Ever found yourself holding an icy-cold bottle of Heineken and wondering to yourself "Hmm... is this a lager or a pilsner?" You take a sip but you're not entirely sure.
You're not alone in this frothy dilemma! With the vast ocean of beers out there, even the most passionate beer lovers might sometimes bob around with uncertainty. But fret not! The brewing experts from Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore (which has a portfolio of hundreds of different beers) saw our bubbles of confusion and have graciously poured their expertise into a handy guide.
This guide will help you identify the most commonly-seen styles of beers in Singapore and the nearby region, by their colour and taste. You will also learn about the most common brands of beers under each category.
Let's grab a pint and hop into it!
The most widely consumed style of beer in the world, lagers have a really long history and can be found in almost every part of the world. Unlike the ale, lagers originated from regions with much cooler climates in Europe, where the cooler environments were used for a much slower fermentation process.
This leads to a very light and refined taste beloved by both Europeans and Asians. That said, each region often adds its own spin, tailoring the brew to local preferences.
Appearance: A lager's palette ranges from gold to light amber, with a heavily carbonated, sparkling, clear appearance.
Taste: Lagers are predominantly very crisp and refreshing to taste, with an overarching theme of a very clean finish and no lingering aftertaste. It can vary in flavour based on the specific ingredients used (rice lagers are very popular in Asia), but certain brands that focus on more traditional and authentic brews would make their lagers with 100% malt.
Notable Brands: Those in Singapore and the region would almost certainly be familiar with the ubiquitous brands Tiger Beer and Heineken.
All pilsners are lagers (but not all lagers are pilsners)!
The history of pilsners dates back to 1842, in the picturesque town of Plzeň, Czech Republic. Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer, combined local Saaz hops with pale malts to create this delectable, golden elixir.
The pilsner's distinctive golden shade can be attributed to its unique fermentation process. It's lagered, which means it's fermented slowly and at cooler temperatures. This gives the beer its signature clear golden hue but also contributes to a clean, refined taste.
Appearance: Pilsners are the literal golden child of the beer family. When poured into a glass, they shine brilliantly with a gold hue, clear and sparkling.
Taste: Pilsners deliver a smooth journey on the palate with crisp, refreshing notes. Compared to typical lagers, pilsners tend to be a little lighter in body, with a more assertive hop bitterness.
That said, they are also known for a harmonious balance, being neither too bitter nor too sweet.
Notable Brand: Those in Singapore and the region might be familiar with Anchor Smooth Beer and Anchor Strong Beer.
While barley malt became the dominant grain for beer brewing in most European beer traditions, wheat was also used to make beer in regions where wheat was more abundant.
This is why even though the famous Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516 decreed that beer could only be brewed from barley malt (and no other grains), certain regions had special privileges to brew wheat beer. Due to the higher protein content of wheat than barley, traditional wheat beers tend to have a hazy appearance, and a silky heavier mouthfeel compared to barley-based beers.
Appearance: Unlike clear lagers or pilsners, wheat beers have a cloudy disposition and range in colour from pale straw to deeper golden amber. The cloudiness is due to the presence of proteins from wheat and yeast that remain suspended in the beer.
Taste: There are many variants of wheat beers across Europe. The German style of wheat beer (or Weissbier) are often frothy with a distinctive floral and fruity aroma.
Notable Brands: Erdinger is one of the best known examples of wheat beer from Germany. There is also Edelweiss from Austria, one of the oldest brands of wheat beer that was established in 1646.
Stouts / Extra Stouts
Back in the 1700s, the stout began its life as a descriptor for strong and robust dark ales known as "porters". It's said that the porter was named after the strong men who carried these kegs of robust beers.
The porter was incredibly popular amongst the working class, and production spread across the Europe. Eventually, the word "Stout" was introduced to refer to the strength of the Porter - "Single Stout Porter", "Double Stout Porter" or "Triple Stout Porter"
One famous Irish "stout" porter brewery became a household brand. That would be none other than the Guinness Extra Stout (which was once called something like "Guinness Extra Stout Porter"). Today, the words "Stout" and "Porter" tend to be used by breweries interchangeably to refer to this dark ale.
