Beer 101

Amber Ales:
Many North American brewers are now producing ales that are identified by the term “Amber Ale.”  This is a more modern, non-traditional style, and many of these beers borrow heavily from the characteristics associated with more classical styles such as “Pale Ales” or “Bitter.”  Amber Ales are light to medium bodies and can be anywhere from light copper to light brown in hue.  Flavor wise they can vary from generic and quaffable to serious craft brewed styles with extravagant hoppy aromas and full malt character. Typically Amber Ales are quite malty but not heavily caramelized in flavor. For our purposes, Amber Ales will also include ales commonly identified as “Red Ales,” and “American Ales” as, from the consumers viewpoint, the dividing line between these styles can often be a more marketing concern than a consistently observed brewing conventions.
American Golden Ales:
These brews are golden to light copper in color with a more subtle overall character and lighter body than typical Pale Ales.  English Ale fruitiness will probably not be over served.  However, the most important unification is that they are brewed domestically and will have less body and hop and malt character than a pale ale from the same brewery.
Barley Wine:
“Barley Wine” is the evocative name coined by British brewers to describe extremely potent ale that can range from golden copper to dark brown in color.  They are characterized by extravagant caramel malt flavors and bittering hops that prevent the malt sweetness from cloying.  Rich and viscous, they can have in their most complex manifestations winey flavor profiles, with a hint of sweetness.  Some examples are vintage dated and can improve with extended bottle age.  These powerful brews are classically sold in small “nip” bottles and can be consumed after dinner or with dessert.  The style has become popular among US craft brewers who often produce them as winter specialties.
Black & Tan
Black & Tan was originally conceived as British pub concoction of Stout and IPA mixed in a pint pot.  Variations on the similar are still blended in some English pubs but in the US the term is used by a small number of brands loosely refer to a dark amber to brown colored beer with a malt accent, relatively light in alcohol and low in hop character.
Bitter is an English specialty, and very much an English term, generally denoting the standard ale - the “session” beer - in English brewers range. They are characterized by fruitiness, light to medium body and an accent on hop aromas more than hop bitters.  Colors range from golden to copper.  Despite the name they are not particularly bitter.  Indeed, British brewed “bitters’” will often be less bitter than US craft brewed amber ales.  A fuller bodied bitter is labeled as “Extra Special Bitter” (ESB).  These weightier versions of bitter often stand up better to the rigors of travel overseas than the lower gravity standard versions.  An important element of faithful bitters is English yeast cultures used in fermentation.  These impart a fruity, mildly estery character that should be noted in examples of the style.  Bitters are now widely emulated in North America, sometimes with domestically grown hops imparting a rather more assertive character than seen in traditional English bitters.
Cream Ale:
Cream Ale is a North American specialty that is somewhat of a hybrid in style.  Despite the name, many brewers use both ale and lager yeasts for fermentation, or more often just lager yeasts.  This style of beer is fermented like ale at warm temperatures, but then stored at cold temperatures for a period of time, much as a lager would be.  The resultant brew has the unchallenging crisp characteristics of alight pale lager, but is endowed with a hint of the aromatic complexities that ales provide.  Pale in color, they are generally more heavily carbonated and more heavily hopped than light lagers.
English Style Brown Ale
The precise definition of English Brown Ale would depend on where you are in England.  It is nowadays much more closely associated with Northern England, specifically Tadcaster and Newcastle, home to Newcastle Brown Ale.  These medium-bodied reddish-brown beers are malt accented with a nutty character, a gentle fruitiness, and low bitterness.  Alcohol is moderate, a maximum of 5% ABV.  The much less prevalent Southern English style, not seen abroad, is much darker in color, sweeter on the palate, and made in a lighter style.  English style brown ales of the former type have become very popular with US brewers, no doubt for the same reason as they took hold in England.  Namely they offer great drinkability.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
India Pale Ales are deep gold to amber in color, and are usually characterized by floral hop aromas and distinctive hope bitterness on the finish.  India Pale Ales were originally brewed by British brewers in the 19th Century, when British troops and colonizers depended upon supplies of beer shopped from England.  Standard ales did not survive the journey; hence brewers developed high gravity, highly hopped ales that survived shipment in casks to their largest market, India.  This style, probably not anywhere as bitter as it was when destined for India, continues to be brewed in a toned down manner in the UK and is undergoing a mini-revival at present.  However, US craft brewers have claimed the style as their own, and often brew them with assertive Pacific Northwestern hop varieties that give such examples a hugely aromatic hop accent.
