From Ales to IPAs: Decoding Craft Beer Terms

Words: Crush

Whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur or new to the world of craft beer, this guide will help you navigate the hoppy, malty, and sometimes confusing beer terminology out there.

But first, here are the categories…

When it comes to beer, there’s a vast and diverse selection that can cater to every palate. Beers can be broadly categorised into three main types: ales, lagers and specialty beers. Here’s a brief overview to help you understand the difference between all three:


Ales encompass a wide range of beer styles, from pale ales and IPAs to stouts and porters. The key characteristic of ales is the warmer fermentation process, where yeast works its magic at higher temperatures. This results in beers with complex and robust flavours, often having fruity, malty and spicy notes. If you’re into bold brews, ales are your playground.


On the other side of the spectrum, we have lagers. These beers undergo a cooler fermentation process, yielding a cleaner and more crisp taste. Lagers are known for their smoothness and easy-drinking qualities, making them popular. From refreshing pilsners to rich bocks, lagers are great for those who prefer subtle and approachable flavour profiles.

Specialty Beers

As if ales and lagers weren’t enough, there’s also a broad range of specialty beers that defy traditional brews. This category includes everything from sour beers with their tantalising tartness to barrel-aged brews that pick up unique flavours from the wooden casks they mature in. Specialty beers are a playground for creativity, allowing brewers to experiment with ingredients, techniques and even traditional methods that surprise our taste buds.

Your Cheat Sheet to Craft Beer Terms

Delve into the world of craft beer with these common terms:


A diverse category of beers with fruity, malty and sometimes spicy flavours. Unlike lagers, ales ferment at warmer temperatures, letting the yeast work its magic.

Amber Ale

This beer falls between pale ales and darker ales on the colour spectrum. It offers a balanced blend of caramel sweetness and hoppy bitterness, making it a crowd-pleaser.


An oak barrel matured beer that soaks up flavours from the wood, resulting in a complex and boozy treat.

Barrel-Aged Sour

Take the tartness of a sour beer and age it in barrels – what you’ll get is a complex elixir with a touch of oakiness, also known as ‘barrel-aged sour beer’.

Belgian Trippel

Hailing from Belgium, this strong and potent beer packs a punch with fruity esters (organic compounds) and a delightful spiciness. Sip cautiously, or it might have you seeing double.

Double IPA (DIPA)

For those who crave an extra hoppy kick, Double IPA delivers a higher alcohol content and a double dose of hops, offering a flavour-packed and aromatic drink.


Originating from Germany, gose is a sour beer with a twist of salt and coriander (yes). It’s a tantalising blend of earthy and salty flavours.


Hailing from Germany, hefeweizens are unfiltered wheat beers that boast a hazy appearance and a signature banana and clove aroma. They’re a true delight for those seeking a taste of Bavarian sunshine.

IPA (India Pale Ale)

IPAs are known for their hoppy bitterness and bold flavours. From citrusy West Coast IPAs to hazy New England IPAs, this hoppy beer is a favourite for many.


From Cologne, Germany, kölsch is a top-fermented brew that undergoes a cold conditioning process. The result is a light, crisp and mildly fruity beer that goes down like a dream.


The smooth operator of beers, lagers are known for their clean and crisp taste. These brews are fermented and conditioned at low temps, giving them that signature refreshing finish.

Milk Stout

Love stouts but also have a sweet tooth? Enter milk stout! Brewed with lactose (milk sugar), it adds a velvety sweetness and a creamy mouthfeel to this bold and dark brew.


A golden, effervescent delight that originated in the Czech Republic. Pilsners are crisp, clean and highly quaffable. Just don’t down it too quickly!


Cousin of the stout, porters are a bit lighter, but still packed with flavour. Porters offer a harmonious blend of roasted malts and subtle sweetness.


In the mood for a smoky beer? Rauchbiers from Bamberg, Germany, are brewed with malt dried over an open flame, infusing them with a distinctive smoky aroma and taste.

Session Beer

The responsible choice for extended drinking – session beers have a lower alcohol content but don’t skimp on taste. Perfect for when you’re in it for the long haul.


Pucker up! Sour beers are intentionally tart and tangy, thanks to wild yeast strains or added fruit. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but don’t knock it until you try it!


Dark and mysterious, stouts offer a roasty and rich experience with notes of coffee, chocolate, and sometimes even a hint of smoke. The perfect companion for chilly nights or anytime you want a comforting beer.


A strong and potent beer like its Belgian cousin, the Belgian Tripel, but with a unique twist. Tripels exhibit fruity and spicy notes, but they are slightly lighter in colour and body.

Wheat Beer

Brewed with a generous portion of wheat, these beers are cloudy, refreshing, and often adorned with a slice of orange or lemon. A perfect summer sipper.

Enrol in Beer School

Yes, it’s a thing! Local beer aficionado, Troye May (AKA #Beertime), offers Beer School, and the sessions (see what we did there?) are designed to help you develop a deeper appreciation for this age-old brew. From novice to fanatic, he’s got you covered with easy-to-understand and fun lessons that are held in various areas.

Check out the website to find out when the next classes are happening. Also, peep his very popular #Beertime podcast to have a good laugh and learn all about craft beer. We particularly loved episode 104 with origami artist White on Rice, and episode 105 with the guys from Beer Country – authors of Beer, Food, FirePots, Pans & Potjies.

Want more? Try these tasty beer-filled recipes

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