There are almost as many classifications of beer as there are people who drink it. O.K. thats something of an exaggeration, but it is a fact that commercial breweries produce an amazing variety of beers with different flavours and textures, to cater for the very varied tastes of the beer drinker.
The home brewer can also produce an almost limitless variety of beers, but they will all generally fall into one of the main categories of beer. These categories are as follows :-
Bitter beer. This is usually a fairly hoppy beer, with a medium to strong alcohol content. Bitter will come in different colours and flavours, but will always have a slightly bitter finish.
Pale Ale. Sometimes referred to as Light Ale. This is a beer that would
more normally be drunk as an accompaniment to food. Being a light, not too strong beer, not as hoppy as bitter. It should have a clean refreshing taste.
India Pale Ale. This is another version of bitter beer. Somewhat stronger
and more fully flavoured than Pale Ale. With more hops and malt. It should
still retain a clean taste.
Brown Ale. One of my personal favourites, as it can be very easily personalized to your individual taste. A traditional brown ale can be dark brown to amber in colour, and has a very slight sweetness due to the use of lactose in the brewing process. It is only slightly hoppy, and often mixed with other beers by drinkers in pursuit of an individual taste.
Irish Stout.– This probably needs little description due to the popularity of
Guinness. A very dark beer in appearance, very full flavour, and quite bitter.
Traditionally it has a thick, creamy head. Something of an acquired taste,
those drinkers who have persevered with it tend to be lifelong fans. It is
relatively easy for the home brewer to produce a very acceptable stout.
Sweet Stout. Or Milk Stout is a less bitter version of Irish Stout. Not quite
so heavy or dark, with a more foamy head.
Oatmeal Stout. This stout falls between the two previous stouts. Being not as bitter as an Irish Stout, and not as sweet as a Sweet Stout. It has its own flavour by the use, as the name suggests, of oats in the brewing process.
Barley wine. This is a very sweet, heavy beer, with a high alcohol content. Commercial varieties often around the 10% ABV mark. High for a beer. Usually golden in colour, with just a touch of bitterness in the aftertaste. Usually served in small glasses. Not recommended as a session beer. This is quite a difficult beer to get right for the home brewer, but worth the effort.
Lager – An increasingly popular beer for the home brewer. Again, not easy to reproduce but well worth it when it comes good. Pale in color, and light bodied, it has just a touch of hoppiness. To brew a good lager it is essential to use a bottom fermenting (lager) yeast.
These are the broad categories, and most home brewers will produce a beer pretty similar to one of them. A common mistake with many home brewers is to get a kit and make whatever beer it makes, and either stick to it and get bored. Or not like it and give up. I can assure you that using the right ingredients and the right recipe you can find not just one beer that suits you, but many. And you wont be bored.