Irish Style Ale
Irish ales are characterized by their reddish color, malt accents, slightly sweet palate, and low hopping. They are not generally bitter if true to style and in this they reflect the historical fact that the Irish have never taken to huge amounts of hops in their traditional beers. In their native land they have long played second fiddle to stout, and prior to that porter. Lacking a truly indigenous character, many versions being revived in the USA owe more to Celtic marketing than to a distinct character, although the color and high drinkability are the usual reference point.
Pale Ale
Pale ales tend to be fuller-bodied with a more assertive character on the palate the standard bitter in an English brewer s portfolio. In England it is generally a bottled, as opposed to being sold on draft. Despite the name, pale ales are not pale but, in fact, more of an amber hue. The original designation was in reference to this style of beer being paler than the brown and black beers, which were more popular at the time of the style s inception. In the US pale ale styles have become one of the benchmarks by which craft brewers are judged. The US version of pale ale is crisper and generally much more hoppy. Indeed this style is well suited to assertive domestic Pacific Northwestern hop varieties that give the US examples inimitable character. A good US example should be available on tap in any bar worth frequenting for its beer selection.
Scottish Ale
Scottish ales are typically full-bodied and malty, with some of the classic examples being dark brown in color. They are more lowly hopped than the English counterparts and often have a slightly viscous and sweet caramel malt character due to incomplete fermentation. Scottish style ales can be found in far-flung corners of the world where faithful versions are brewed, this being a legacy of its popularity in the British Empire. In the US many craft brewers produce Scottish style ale. The "Export" versions produced by Scottish brewers, the type mostly encountered in the US, are considerably stronger and maltier than the standard versions made available to Scottish beer drinkers.
Strong Ale
Strong Ales are sometimes referred to as old ales, stock ales or winter warmers. These beers are higher alcohol versions (typically between 5.5-7%ABV) of pale ales, though not as robust or alcoholic as barley wines.  Usually a deep amber color, these brews generally have a sweet malty palate and a degree of fruitiness. If "bottled conditioned," strong ales can improve for some years in bottle, in some cases eventually obtaining Sherry-like notes.
Winter Ales
Spiced winter ales are popular hybrids among US craft brewers. Typically they are strong ales that have had some spice added during the brewing process. True to their name, they make ideal sipping beers with which to ward off winters chill and get a dose of seasonal spices. This style is usually brewed before Christmas and brewers frequently make annual adjustments to their often-secret recipes in an effort to obtain that perfect symbiosis between spices, hops and malt.
Pilsner styles of beer originate from Bohemia in the Czech Republic. They are medium to medium-full bodied and are characterized by high carbonation and tangy Czech varieties of hops that impart floral aromas and a crisp, bitter finish. The hallmark of a fresh pilsner is the dense, white head. The alcohol levels must be such as to give a rounded mouth feel, typically around 5% ABV. Classic pilsners are thoroughly refreshing, but they are delicate and must be fresh to show their best. Few beers are as disappointing to the beer lover as a stale pilsner. German pilsner styles are similar, though often slightly lighter in body and color. Great pilsners are technically difficult to make and relatively expensive to produce.
Stouts are very dark, almost black beers, and feature a heavily roasted flavor profile. This is achieved by brewing with malt that has been kilned until it resembles burnt toast. Although not always considered ales by consumers, these beers use top fermenting yeasts and as such are members of the ale family. Porter was originally an English, specifically London dark beer style that was the drink of the masses long before lagers were conceived or modern ales were fashionable. In the heyday of Porter in London, during the eighteenth century, the term "Stout" was used to denote the strongest and weightiest beers in a brewer’s portfolio. The same relationship still holds true to this day, with porters generally being lighter in body and color than stouts. Stouts and Porters are enormously popular among US craft brewers and virtually all brewpubs and regional microbrewers produce one or both as year round brews.
