began as a blanket term for the hazy pub ales of the 17th century. Anything darker in colour and made with cheap malt was dubbed a brown ale, and today, the definition of brown ale still changes from place to place. All will be top-fermented, and darker in colour with caramel and chocolate notes, but English brown ales will be malty and nutty while American, bitter (hops in the US tend to taste more bitter in flavour). Think of it as your not-quite-cold-out beer for crisp nights or chilly days. 



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Belgian beers have earned a cult following: the country hs centuries of strong brewing traditions and is home to the Trappist brewing scene. There are only a handful of authentic Trappist breweries in the world (and all but one are in Belgian) but Belgian-style beers are increasingly popular.


Beglain-style beers include saisons, and tripels, both light in colour with spicy notes, and dubbels: dark and heavy in body with notes of licorice and star anise.  



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Rumour has it that IPAs earned their name from the hops that Indian brewers would add to the barrels to ensure they would last the journey. IPAs will fluctuate in tastes - they can be fruity, they can be bitter, they can be chocolate-tinged: flavour profiles are endless. These differences often depend on what hops are used - English pale ales use a more spiced hop profile while American brewers favour bitter hops with notes of citrus and pine. 


Think of Pale Ale as the entry-level IPA: it's got the hop-forward flavours of its stronger siblings, but its a golden to amber colour. Pale ales are dubbed the reason for starting the surge of craft breweries - it acts as a blank canvas to a world of flavours. Toronto's Radical Road makes one infused with yuzu (fragrant Japanese citrus), and Bandit makes a Milkshake-inspired IPA, brewed with lactose and conditioned with peach puree to give off the sweet notes of a peaches ‘n cream milkshake. 



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Sour beers are the beer world's answer to natural wine: think natural-leaning beers that can range in flavour from mouth-puckering tartness to barnyard funky. Sour beers have been at the forefront of the next wave of beer trends, but the style is the oldest type of beer in history. Before pasteurization, the sour, tart notes of this style were present in almost every beer made.


Sour beers can be found on menus as an American Wild Ale (made with a mix of ale yeast and Brettanomyces yeast, what most sour beers use), Lambic (Belgian style wheat beer usually mixed with Cherry and Raspberry), Flanders (Belgian, again, but this time more winter fruits, like raisins and plums, are present), Gose (German-style, made with coriander and sea salt for salty, herbaceous flavors) and Berliner Weisse (lower alcohol and higher carbonation that most, with a lemony tartness). 



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Often touted as the most approachable beer for non-beer-lovers, wheat beers are the opposite of an IPA: the bitter, hop flavour is skipped for fruity, quaffable notes. It's the quintessential patio brew: beers like Bell's Oberon and Shocktop often topped with a squeeze of orange though beware - some will surpass 5 or 6% alcohol. The beers have earned their name from their makeup - while most beers use 100% malt, wheat beers use 40-60% wheat instead, giving it that light, bright taste.



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Who doesn't know Guinness? That creamy, foam moustache-leaving sip most commonly associated with cold winter nights and the luck of the Irish. Guinness is the poster child for the stout category.  Stouts - short for stout porters - start with blackened-roasted grains - that's where their dark chocolate colours and the creamy coffee flavours come from. 


These are often confused with Porters - both are hefty drinks with creamy textures to them. Both are dark and full-bodied, with roasted grains, and were born from recipes dating back to the 17000s, but stouts are heavier with more alcohol (more, stout, if you may). Porters, on the other hand, are plentiful in hops but lighter overall.


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