Your beer cheat sheet

    At Northwestern, our beer choices usually range from water to piss water. But out in the real world, there are actually dozens of beer varieties. There are two basic categories: ales and lagers, both of which you’ve probably seen on the pong table. Here’s the difference:

    Photo by Jamie Wiebe / North by Northwestern.


    Country of origin: Germany

    Fermentation temperature: 45 to 55 degrees F

    Yeast characteristics: Bottom fermenting. Brewers use yeasts that ferment in the wort at the bottom of the vat.

    Color: Tend to be a lighter yellow in color

    Flavor: Clean and crisp. You won’t taste the bitter hops as much as you would in an ale.

    Average alcohol content: 2 to 5 percent

    Common lagers: Bud Light, Coors Light, Heinekein, Corona, Miller High Life, Amstel Light, Busch, Keystone Light

    Most common sub-genres:

    • Pilsner/Pale lager: Light but somewhat bitter. People used to differentiate between a pilsner and a pale lager, but now brewers seem to use the terms interchangeably. Today, just think of it as a “premium” lager. Examples: Beck’s, Stella Artois, Pilsner Urquell


    Country of origin: Britain

    Fermentation temperature: 60 to 75 degrees F

    Yeast characteristics:
    Top fermenting. Brewers use yeasts in ales that ferment in the wort at the top of the vat.

    Color: Usually darker in appearance than a lager, sometimes amber-colored or darker.

    Flavor: Complex, rich, and somewhat bitter. Some brewers even add hints of fruit.

    Average alcohol content: 4 to 7 percent

    Most common sub-genres:

    • Pale ale: Bitter and a sweet, hoppy flavor. Examples: Bass Ale, Dogfish IPA, Budweiser Pale Ale
    • Brown ale: Nutty and sweet. Known for going down smoothly. Examples: Newcastle Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada Brown Ale, Goose Island Nut Brown
    • Stout ale: Roasted coffee flavors. Often sweet. Examples: Guinness, Russian Imperial Stout, Goose Island Oatmeal Stout
    • Bitter ale: Rich in hop flavor with some bitterness. Examples: Goose Island Honker’s Ale
    • Amber ale: Bitter but smooth. Amber in color. Examples: Budweiser American Ale


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