December 3, 2020
Seltzer may be the new king of game day according to goPuff customers, but drinking beer on Football Saturday or Sunday will never go out of style. To help you make the most of your game day experience, we created this ultimate beer guide with an in-depth look at the different types of beer.
We also break down the most popular beers in America and give tips on how to taste beer properly—spoiler: it’s similar to how you taste wine. So grab a cold one and settle in for some light (Lite?) reading.
Lager vs. Ale
Are you ready to have your mind blown? Tom Brady only ate his first strawberry in 2018. Also, there are really only two main types of beer: lager and ale. These terms refer to how the beer is made, though some beers are hybrids and some simply defy typical categorization.
According to Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine, lagers are made with one strain of yeast while ales are made with another. Lagers are also typically fermented at a cold temperature whereas ales are fermented at a warm temperature.
Lager beers range from pale American lagers, such as Bud Light, to darker pilsners and bocks. Ales range from super hoppy IPAs to super malty stouts.
ABV & IBU: Beer Technical Terms to Know
Before we break down different beer styles, you need to know about the technical terms ABV and IBU.
You probably are familiar with ABV, or alcohol by volume, as it tells you how much alcohol is in your beer. Beers typically have an ABV of 3%–13%, with the majority around 4%–7%. For reference, wine is about 8%–14% and liquor is about 15%–50% ABV.
IBU stands for international bitterness unit, a measurement that tells you how bitter a beer tastes. Beer can range from 0 (no bitterness) to above 100 IBUs. However, just because a beer has a high IBU count doesn’t mean that you’ll perceive that bitterness. Things like high amounts of malt can mask the taste of bitterness without altering the number of IBUs. Plus, we all have different palates and perceive bitterness differently.
Nonetheless, we’re including IBU counts in our beer list because they still can give you a general idea of how bitter each style of beer might be.
Note: All ABV & IBU ranges listed below are typical of that style of beer, though there are exceptions that fall outside of those ranges.
Types of Beer
- ABV: 4.4%–6.1%
- IBU: 18–45
- Color: gold to copper to reddish brown
- Taste: toasty & caramelly malts with low to medium-high hop bitterness
- Game day food pairing: sausages, grilled veggies & pulled pork
- Examples: Bell’s Amber Ale, Sam Adams Boston Lager & Oak Creek Amber Ale
Ambers can be ales or lagers, but both styles are so named for their amber color. They’re also both known for their toasty, caramelly malts and low to medium-high hop bitterness. They often have notes of citrus or pine to balance the sweetness of the malt.
- ABV: 6.3%–9.5%
- IBU: 15–38
- Color: dark brown
- Taste: toasted malt sweetness with light hops
- Game day food pairing: burgers, sausages & jerk chicken
- Examples: Shiner Bock, Karbach Crawford Bock & Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock
This German-style lager beer, which translates to “goat” in German, is a dark, malty beer first brewed in Einbeck, Germany. It is traditionally sweet and strong.
Versions include maibock, which has a lighter color and more hops; doppelbock, which has a maltier flavor and a higher ABV; and weizenbock, a wheat version of a bock that’s as strong as a doppelbock.
- ABV: 5.1%–10.6%
- IBU: 50–70
- Color: light gold to coppery brown
- Taste: bitterness mixed with fruity, citrusy, floral & piney notes
- Game day food pairing: spicy sausages, french fries & fish tacos
- Examples: Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA & Goose Island IPA
An IPA beer, or India pale ale, is a hoppy brew that is popular among craft beer drinkers. IPAs have a distinct bitter flavor and aroma.
Versions include a double or imperial IPA, which is a stronger version of a regular IPA, typically with an ABV of more than 7.5%; and a hazy IPA (a.k.a. juicy or New England IPA), which is known for its fruity taste, hazy appearance and low bitterness.
- ABV: 4.4%–5.2%
- IBU: 20–30
- Color: light gold
- Taste: crisp & refreshing with a hint of fruitiness
- Game day food pairing: brats, grilled chicken & anything fried
- Examples: Altstadt Kolsch, Yee Haw Kölsch & Rogue Honey Kolsch
This beer hybrid is crafted using both ale and lager brewing techniques. The result is light, refreshing and easy to drink. Technically, a true Kolsch has to come from Cologne, Germany, but you’ll find Kolsch-style beers at craft breweries all over America.
- ABV: 4.1%–5.1%
- IBU: 5–19
- Color: pale gold
- Taste: light & crisp with a mellow flavor
- Game day food pairing: tacos, hot dogs & chips & dip
- Examples: Bud Light, Corona Extra & Miller Lite
Almost all the most popular beers in America (more on that below) are pale lagers. They’re known to be easy-drinking beers with light to medium hops and a clean malt taste.
- ABV: 4.4%–5.4%
- IBU: 30–50
- Color: deep gold to light brown to copper
- Taste: medium to medium-high hoppy bitterness with a variety of flavor notes, from floral to citrus
- Game day food pairing: burger, grilled chicken & buffalo chicken dip
- Examples: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale & Half Acre Daisy Cutter
American pale ales are a spin-off of English pale ale and utilize American hops. There are a wide variety of pale ale flavors based on the type of hops used, but pale ales are particularly known for their balance of malt and hops.
