What Does Beer Taste Like? (Yes, It Varies a Lot)

Beer is a drink that goes back as far back as 6,000 years, making it one of the oldest beverages we have on record. But for different reasons, many people have never tried beer. If you're one of them, you're undoubtedly curious about what it tastes like.

Beer's flavor can range from bitter to sour to malty to sweet. The taste varies based on the beer variety, ingredients, storage method (draft, canned, or bottled), age, and brewing process.

This article will help you decide if drinking beer is something you will enjoy (and if so, which beer you should start with).

How would I describe the taste of beer?

If you've never had beer, it can be hard to imagine its flavor, but there are actually several different beer taste characteristics:

Bitter

Many beers are bitter. Because alcohol is bitter and most beers include a component called hops, this is why. Hops are the cones of a plant called Humulus lupulus, which is responsible for a lot of the distinctive "beer" taste.

Sweet

Because beer is manufactured with sugary ingredients and yeast, which are subsequently fermented into alcohol, many have sweet tastes depending on the ingredients used and the brewing method.

This is especially true of beers brewed with fruit, for example.

Sour

Some beers are sour owing to the yeast strains used and the addition of acid after the primary fermentation and brewing operations. There is an entire category of beers—sours—that are intentionally brewed to have a sharp acidic flavor.

Remember that sour beer may also mean beer that has gone bad, though. It's important to know the difference.

Fruity

Not all beers have a fruity flavor, but you will find it in certain varieties. This is usually due to the fermenting process when many brewers add fruit juices or even raw fruit to the mix.

Why do people like beer?

There are many reasons people like beer. Here are a few:

It tastes good

This is obviously a subjective statement, but many people believe that beer has a very pleasant taste. It's often refreshing and goes down easy.

It's social

Beer is often seen as a social drink. In fact, in some cultures it's considered rude not to offer a guest a drink. Drinking beer is a communal activity, and many people like to gather together and enjoy a few beers.

You'll find it everywhere from beer-themed gatherings like Oktoberfest to your local sports bar.

It's versatile

Beer can be enjoyed in many different ways. You can drink it cold or room temperature, alone or with a meal, as part of a mixed drink or by itself. There are endless possibilities.

It's affordable

Compared to other alcoholic beverages, beer is relatively affordable. This makes it a popular choice for people on a budget.

It's (generally) low alcohol

Most beers have a relatively low alcohol content, which means you can drink a few without getting too drunk. This is another reason beer is popular among social drinkers.

It's relaxing

A lot of people like to wind down from a stressful day with a cold beer. This is because the alcohol acts as a relaxant.

The act of drinking beer often has an accompanying habit like kicking off your shoes and putting your feet up—a relaxing experience in itself.

Who might not like beer?

All of that said, rarely do people become beer fans after only one beer. Beer, particularly for newbies, may seem unexpectedly harsh and unpalatable.

Some people are especially sensitive to hops, which are part of what gives beer its bitter quality. If you don't enjoy a hoppy flavor, you might not enjoy beer. At the very least, you'll want to stick to beers with a low IBU:

The International Bitterness Units scale, or IBU, is used to approximately quantify the bitterness of beer.

While it's fair to say most beer is an acquired taste (which might make it difficult to enjoy at first) most people do come to like it with time.

But even then, not everyone likes every type of beer, so it's usually a case of trying a few different kinds to find out what you enjoy.

How is beer usually served?

Beer can be drunk from a can, bottle, or glass, but the main variable here is temperature—and that depends on the type of beer you're drinking.

How you determine the ideal serving temperature is based on the strength and flavor of the beer in question: too cold and all the flavors and aromas in your stronger beers will be deadened, whereas light and crisp summer bottles must be kept cold to maintain their refreshing, ice-cold kick.

Let's take a look at a few different kinds.

Pilsners and Pale Lagers

You may go as low as 3 degrees Celsius for pale lagers and pilsners if you maintain your fridge within a cool enough range. Pleasant pilsners and hoppier pale lagers benefit greatly from chilling at around 3 degrees.

Blonde Beers

The delicate bitterness and maltiness of blonde ales fit a temperature range of 4-7 degrees Celsius, which is somewhat higher than that of pilsners.

Pale Ale

Pale ales get significantly more flavorful as we travel up the scale. You don't want to serve your ales too cold to ensure that these flavors are adequately highlighted. For American-style pale ales, this means temperatures between 7 and 10 degrees Celsius. English alternatives may be served at temperatures as high as 12 degrees Celsius to bring out the depth and richness of the flavor.

IPAs

India Pale Ales have a diverse variety of flavors and characteristics, and determining the proper temperature range to accommodate the many aromatic, piney, tropical, and citrus tastes, to mention a few, is easier said than done. Keep your IPA between 7 and 12 degrees depending on the quantity of alcohol and hops in it (the stronger the flavor, the higher the temperature).

Porters and Stouts

These distinctly dark and powerfully flavored beers benefit from being refrigerated at temperatures ranging from 7 to 12 degrees Celsius and gradually warmed up in a room temperature atmosphere for the optimum effects—much colder and the more subtle flavors will vanish.

British-style Bitter

Bitter is a cask-conditioned type of beer more commonly served in the UK. It is unusual in that it is served at cellar temperature (around 11° to 14° Celsius) which is significantly warmer than that of most beer you will find in the United States.

When do people drink beer?

Beer is consumed in a lot of different situations, either with food or on its own.

Occasions to drink beer

From sports games at stadiums to home BBQs in the summer, or sampling the local beers of different countries on vacation, there's pretty much always a chance to drink a beer.

There are certain occasions where drinking beers is more traditional, though—for example, on St. Patrick's day in March or at Oktoberfest in September.

If you're into cultural traditions and want to celebrate with friends, then you may also enjoy some beer-focused tourism!

You can sample unique local beers in most countries around the world. In places where wine is customary though, such as Italy or France, people tend to drink wine more often than beer.

In the United States, it's not unusual to drink beer even if you don't go to bars—it's easy to buy a few beers with your regular grocery shopping.

Food pairings

Beer and wings? Beer and pizza? You probably already know how combinations like these make beer and bar cuisine the perfect couple.

Beer isn't just for bar snacks though—many people enjoy a nice craft beer with a fancy meal instead of a bottle of wine.

Which beer should you start with as a beginner?

If you've never tried beer before, I would recommend starting with a mild variety that is not too bitter or hoppy. A pale lager (like Corona or Stella Artois) or a Hefeweizen (like Blue Moon or Shock Top) would be a good place to start.

From there, you can experiment with different kinds of beers and flavor profiles.

I would just steer clear of IPAs as the bitterness can take some getting used to. The lighter pilsners are great stepping stones to more complex, flavorful beers.