Most countries around the world produce some form of beer and there are thousands of brands on the market. It’s no easy task to classify beers according to their common properties.
Three branches on the beer family tree
Beers can be grouped by color, alcohol content, origin, and other characteristics. The traditional classification, however, is by fermentation method. Here are the three branches on the beer family tree.
Bottom fermentation beers (lagers)
Fermentation takes place at low temperature, with active yeast in the bottom of the fermentation tank. These beers are called lagers. Lagers are smooth, light and refreshing and the most popular beers in the world. This family includes several types of beer, such as Pilsener, Dortmunder, Muncher, Bock and Double Bock (Doppelbock).
Top fermentation beers (ales)
Fermentation takes place at high temperatures as the yeast develops in the top of the tank. These beers are known as ales. Ales are generally more savory, coarser and denser, with higher alcohol content.
The family includes pale ales, mild ales, strong ales, stouts and porters. The Trappist beers, Abbey beers and white beers, which undergo a secondary fermentation after bottling, also belong to this branch of the family.
Spontaneous or "wild" fermentation beers
This fermentation process does not involve the addition of yeast. The must is exposed to the air in shallow tanks, catching indigenous yeasts that are present in the air. The beer continues to ferment in wooden casks for several months.
This artisanal method is a specialty of the Senne valley in Belgium, where the process is strictly regulated. The name Lambic is reserved for the beer produced by these Belgian brewers.