Beer Basics


The bare-bones recipe for a basic beer is very similar to bread: water, grain and yeast. So, it's no surprise that many call beer "bread in a bottle" and "liquid bread." The main difference is that the grains aren't ground into flour and the mixture isn't baked - it's instead fermented or "brewed" into the alcoholic beverage that has become one of the most commonly consumed substance on Earth.

Barley - the grain used for most beer making, roasted and added to hot water (called malting) to create the beginnings of the beer (the wort). The malted barley adds sweetness to the equation.

Hops - the female flower cones from an herbaceous climbing vine is used to add the bitter and dry flavors to the beer, counterbalancing the sweetness of the malts. The hops are added

Yeast - sugars in the wort produced by the barley react with the yeast, fermenting in to alcohol. Different yeasts react differently and create different flavors.

Ales vs Lagers

Beer is very similar to wine in the way its admirers describe and discuss the drink's smells, flavors, colors and other characteristics - only it's usually not quite as formal. Also, in the same way that wine generally falls into the categories of "red" or "white," most every beer falls into two broad categories: ale and lager.

The following subcategories of lagers and ales are meant to help characterize the general styles of beer available today. This is just a small number of the beers that have been conceived over the years.



A light, crisp bottom-fermented beer with a bitter hop flavors and a dry finish. In 1842, this beer was developed in the town of Pilsen (then called Bohemia) in the Czech Republic. It was meant to be a solution to the poor quality ales produced in the local region, and its refreshing, crisp and clean flavor quickly became a popular replacement to the hard-to-drink brews of found in the area. Pilsners come in three styles: German, Bohemian and Classic American.

American Lager

This type of beer is basically a pilsner-style lager, with a few minor adjustments to make it inexpensive while still appealing to the greatest number of people. The flavor of this mass produced beer is typically very mild, especially in the light varieties. It is straw colored, like a pilsner, but less hoppy and more effervescent. Most beer connoisseurs discredit American lagers as being watered down and artificial.

Examples: Samuel Adams, Full Sail's Session Lager, Budweiser


All malt and no hop is the way this beer smells and tastes. It's usually fairly strong for a lager (6 to 7 percent). Bock, developed in Einbeck, Germany, will usually be copper to dark brown in color, strong in alcohol content and flavor and malty (hints of caramel and toasty flavors. The absence of hops makes this a good beer for those who don't care for bitter beer flavors.

Examples: Paulaner Salvator, Ayinger Celebrator, Spaten Optimator

Octoberfest (Märzen)

Traditionally in Germany, every March marked the last brewing batches of the winter season's bee. In order to preserve the beer through the summer, the beer was made stronger with a higher alcohol content. Much of this Marzen (German: March beer) batch was saved for the end of the summer for the Oktoberfest celebration that has come to be one of the largest festivals celebrated in the world. Oktoberfest beers have the high alcohol content of Bock, but with a full-bodied flavor and greater balance between hops and malts.

Examples: Ayinger Oktoberfest-Marzen, Beck's Oktoberfest, Pete's Oktoberfest


Pale Ale (Bitter Ale)

This classic British top-fermented ale is full of hops, creating a bitter and bold flavor. The hops give the ale a big bite upfront, then the middle flavor is usually fruity with malty hints, followed by a clean finish that leaves an astringent feeling on the tongue. Pale ales are usually more gold to copper in color - actually vivid rather than pale. If you like the bitter flavors of the pale ale, we recommend trying an ESB - extra special bitter.

Examples: Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Bass Pale Ale

India Pale Ale (IPA)

While the 18th century British empire was establishing colony settlements in India, the issue of beerlessness became inherently important. The soldiers needed their beer, and found there was a market in India for the beer as well. The normal English pale ales they were bringing on the long voyages to India were spoiling before they reached their destination. The solution: George Hodgson, an East London brewer, found that the more hops and alcohol content, the longer the beer would stay preserve. This lead to the strong, hoppy and high alcohol content India Pale Ales that so many appreciate today. IPAs are found all over the world today, and their bold flavor and strength have made them a popular favorite among beer enthusiasts.

Examples: Stone IPA, Fuller's IPA, Fish Tale Organic IPA, Sculler's IPA

Brown Ale

This term is used to describe an array of ales that all share the main flavor profiles that result from roasted malts. Most brown ales are a deep brown, but not cloudy like many other ales. English brown ales are typically nutty, sweet and dark, with low alcohol content. The American versions are stronger and more bitter due to the different variety of hops used. Brown ales are a great starter ale for lager lovers who haven't found an ale that agrees with their palette.

Examples: Newcastle Brown Ale, Samuel Smith's Nutty Brown, Sierra Nevada Brown Ale

Porters and Stouts

These are the darkest of darks in the beer world, brewed with dark malts and branching off into a variety of additional varieties, such as pumpkin, honey, vanilla, bourbon and more. Most porters and stouts have very little carbonation, which turns off many lager lovers who want something very effervescent. The color of these beers range from chocolate brown to coffee black. They typically are very rich in flavor, high in calories and pack enough nutrients to act as a meal substitute - hopefully not breakfast. If it's your first time having one of these beers, try it really cold for an easier drinking experience.

Examples: Black Butte Porter, Alaskan Smoked Porter, Fuller's London Porter, Rouge Chocolate Stout, Deschutes Obsidian Stout

Wheat Beers

Wheat beers are like bread loaves in bottles. They're packed with carbohydrates and they'll fill you up quickly. In Germany, it's called weissbier. The variety with very little hop bitterness is Hefeweizen and the dark version is Dunkelweizen - all of which are worth trying. Most of these wheat beers are foggy from the wheat, varying from stout-dark to straw-colored like a pale ale. Most fussy beer drinkers find wheat beers to be very drinkable. We recommend trying the Belgian white beers - slightly fruity from added orange peels and spices.

Examples: Paulaner Hefeweizen, Ayinger Urweisse, Hoegaarden, Widmer Hefeweizen