Beer 101 Article -
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Beer 101

Find the best beers to pair with all your favorite foods!

Pour a brew with dinner tonight.

Light, Lively Lagers and More

We might think of lagers as light, well carbonated, and thoroughly refreshing. But lagers actually come in a variety of styles--from light, hoppy Pilsners and malty blonde (helles) bocks to darker brews like dunkels and bocks.

Lager is a drink best served cold. Lagers not only ferment at a cold temperature, but age at 35 degrees F or less to ensure purity and clarity. Beer that is produced near freezing is best consumed near freezing.

Pilsner Pairings: Try a clean, elegant pilsner as an aperitif--the beer's bitterness is good for stimulating the appetite. It's also a tasty match with spicy Asian food and fried foods like fried chicken, french fries, and potato chips.

Dark Lager Pairings: A dark lager does wonders for sandwiches (ham, corned beef, pastrami, BLTs) and beef stew.

Bock Pairings: Malty bock beers go well with ham, venison, and German-style sausages. Try a Munich Dark lager with pecan pie!

Though a diverse group, each of the above lagers has something in common: each is fermented with lager yeast (Saccharomyces uvarum). This yeast likes to work within a range of about 35-50 degrees F and tends to yield a beer of clean, approachable flavor. Lager's straightforward fermentation allows the ingredients to really shine through and flavors of malt, hops, and the native water's character to excite the mouth.

In the Czech Republic, the country's soft water and herbaceous saaz hops work with lager yeast to create a wonderful, delicate bitterness and pillowy mouth feel. In Munich, meanwhile, roasted malt adds complexity to an assertive sweetness and produce dark lagers with flavors of walnuts, caramel, and chocolate.

    An Ales Tale

    Ale is the older of the two kingdoms of beer by several centuries. Types of ale include the golden ales of Cologne, Germany (Kölsch), pale ales, brown ales, porters, stouts, wheat beers, Belgian styles, and many others. 

    A good ale is best consumed at cellar temperature: 55 degrees F or so. This allows great yeast-induced flavors and aroma to really step forward during the drinking experience.

    Pale Ale Pairings: English pale ale and farmstead Cheddar are a match made in heaven. Try a hoppy pale ale with spicy foods and grilled salmon.

    Amber Ale Pairings:
    Try amber ale with something from the grill, with Indian, or Caribbean food.

    Brown Ale Pairings: Enjoy full-bodied brown ales with burgers, steaks, and sausage.

    Lambic Pairings: When cooking your favorite mussel recipe, substitute gueze (unfruited) lambic for white wine. The Belgians have been doing this for centuries.

    The first "ales" were fermented by wild yeast, like a sourdough bread. Time and practice led brewers to control the introduction of yeast, which produces consistent, palatable ales. However, some spontaneously fermented beers are still made today in and around Brussels, Belgium and are known as Lambics.

    Ales' fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) works best in a warm environment, at a temperature range of around 68-72 degrees F. This warm fermentation produces fruity, floral, buttery flavors and tremendous complexity.

    Ales usually take around 10 days to produce--compared to 30 or more days for lagers--but some stronger varieties of ale may be allowed to age for months.

      Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

      Within the warm world of ales, we find two unique inhabitants: porter and stout. These brews are special in that an appreciable amount of heavily roasted (think charred) grain is used to color and flavor the offerings. As a result, wonderful, rich flavors emerge of smoke, chocolate, spice, wood, and molasses. Don't be afraid of dark beers--they can be some of the most captivating in the world.

      Porter and Stout Pairings: Porter and bittersweet chocolate are a brilliant match. On the savory side, dry stouts (such as Guinness, Beamish, Murphy's, O'Hara's) are a classic match with oysters on the half shell.

        A Brief History of Brew

        Beer is almost as old as civilization itself. The ancient Egyptians left beer in the tombs of Pharaohs to ensure a happy afterlife, and barley has been cultivated for thousands of years for the purpose of brewing beer.

        The Code of Hammurabi, the oldest known system of written laws, contains statutes governing the sale and brewing of beer in Mesopotamia. Those ancient brews were murky, dark, heavily spiced concoctions few of us would recognize as beer today. Fortunately, considerable energy has been devoted over the past few millennia to refining and codifying the beer brewing process.

