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Popular Craft Beer Styles

Last update: 2023-09-03

Craft beer has exploded in popularity over the past few decades, with small independent breweries popping up all over the world. The rise of craft brewing has led to an astounding variety of beer styles, from tried-and-true classics to experimental new creations. Here is an overview of some of the most popular craft beer styles that beer lovers enjoy today:

India Pale Ale (IPA)

India Pale Ale, popularly known as IPA, is one of the most popular and recognizable craft beer styles. IPAs were originally brewed in England in the late 1700s for British troops stationed in India. The high hop content and increased alcohol by volume helped preserve the beers over the long sea voyage. Modern American IPAs are brewed with intense hoppy bitterness, floral citrus aromas, and high ABV. The hops commonly used include Cascade, Centennial, Citra, and Amarillo. West coast IPAs highlight hoppy flavors, while New England style IPAs feature tropical fruit flavors and low bitterness with hazy turbid appearance.

Brewmasters India Pale Ale

IPAs come in many variations, like double or imperial IPAs with higher ABV, black IPAs with roasted malts, and session IPAs with lower alcohol content. Some popular craft IPA brands are Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Russian River Pliny the Elder, Ballast Point Sculpin, and Bell's Two Hearted Ale. IPAs pair well with spicy foods and fried or grilled meats.

Sour Beer

Sour beer encompasses a broad range of Belgian-inspired and American craft beers characterized by intentionally acidic, tart, and funky flavors. Lactic acid, acetic acid, and wild yeasts like Brettanomyces are introduced to create the signature sour taste. Flanders red ale, Berliner weisse, gose, and American wild ales are some popular sour beer styles.

A glass of Gose beer, an old recipe containing salt and coriander, in the Goslar brewery in the Harz, Germany

Flanders red ales from Belgium are aged in oak barrels for up to two years, resulting in a complex blend of malty, fruity, vinegary and lactic sourness. Berliner weisse is a refreshing German wheat beer with just 3-4% ABV. American brewers have crafted new sour beer hybrids, like fruit-infused sour ales. Popular brands include Rodenbach Grand Cru, Dogfish Head Festina Pêche, and New Belgium La Folie. Sour beers pair well with salads, lean meats, and creamy cheeses.

Stout and Porter

Stouts and porters are dark, malty beers that originated in Britain in the 1700s. Porters feature roasted malt flavors like coffee and chocolate. Stouts are made with roasted malted barley, lending flavors like coffee, chocolate, and malt. Popular variations are milk stout, oatmeal stout, chocolate stout, and Russian imperial stout.

Pints of Guinness stout beer, Ireland, British Isles, Europe

Irish dry stout, like Guinness, has a distinct burnt flavor with creamy mouthfeel from nitrogenation. Oatmeal stouts add oats for smoothness, while imperial stouts boast very high ABV. Porterhouse Oyster Stout, North Coast Old Rasputin, and Deschutes Black Butte Porter are exemplary craft beers of this style pairing nicely with barbeque, chocolate, and hardy meats.

Wheat Beer

Wheat beers are brewed with a large proportion of wheat relative to barley. German-style wheat beers, like hefeweizen and dunkelweizen, offer signature flavors of banana and clove with from warm fermentation. Belgian witbiers add spices like coriander and orange peel. American brewers also produce wheat beers, like Blue Moon Belgian White.

Collection of German Schofferhofer, Franziskaner and Erdinger wheat beers isolated on a white background

Other variations include tart Berliner weisse, dark weizenbock, and citrusy American pale wheat. Popular craft wheat beers include Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Allagash White, and Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer, pairing well with salads, seafood, and light meats. The soft mouthfeel and refreshing flavors make wheat beers popular summer beers.

Pale Ale and Amber Ale

Pale ales and amber ales feature base malt flavors with moderate hopping. American pale ales showcase citrusy, piney hop character from American hops like Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus. Amber ales like Alaskan Amber are more malt-focused, with a toasty, caramel, or biscuity quality.

Alaskan Brewing Co Different Varieties Of Beer Bottles Display On A Cruise Ship In Alaska

English bitters, ESBs, and Scottish ales fall in this category. Popular brands include Firestone Walker Pale 31, Deschutes Mirror Pond, and Full Sail Amber. Pale ales and ambers complement burgers, steaks, roasted veggies and other pub fare. The easy-drinking nature makes them appeal to craft beer novices and aficionados alike.

Belgian Ales

Belgium produces some of the world's most distinctive and coveted craft beer styles. Varieties like dubbel, tripel, and quadrupel trace origins to medieval monks like the Trappists. Belgian strong golden ales, like Duvel, pack a punch at 8-9% ABV masked by a smooth drinkability.

Duvel is one of the best known Belgian beers

Saisons offer spicy and earthy flavors with crisp mouthfeel. Belgian ales tend to be highly effervescent and bottle-conditioned. Popular picks include Chimay Grande Reserve, Ommegang Three Philosophers, and Saison Dupont. The funky, fruited flavors pair nicely with chicken, seafood, and goat cheese.


The rise of small independent breweries has created an incredible selection of craft beer styles to suit every palate. Hop-forward IPAs, tart sours, roasty stouts, refreshing wheats and smooth Belgians represent just a sampling of the diversity. seeking out local craft breweries is a great way to experience the nuances of these styles and more experimental creations. With so many options, every beer lover is sure to find a new favorite within the flourishing world of craft brewing.

A: The top selling craft beer styles in the US are India pale ale (IPA), seasonal/specialty beers, amber ale, and pale ale. IPA especially dominates craft beer sales, representing over 25% of volume.

Q: Which craft beer style has the highest alcohol content?

A: Imperial stouts and barleywines typically have the highest alcohol content among popular craft beer styles, often ranging from 8-12% ABV or more. Belgian strong ales also boast fairly high alcohol around 8-11% ABV.

Q: Which craft beer styles use wheat?

A: Wheat beers like hefeweizen, witbier, and American pale wheat beers contain significant portions of wheat. Other Belgian styles like lambic and gueuze also contain unmalted wheat in their grists.

Q: What are some craft beer styles for people who don't like hops?

A: Those who don't enjoy very hoppy styles may prefer amber ales, brown ales, Scottish ales, stouts, porters, sour beers, and various Belgian styles that place more emphasis on malty, roasty flavors.

Q: What craft beer styles pair best with food?

A: Versatile food pairing styles include pale ales, India pale ales, amber/red ales, porters, stouts, Belgian ales, and wheat beers. The moderate strengths and flavor profiles tend to complement a wide range of foods without overpowering.

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