The Two Most Common Types of Beer: A Comprehensive Guide

by Kaia

Beer, a beloved and ancient beverage, comes in an astonishing array of styles, flavors, and variations. While there are numerous types of beer, two stand out as the most common and widely consumed: Lager and Ale. In this professional article, we will delve into the world of beer, exploring the characteristics, brewing methods, and global popularity of Lager and Ale, the foundational pillars of the beer world.


Understanding the Basics of Beer

Before we explore Lager and Ale, it’s essential to understand some fundamental aspects of beer. Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermentation of malted grains, hops, water, and yeast. The primary source of fermentable sugars in beer is malted barley, although other grains such as wheat, rye, and oats are used in various styles. Hops are added to provide bitterness, aroma, and flavor, while yeast consumes the sugars and produces alcohol and carbonation. The choice of yeast, malt, and hops, along with brewing techniques, determines the style of beer produced.


Lager: Crisp, Clean, and Refreshing

Lager is one of the two most common types of beer and is known for its clean and crisp profile. Lagers are fermented at low temperatures, typically between 45-55°F (7-13°C), and they are conditioned at even lower temperatures. This cold fermentation and conditioning process results in a beer with a smooth, clean taste and a well-defined, refreshing finish.


Pale Lager: The most recognized substyle of Lager is Pale Lager. It’s characterized by its light, golden appearance, mild bitterness, and a subtle, grainy sweetness. Brands like Budweiser and Heineken fall under this category.


Pilsner: Pilsner is a substyle of Pale Lager that originated in the Czech Republic. It features a crisper, more pronounced bitterness and a balance of floral and herbal hop flavors. The renowned Pilsner Urquell is a prime example.

Amber Lager: Amber Lagers have a richer, amber to reddish-brown color and a more prominent malt character, often with a toasted or caramel sweetness. Vienna Lager is a classic example.

Dark Lager: Dark Lagers encompass a spectrum of beers from light brown to nearly black in color. They often feature flavors of roasted malt, coffee, and chocolate. Dunkel, Schwarzbier, and Baltic Porter are notable examples.

Ale: Diverse, Flavorful, and Complex

Ales, the other of the two most common beer types, are brewed using warmer fermentation temperatures, typically ranging from 60-72°F (15-22°C). This warmer fermentation creates a more complex flavor profile with a broad range of fruity, spicy, and estery notes.

Pale Ale: Pale Ales are characterized by their balanced malt and hop flavors, often with a notable hoppy aroma and bitterness. Examples include American Pale Ale (APA) and English Pale Ale.

India Pale Ale (IPA): IPA is a subset of Pale Ale that has gained immense popularity. It features a significant hop character, higher alcohol content, and various substyles like West Coast IPA, New England IPA (NEIPA), and Double IPA (DIPA).

Brown Ale: Brown Ales are known for their malt-forward character, with flavors ranging from nutty and caramel to chocolatey. English Brown Ale and American Brown Ale are common substyles.

Stout: Stouts are dark, rich, and full-bodied ales. They come in various substyles, including Dry Stout, Sweet Stout, Oatmeal Stout, and Imperial Stout, each with distinct flavors and characteristics.

Porter: Porters share similarities with stouts but are often lighter and less robust. They can range from Brown Porter to robust Baltic Porter.

Belgian Ale: Belgian Ales are celebrated for their unique yeast strains, producing fruity, spicy, and complex flavors. Substyles include Belgian Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel, as well as the sour Lambic and Gueuze.

Global Popularity and Distribution

Both Lager and Ale have found their way to beer enthusiasts across the globe, making them the most common types of beer worldwide. Their popularity and distribution reflect the diverse preferences of beer consumers and the adaptability of these styles to different regions and palates.

Lager’s Global Presence:

European Lager: Pale Lager, especially Pilsner, is exceptionally popular in Europe. Czech Republic, Germany, and the Netherlands have a rich brewing tradition, and brands like Heineken, Stella Artois, and Beck’s are globally recognized.

American Lager: In the United States, Light Lager styles like American Light Lager, American Adjunct Lager, and American Lager are notably popular. Brands like Budweiser and Coors play a significant role in the American beer market.

Asian Lager: In Asia, particularly in countries like China and Japan, light and refreshing Lagers are favored. Brands like Tsingtao and Asahi Super Dry are prominent.

Latin American Lager: Latin American countries have their own Lager traditions, with brands like Corona (Mexico) and Brahma (Brazil) enjoying wide appeal.

Ale’s Global Influence:

American Craft Ales: The craft beer movement in the United States has propelled Ale styles, especially IPA, into the global spotlight. American craft breweries like Sierra Nevada and Stone Brewing have gained international recognition.

English Ales: English Ales, including Bitter, Pale Ale, and Stout, have a strong global presence, and brands like Samuel Smith’s and Fuller’s are celebrated for their quality.

Belgian Ales: Belgian Ales are renowned for their uniqueness and complexity, with breweries like Chimay, Duvel, and Westmalle exporting their beers to numerous countries.

Irish Stouts: Iconic Irish Stouts like Guinness have a global following, and they are widely available in both draught and bottled forms.

Brewing Techniques: The Key Difference

The primary distinction between Lager and Ale lies in their brewing techniques, particularly the yeast and fermentation process. This difference in production results in the unique characteristics of each type.

Yeast: Lager is brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast, known as Saccharomyces pastorianus. This yeast settles at the bottom of the fermentation vessel and thrives at lower temperatures. It produces fewer esters and phenols, contributing to Lager’s clean and crisp profile. In contrast, Ale is brewed with top-fermenting yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which ferments at warmer temperatures and imparts a wider array of flavors and aromas to the beer.

Fermentation Temperature: Lager is fermented at cooler temperatures, typically between 45-55°F (7-13°C), and then cold-conditioned for several weeks. This process results in a smooth, clean taste. Ale, on the other hand, ferments at warmer temperatures, ranging from 60-72°F (15-22°C), producing a more complex and flavorful beer.

Aging: Lager undergoes a period of cold conditioning or lagering, typically at near-freezing temperatures. This extended aging process helps further clarify the beer and develop its clean character. Ale, while it can be aged, often relies on the yeast’s unique characteristics for flavor development.


Lager and Ale are the two most common types of beer, each offering a unique and distinct drinking experience. Lager, with its clean and crisp profile, is celebrated for its refreshing qualities and is enjoyed worldwide. Ale, on the other hand, is diverse and flavorful, with a vast range of substyles to explore.



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