          Jul. 23, 2009 11:07 pm
          I'm not much of a beer drinker, but I thank you for the insight. I especially like the suggestions you provide with the different types of beer.
          S. Klaus 
          Sep. 23, 2009 12:18 pm
          Why hops? Two reasons: to balance the sweetness of the malt, and preservation. the oils from the hops flowers are a natural preservative, so your beer doesn't turn on you.
          Sep. 27, 2009 6:07 pm
          It's also worth noting that most dark brews are lower in calorie and alcohol content than lagers.
          Dec. 11, 2009 5:55 pm
          Nice short introduction to the different types of beer. I myself am a drinker ( in moderation) of IPA beer. First made exclusively for the British Army in India, it took six months to mature; just the time required to send it out via sailing ships to the Indian Sub continent. Intereswtingly, it was first sold to the general public at an auction of ship wrecked goods. Small samplers were given to the crowd and a near riot broke out when the bidding started. This beer should be drunk chilled and goes well with almost anything.
          Mar. 4, 2010 11:55 am
          My Husband drinks the darkest and sometime to him a chocolate taste I take some of his brews and combine with my recipes great for sauces and brownies
          Mar. 25, 2010 6:27 pm
          mmmm beer -immortal words of Homer Simpson. Great insight on beer and food. I myself love beer. From different countries to different colors. This 101 was very helpful.
          May 3, 2010 3:10 pm
          Not a bad primer but a few things are amiss. The author is clearly more appreciative of lagers. While they do lager at 35*F or below, lagers are best served at 45-50*F. The "beer that is produced near freezing is best consumed near freezing" statement is false; in terms of production, wort (unfermented beer) is produced by boiling and certainly no one would want to drink boiling beer! Also, the "charred" descriptor refers only to one or two types of grain (notably Black Patent malt), which isn't required---although sometimes is used---to make stout or porter. Cheers!
          May 18, 2010 3:03 pm
          I agree with station chief it is a good rough crash course, but there are a few discrepancies. There are many more types and subtypes of beer that could be explained in more deatail. As to the comment by Poppie Fresh it completely false. Most darker beers are heavier in alcohol content and have more calories, they are called stouts for a reason because they are more stout in alcohol content than lagers and most other ales. This can be seen in beers such as barley wine (a very dark beer) can reach form around 10-15 percent ABV. These beers are often described as filling or bread like because they often were and essential part of a lay persons diet adding many things that were essential as well as being a clean water source since it had already gone through fermenting.
          May 29, 2010 6:57 am
          Thanks to everyone for the feedback on my article. I enjoyed writing it and I am glad many of you found it useful. I was only given 750 words to introduce readers to the world of beer, but it was a challenge I was happy to undertake. I have been brewing professionally for almost 15 years now and it has always been a mission of mine to help people realize that there is an amazingly diverse world of beer out there and there is certainly something for everyone. Just to address one comment, the article has been reformatted since it was first published and much of the ale information has been deleted. I am actually a specialist in English style ales and love ales at least as much as lagers. Thanks again for all of the great comments. Cheers.
          Jul. 19, 2010 4:29 pm
          How do you make a black and tan?
          Jul. 22, 2010 11:21 am
          Pour "tan" beer first, 1/2 glass or just under. Pour "black" beer slowly over the back of a spoon and it will settle out on top of the tan beer due to density.
          Aug. 10, 2010 1:38 pm
          When adding a stout on top for a black & tan, do not use an "Export" style of stout, stick with a common dry stout, such as a regular Guiness (again not the "Export" style). The reason is that the Export Stouts are heavier and will always sink and mix with the "tan" beer. Also someone up above noted that dark beers are heavier and have more alcohol that is flat out false, an old wife's tale by folks who don't know beer. They use roasted barley which gives it that stronger roast flavor profile, but a standard Guiness Dry Stout has only 125 calories and has less alcohol than a Budweiser, etc. Color of a beer does not mean stronger. Try a Belgian Trippel, it is clear and golden, yet can have upwards of 10% alcohol, while a dry stout is around 4% or even less. General rules are usually false. Check out the homebrewer's style guidelines at and look to the right column and click on style guidelines for some quick background information on styles and expected profiles it s
          Aug. 31, 2010 3:19 pm
