Men sitting at the bar of a pub in front of different beer and ale pump handles

So you’re at the pub and in front of you is a counter with many different choices of beer. There are so many different handles and colours it can seem overwhelming. How is bitter different to IPA? What is stout and is it different to porter?

First, the basics. There are 2 main types of beer: lager and ale.

Lager is fermented with yeast in a cold process. It is usually a pale yellow colour and served chilled.

Ale is fermented with a different kind of yeast and includes hops (a flower) as a preservative and to add flavour. Ales are coloured gold or brown and have a stronger, more bitter taste than lager, hence they are often called ‘bitter’.

‘Real ale’ means it has fermented in the same container that it is served from, so it has live yeast and is naturally a bit fizzy. It will be served in a pub using a hand pump. This is a very traditional product.

‘Craft ale’ comes from pressurised metal kegs and may have been filtered or pasteurised. This is a more modern type of ale.

The type of ale affects its flavour:

  • Brown ales don’t use much hops and have a mild flavour.
  • Golden ales were developed to compete with lager. They are probably the least bitter type and might be served chilled.
  • IPA (India Pale Ale) has a more flowery taste because it is made with a lot of hops – this helped to preserve the ale on voyages, hence the name.
  • Porter and stout are dark, rich and intensely flavoured ales. Guinness is probably the most famous brand, but there are others.

Some people think British people drink ale warm. In fact, real ale is usually stored in a cellar and is therefore served between 10-14ºC – warmer than lager from a fridge, but still cool.

See Campaign for Real Ale for more information about traditional ales.

Image: Patricia Hofmeester/Dreamstime

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