Dry Stout
Dry stout is closely associated with Ireland in general, and Guinness in particular. These brews tend to be rich and dark with a definitive bitter note and a drying palate feel. They are classically paired with oysters, although any Irish Stout drinker will tell you that a pint it is a meal in itself. Draught (draft) Irish Stout is nitrogen-flushed to give it that telltale white creamy head that has made Guinness so recognizable. This process is also affected in cans and bottles with nitrogen "widget." The style is widely emulated throughout the world and is particularly popular with US microbrewers and brewpubs, often as a more full bodied and dryer interpretation.
Flavored Porter
Flavoring traditional beer styles is a particular feature of the ever-creative US craft brewing scene. Flavorings used in porters are typically dark berry fruits and coffee, and when skillfully done the effect can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Flavored Stout
Flavored stouts are stouts, be they sweeter or drier, which have been flavored in some way. Dark fruits, coffee and chocolate are particularly popular, and the marriage of flavors should at best be greater than the sum of its parts.
Imperial Stout
Imperial Stout is an extra strong version of stout, which was originally brewed by the British to withstand the rigors of export to Russia and the Baltic states. This style is dense, opaque black and strong in alcohol (6-7%), with a note of sweetness. Burnt cocoa and dried fruit flavors are typical. Russian Imperial Stouts originate from recipes that British brewers tailored to the tastes of the Imperial Russian court. Imperial stout was almost extinct until recreated by the British brewer Samuel Smiths in the early 1980s. The style has now been embraced by US craft brewers as a winter specialty.
Oatmeal Stout
This brew is a variation of sweet stout which has a small proportion of oats used in place of roasted malt, which has the effect of enhancing body and mouth feel. They were originally brewed by the British in the earlier part of this century, when stouts were thought of as a nutritious part of an everyday diet. After having fallen from favor, the style was revived by the Yorkshire brewer, Samuel Smith, in 1980. They tend to be highly flavorful with a velvety texture and sometimes a hint of sweetness. Oatmeal stouts are now a very popular staple of the US craft-brewing scene.
Porters are red-brown to black in color, medium to medium-full bodied, and characterized by a flavor profile that can vary from very subtle dark malts to fully roasted, smoky flavors. Being a centuries old style, there are differences of opinion with regard to what a "true" porter was actually like and there can be wide variations from one brewer's interpretation to the next. Roasted malt should provide the flavoring character, rather than roasted barley as is used with stouts. Stronger, darker versions and lighter more delicate versions are equally valid manifestations of the style. The influence of hops can often be notable in the richer craft brewed examples of the style. Although Porter was the drink of the masses of the 1700s London, it is not a significant factor in the British market today, despite the production of a few outstanding English examples. In the US it is enjoying newfound popularity among US craft brewers and many fine US examples are produced.
Sweet Stout
Sweet stouts are largely a British specialty. These stouts have a distinctive sweetness to the palate and often show chocolate and caramel flavors, they are sometimes known as milk or cream stouts. These beers obtain their characters by using chocolate malts and lactic (milk) sugars in the brewing process.
Weizen bier is a top fermenting beer style that originates from southern Germany, particularly Bavaria, and is brewed with at least 50% wheat in the mash. HefeWeizen are refreshing, highly carbonated beers ideal for quenching summer thirsts. They undergo secondary fermentation, often in the bottle, and the yeast strains used for this purpose impart a spicy, clove-like flavor. Hefe (the German word for yeast) on the label denotes that the bottle contains yeast sediment. Alcohol content is typically 5-5.5% ABV, giving these beers a medium to medium-full body.  Hop flavors play a very insignificant role in the flavor profile. The best examples to be found are still authentic Bavarian imports, although some good domestic examples are produced and are often available as a draft option.