          Thank you for the info...I do like beer and am always looking for a good one that is made in whatever part of the country we are traveling in...ya'll will have to give me suggestions...
          Sep. 8, 2010 7:59 pm
          When in the Minneapolis, Mn.area, check out Summit extra pale ale, my favorite of all!
          Sep. 10, 2010 9:27 am
          listen to Ted. Us home brewers have a lot of knowledge to share. Thanks.
          Sep. 10, 2010 9:29 am
          oh... and summit pale ale IS the best pale ale in the midwest. Surly IPA is my fav. Make sure if your in Minneapolis to try both!!!
          Sep. 11, 2010 7:24 am
          If youre ever around Madison, WI, find some Lake Louie "Arena Premium". Phenomenol Pale Ale
          Sep. 18, 2010 9:00 pm
          The India Pale Ale (IPA) is a fantastic beer and goes wonderfully with spicy foods. I'm always happy to have a nice Stone IPA with a spicy curry or tasty tortilla soup.
          Sep. 19, 2010 6:27 am
          When I am in Madison Spotted Cow or Fat Squirrel are also in order.
          Sep. 24, 2010 2:45 am
          Mirror Pond Pale Ale by Deschutes Brewery, if you're in the Northwest!
          Oct. 12, 2010 11:29 am
          bad water in equals bad beer out. natural spring water is less than a dollar a gallon at your nearest grocery store. must be good, that's what coors uses. don't risk using tap water.
          Oct. 22, 2010 6:15 am
          I live in germany and i love the wheaty taste of a cold hefeweizen.
          Oct. 28, 2010 12:51 pm
          Jan. 7, 2011 9:12 pm
          Where is it possible to buy beer cheese in bricks? One of the best tastes to go with beer. And I have not seen it in years,unfortunately.
          Jan. 25, 2011 12:17 am
          I like to make a hearty beef stew, with a darker beer like porter or bock or stout added to the broth. I then served the same beer chilled. Some of my male friends actually pick up on the similarity of taste. The slight bitterness of the beer balances the seetness of onions and carrots perfectly, but at the same time does not overwhelm mushrooms
          Mar. 6, 2011 11:32 am
          Thank you for this article. I am a born an bread German woman raised in Ohio and a very heavily populated German town, Glandorf. I've wanted an introductory to understanding the history and basics of the beers I love for along time. I really wanted to know the difference in the Ales and Lagers, and what set apart my favorits, Bocks, Wheats, Amber Ales, and Brown Ales. Thank you very much!
          Mar. 11, 2011 9:23 am
          I enjoyed this basic article very much.For the novice it had a great deal of info. I believe to many people need to get a life. So many seem to read something just so they can tell you how it should be done(in their mind) What lead me to this article was a recipe for stew with stout beer and low and behold someone had added another whole recipe. What a drag.
          Mar. 15, 2011 8:21 pm
          I am having family over for corned beef and cabbage for St. Pat's (I know it's NOT traditional in Last year, I used Guinness Stout to cook with and also for drinking with the meal, but most who drank it said they didn't like its' bitterness. I recently had some of Michelob's new AmberBock Dark Lager and really liked the taste. Could I use it in my corned beef recipe instead of the Guinness?
          Mar. 29, 2011 2:37 pm
          A lovely article, with a few already noted discrepencies, that goes to show that beer isn't just, excuse my language, -water. I'm a girly-girl and somewhat of a beer connoisseur. My sister, the wine connoisseur, makes fun of me. There's nothing wrong with a good beer, and then ordering your food to match your beer. I enjoyed the article, but as an article writer myself, I see several places where you could break this article into many more. That said, may we soon expect a full course in beer? I'd love to see "Beer 102" and "Beer 201" and so on. Happy writing! Also, has anyone else noted that Spaten Munich's Optimator (I believe, but I know it's Spaten, and a dark abbey ale) actually tastes better at room temperature? Weird, I know.
          Apr. 17, 2011 2:02 pm
          Try brewing your own beer. there are some realy great books on how to do it. for me this was the best way to understand beer styles. I grew up thinking bock beer was the leftover bottom of the barrel stuff. Turns out I was wrong(first time for everything i guess).It is a delicious style all its own. Beer is like food. With patience and practice you can change recipies and come up with great stuff. There are a lot of beers that are seasonal too. There is a great book by Michael Jackson (no not the pop star) about beer styles that realy can't be beat.
          May 12, 2011 3:37 pm
          Black Butte Porter from the Deschutes Brewery in Oregon is some of the best Porter ever.
          Jul. 29, 2011 12:04 pm
          Unless I missed it, I saw no mention in the article about beer with pizza! My preference is a chilled dark beer. Try it!
          Aug. 2, 2011 12:42 pm
