Man enjoying a beer at a bar.

Beer Basics & More

If you think that beer begins and ends with a Budweiser, I have some shocking news for you. It doesn’t and moreover, you are not really drinking that good of a beer. Let’s take a look at the different beer types available to you and learn about how to enjoy them, where you can buy them and even ways to make your own craft brews.

First, if you are a Bud person, I am not going to bust out my superiority complex, I was once like you. I had to be enlightened and perhaps you do as well. My first experience came at, of all places, an Italian restaurant. I ordered a beer which happened to be a Hefeweizen and it came out orange. I was put off, but pressed on and my beer world changed forever. So, let’s push on and teach you a little beer basics.

Is It Ale Or Lager?

The two main classifications for beer are ales and lagers. What is the difference? It all comes down to the type of yeast used to make the beer and the yeast is all of the difference.

Ales are made with top fermenting yeast and are brewed at higher temperatures of between 60 and 70 degrees. Lagers are made with bottom fermenting yeast and are brewed at temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees. These are obviously very different brewing environments and the results are equally different.

Ales are generally of higher alcohol levels with more complexity to their flavor profile. Think of Belgian Ales which have many different flavor profiles and can have alcohol values of over 10 percent. Lagers will have a cleaner taste and lower alcohol levels. The Example of a Budweiser above would fall into the lager category.

Breaking It Down Further

Obviously, there are more than just two classifications of beer. If there was just an ale and just a lager, things would be all too easy and boring for that matter. There is a beer for every taste because they vary so greatly in color, taste and that all important alcohol content.


With a traditionally lower alcohol content, this is a summer classic. Beer fans who like a pilsner appreciate the use of malts and a slightly bitter taste, much less than that of a beer like an india pale ale. The pilsner will have a golden color making it visually appealing and a good start for those just getting into craft beers.

Pale Ales

The pale ale is an easy drinking beer of great popularity. It will have a light malt flavor profile with an obvious hoppy flavor that can leave a slightly bitter taste which may or may not be appealing, depending on your palette. Although an ale beer, a pale ale has a generally lower alcohol content.

India Pale Ale

Think of an india pale ale as a pale ale on steroids. Everything will be accentuated from the hoppy flavor to the alcohol content. If you like a very bitter beer, this is the one for you although many first time craft beer drinkers will find the flavor and the high alcohol content off putting. To level out this beer, many brewers add citrus tones.


Drinking a stout can be quite an intense experience that starts from the beginning with their dark appearance. A thick beer, it will have a complex flavor from the roasted barley used in the brewing process. Most stouts have alcohol levels in the 5 to 7 percent range, but imperial stouts can have alcohol values of well over 10 percent. These are also some of the most calorie dense beers, so plan your workout accordingly.


In many ways, you can think about a porter as a mellowed out stout. You will still be able to taste a roasted and complex flavor but it is much more mellow than that of a stout. It will also have a crisper finish and a generally lower alcohol rating overall.

Wheat Beers

As the name implies, wheat is used as the malt and it results in another mellow profile without the bitterness of a pale ale. Most will contain some sort of citrus profile, usually with a slight orange taste. A tangy beer, it goes well with light summer foods.

Sour Ale

Brewed to favor an acidic profile, this type of beer will have a sour flavor profile. Most beers will also feature some sort of fruit for additional flavor, giving it more of a sweet and sour flavor. While this might sound odd, it works, although you may pass at consuming more than one in a single sitting.

Brown Ales

The brown ale is mild and smooth with nothing particularly strong that sets it apart. While it can have complexity with flavors of nuts, and chocolate, it does not throw these flavors in your face. It also tends to finish a bit on the dry side.

So Where Do You Get Good Beer?

Unfortunately, in much of the country it is easier to talk about good beer than it is to actually buy it. In my part of the world, for example, people are all about the hard cider. While that might be fine for some, for a beer enthusiast, it is just not the same. If you are on the hunt, here are some places to search.

Liquor Stores

Most grocery stores only sell basic American mass produced beer. They might throw in a fancy foreign brew if you are lucky and by that I mean something like Heineken, which is really just a mass produced foreign beer. You are much more likely to find good bear at a liquor store, but not the strip center liquor store with the lottery posters in the window. You need large chain stores like Total Wine and More.

Gourmet Food Stores

Craft beer and gourmet food stores go hand in hand. I guess these stores learned that people who buy organic pasta and ethically raised chickens are pretentious enough to only want craft beer. I am one of these people, so I am not that offended. While I may pass on the 12 dollar a pound chicken, I still take advantage of these stores when looking for a good beer.

Mail Order It

Believe it or not, you can mail order beer and in some parts of the country, this may be your only option. Look to companies like Craftshack to fill your mail orders, but be prepared to have someone home to sign for it.

What About Brewing Beer?

Brewing your own beer is another option and a lot of people have decided to go this route with varying results. If you want to judge how successful most people are, just look on Facebook Marketplace and see how many used beer making kits are for sale.

Who knows though, you may enjoy it. Here are the basics of what will be involved if you decide to become an aspiring brewmaster.

1) Buy Your Brewing Gear

You can buy a beer making kit or you can choose to piece together your own supplies. Beer making kits will be complete, but they generally include equipment that is not of professional grade. If you eventually get really serious about brewing beer, it might mean buying everything all over again.

To brew beer, among other things you will need:

  • Brewers Kettle
  • Sanitizer
  • Stir Spoons
  • Funnels
  • Fermenter
  • Individual Ingredients or An Ingredient Kit

2) Brew A Batch

First, you will steep your grains by adding them to hot water. When they are done, you will carefully remove the grains and bring the pot to a boil. Once at a boil, you will add malt extracts and return it to a boil. Lastly you will add hops, giving you wort. Cool the wort and you are ready for the next step.

3) Ferment Your Batch

It is getting interesting now. Add your wort to your fermenter and add additional water. aerate the solution, add more yeast and seal your fermenter, storing it in the proper location to maintain the right temperature. The temperature you store it at will depend on the type of beer you are brewing. Remember the different brewing temperatures of ales and lagers.

4) Bottle Your Beer

Finally, after two weeks of fermenting, you will bottle your beer. Pour it into a bottling bucket and add priming sugar. Fill your bottles, cap them and let them sit for two more weeks. And just like that, you have beer.

Sound like a lot of work? It really is and that’s why I will just head down to the liquor store and grab a sixer as needed. I don’t get the pride of craftsmanship, but I get my beer and that is what is important.

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