Due to the use of brown malt - with tons of caramelised sugars - stouts are famously known to have a nice note of roasted grains, chocolate and even coffee.
Appearance: You'll identify a stout even if you're colourblind. These beers come in a deep brown or jet black hue, with a creamy tan-coloured head.
Taste: Stouts tend to exhibit a rich roasted aroma with depths of coffee, chocolate, caramel and even sometimes liquorice.
Notable Brands: Few brands are as synonymous with stouts as the legendary Guinness Stout that hails from Ireland, now a global favourite even in Southeast Asia. Another well-known stout brand in the region is ABC Extra Stout (ABC stands for Archipelago Brewing Company that traces its history back to Singapore's colonial days of the 1930s).
Craft Beers (Pale Ales, IPAs, etc.)
Now, craft beers aren't a beer style per se. They're instead the products of small, creative, independent breweries aiming to leave a unique mark on the beer landscape.
The modern craft beer movement first took flight in the US, with deliciously robust IPAs and pale ales that were much hopper than commercial brews, before spreading globally. All of this a revolt against the monotony of mass-produced beers.
You can't pin down craft beers to one colour or taste to be honest. You have fruity and hoppy pale ales, punchy, juicy, hoppy IPAs, the spiced and zesty notes of Belgian Witbiers and many more – the world of craft beer is as diverse as it is vast.
Notable Brands: Archipelago Brewery has an extensive range that celebrates both tradition and innovation. Some of its standout offerings include the Tropical Pale Ale with its refreshing, fruity notes, the Belgian Witbier with notes of buttered popcorn (!), and the Summer IPA which is rich, malty and filled with grapefruit notes.
Speaking of which, we have previously done a tasting of Archipelago Brewery's entire lineup, so do check our review out!
Traditionally, beers are made with just malt (or grains), hops, water and yeast, with no other added ingredients. But modern brewers experiment with introducing additional ingredients or flavours into the brewing process, or even post-brewing, to unlock new dimensions of taste and aroma - whether it's to make your porter taste more chocolatey or to make your pastry stout creamier.
Infused lagers would look pretty much like a lager; ranging from gold to light amber, with a sparkling, clear appearance. But the light profile of lager with the addition of infused ingredients, fruits or spices, would make for a delightful array of sweet or tangy notes that compliment the fizziness of a lager beer.
Notable Brands: This year, inspired by the popularity of the Korean-wave and Somaek (soju and beer cocktail), Tiger Beer released its new Tiger Soju Infused Lager, with familiar flavours of soju. The Tiger Soju Gutsy Grape infuses the beer with green grape soju, creating a grapey and refreshing drink. The Cheeky Plum takes things in another direction, infusing sour plum and interesting spicy notes into the Tiger Soju drink.
We have previously done a tasting of the Tiger Soju pair, so do check our review out!
Zero Alcohol Beers
A zero alcohol beer might have once sounded like a novelty or paradox, but it's become clear in recent years that this segment is burgeoning. Many beer lovers are looking to make health-driven or socially responsible choices, whether it is to reduce their calorie count or to have a cold one at social gatherings and still be the designated driver.
Given the demand, modern brewers have been investing significant resources into perfecting the taste and mouthfeel of these 'beers', looking to make them look and taste nearly indistinguishable from their alcoholic counterparts.
Notable Brands: Many drinkers find the Heineken 0.0 Zero Alcohol Lager to be one of the closest non-alcoholic beer to its alcoholic counterpart. When poured into a glass, you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference between it and the regular version.
Taste wise, the Heineken 0.0 comes pretty darn close to the regular Heineken, with the characteristic maltiness, slight fruity character, mild sweetness and dry finish. If you drink it carefully you're bound to find some subtle taste differences - the alcoholic Heineken might be felt to have a slightly fuller mouthfeel and a bit more depth of flavour.
We hope this guide serves as a handy starting point to understanding the familiar beer brands around you better – whether they are crisp lagers or zesty wheat beers.
The beauty of beer isn't just in its taste but its ability to bring people together and forge connections. So the next time your drinking companion asks you about the difference between an IPA and a lager or pilsner, remember what we've covered today and get ready to impress them!