          lharlop, thanks for mentioning Deschutes. I live in Bend, OR, home of way too many microbrews including Deschutes . . . Everyone around here is a beer snob and a home brewer, we all learned to drink on microbrews and wouldn't touch a "flavored water" macrobrew if you paid us. Though I have had some home brews better, as a widely available beer, BB porter is my favorite as well. Great with hamburgers, pizza, anything with some good fat in it. I have had it with cheesecake before and that is pretty dang good too.
          Sep. 1, 2011 7:00 am
          I'm new to Allrecipes and I just noticed a comment from a couple years back about dark beers tend to have less calories than lagers. Just an FYI to those who are actually trying to drink beer with less calories...all beers are either Ales or Lagers period. All styles of beer such as porters, pale ales, pilsners, etc. fall into one of these two brewing processes. Therefore, it is possible to have a dark lager. Examples are Sam Adams Black Lager and Xingu (a brazilian black lager). Color of the beer now-a-days doesn't say much about the actual beer any more. There are even Blonde Bocks out there, crazy.
          Nov. 11, 2011 8:07 am
          I like all kinds of beer, I prefer dark. Samuel Adams Octoberfest beer is the best for my taste.
          Jan. 28, 2012 12:24 pm
          a good Lager. Medium. Very nice.
          sage honey 
          Feb. 1, 2012 12:00 pm
          I like Erdinger with any meal, or no meal, after work, but I most like it for the one Dang beer that satisfies when I have just-one-dang-beer. For all others Lienenkugel. But Erdinger will cost you and it is so worth it. Wine with anything and everything?... Dragonfly Bay, a Frontac grape wine. T-Bone?...Jim Beam Devils cut. Not that I know it all, but its the simple things in life. Right?
          Mar. 9, 2012 8:32 pm
          Slow cook those short ribs with a 16oz Guiness and they fall apart.
          Mar. 9, 2012 10:53 pm
          I use beer for marinading and cooking, I like the way is makes tenderizers the food and the favor it adds.
          Mar. 10, 2012 5:34 am
          I don't drink beer or cook with it, but I've admittedly remained ignorant about it despite being paid to serve it for years. I'm not sure why I purposely avoided retaining too much information about the subject, but now I definitely want to try some of the beer/slow cooker recipes featured. Oh, and the suggestion about adding it to brownies! Now I understand why some people are so choosy about their beer. Thank you!
          Mar. 10, 2012 5:50 am
          When I think of pairing foods and drinks, my mind always jumps to wine. Brilliant to see beers broken down the same way!
          Mar. 10, 2012 8:27 am
          you can call me late for dinner but dont mess with my pale ale! I by it by the half barrel, The ultimate in recycle right?
          robert vietti 
          Mar. 10, 2012 5:41 pm
          A very informative article. Unlike wine, that takes so long to "peak in flavor" I will drink prior to its "time". With beer I will wait on the completion of the fermentation process and to obtain the approximate ABV. Our living two miles from Sierra Nevada Brewery and their twenty varieties keeps friends and relatives in close contact with us. No, I am not giving out my address!!
          Mar. 11, 2012 6:23 am
          we have become beer " snobs " in the last few years lol. Now I can use some of those awesome brews when we cook.Thanks for the article
          Mar. 23, 2012 6:18 pm
          Mar. 25, 2012 3:44 am
          If you love beer and cooking and if you home brew or live near a brewery try out some spent grain recipes. I make a wonderful bread, pizza dough and cookies with it. The flavors, texture and colors add an interesting touch. An ESB makes for a great pizza and a porter will give your oatmeal cookies a nice chocolate flavor. My bread is, by others opinion, wonderful. Living in Asheville,NC being Beer City USA I have all kinds of options to use spent grain. I am working on a spent grain patty that should be as good as any vegie burger.
          Mar. 27, 2012 2:44 pm
          I'm a home brewer and have made many many different brews over the years, but I have a motto, "You don't eat yellow snow and you don't drink yellow beer".
          Apr. 10, 2012 12:54 pm
          There is no place in the world that has better beer than THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST!
          May 28, 2012 4:44 pm
          Beer is delicious.
          Oct. 6, 2012 12:13 pm
          I have been cooking with beer for years. I have a bread recipe as well as tempura beer batter, and a pork roast and sauerkraut that uses beer.
          Don Hankins 
          Aug. 15, 2013 7:37 am
          I used to make my own beer using Blue Ribbon Malt and hops kit(light) and adding my sugar, yeast and water to make a great tasting home brew.I can no longer find the kit and I don't know if it was a lager or ale. But it was smooth and tasty. Any help would be appreciated.
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