- ABV: 4.1%–5.3%
- IBU: 25–50
- Color: straw to pale gold to light amber
- Taste: medium to high hop bitterness tempered by sweeter malts
- Game day food pairing: shrimp cocktail, tacos & spicy chili
- Examples: Pilsner Urquell, Lagunitas Pils & Revolver Brewing Long Range Pils
This lager originated in the city of Plzeň, Czech Republic, and has since become one of the most popular beers in the world because of its well-balanced taste. Bohemian pilsners (a.k.a. Czech-style pilsners) are generally darker and with less hoppy bitterness than their counterparts, German-style pilsners.
- ABV: 4.4%–6%
- IBU: 20–30
- Color: dark brown
- Taste: medium hop bitterness with sweet notes of caramel & chocolate
- Game day food pairing: barbecue chicken, ribs & mole enchiladas
- Examples: Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter & Night Shift Awake Coffee Porter
Porters are dark ale beers that are said to take their name from street and river porters, manual laborers in England who drank the dark ale in the early 18th century (though the name origin story is debated). They are known for their dark brown color and sweet baked-good notes, and they are the precursor style to stouts.
Versions include imperial porters, which have medium malt sweetness and medium hop bitterness; English-style brown porers, which have low malt sweetness and medium hop bitterness; and robust porters, which have a stronger bitterness and roasted malt flavor.
- ABV: wide range
- IBU: wide range
- Color: wide range
- Taste: acidic, tart, sour
- Game day food pairing: varies, but cured meats & tangy cheeses are a good bet
- Examples: Destihl Brewery Wild Sour Series: Flanders Red & Sierra Nevada Wild Little Thing Slightly Sour Ale
Sour beers are so named for their sour, tart flavors. They’re generally either loved or hated by beer drinkers. There is such a wide variety of sour beers that it’s hard to pin down a standard color, ABV or IBU, but all sour beers have that specific sour taste.
The most famous of the sour beers is probably the Belgian lambic. This wheat beer, which features cherry and raspberry flavors, is often made in the winter using spontaneous fermentation, meaning it’s left open in the cool air and whatever organisms happen to be in the air ferment the beer.
- ABV: 3.2%–12%
- IBU: 15–80
- Color: dark brown to black
- Taste: malty with roasted notes of caramel, coffee & chocolate plus a medium to high hop bitterness
- Game day food pairing: chili, brisket & chocolate desserts
- Examples: Guinness Draught, Deschutes Obsidian Stout & Vault Breakfast Stout
Stout beers are probably one of the easiest beers to identify as they’re about as dark as beer can be. These dark ales also have a tendency to coat your palate and often feature notes of caramel, chocolate and coffee. People think of stouts as heavy beers, but some varieties (like milk stout and Irish-style dry stouts) can have a low alcohol content. Guinness, for instance, is only 4.2% ABV.
Other versions include the rich oatmeal stout and American imperial stout, the strongest and richest of the stouts.
- ABV: 2.8%–5.6%
- IBU: 10–35
- Color: Straw to light amber
- Taste: wheaty; also light and often fruity, typically with low to medium hop bitterness
- Game day food pairing: grilled vegetables
- Examples: Blue Moon, Shock Top Belgian White & Bell’s Oberon
These ales vary widely in terms of flavor, but all typically share a cloudy appearance and a noticeable taste of wheat.
Versions include the American wheat beer, which is known to be light, bready and a bit citrusy; the Belgian witbier (a.k.a. Belgian white), which is spiced with coriander and orange peel; and the German wheat beer, which is typically very yeasty with banana and clover flavors.
Get even more food and beer pairing ideas in our guide to The Best Game Day Food & Beer Pairings.
Bestselling Beers in America
If you want to stick to the tried-and-true classics for game day, pick up a pack or case of America’s favorite suds. According to Vinepair, the 25 bestselling beers in America are as follows:
- Bud Light
- Coors Light
- Miller Lite
- Michelob Ultra
- Corona Extra
- Modelo Especial
- Natural Light
- Busch Light
- Keystone Light
- Miller High Life
- Stella Artois
- Bud Ice
- Natural Ice
- Yuengling Lager
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Blue Moon
- Dos Equis
- Steel Reserve
- Coors Banquet
- Corona Light
We find that our customers also like Rolling Rock, Pacifico and Peroni, as well as the mini 7 oz. Coronita Extra, which fits well in smaller coolers if you’re tailgating or simply want to feel like a powerful giant.
How to Taste Beer
No judgments here if you would rather happily sip your beer or chug it while spraying ketchup on a bearded man à la Bills fans at a tailgate. But if you want to appreciate what you’re drinking on game day, we suggest tasting your beer properly.
A proper beer tasting is similar to a wine tasting and includes steps like swirling the beer and sniffing the beer. The Craft Beer Channel on YouTube has an in-depth video on How to Taste Beer Like a Beer Judge that we recommend checking out. But here are the basics:
Pour Your Beer Into an Appropriate Glass
You won’t be able to do a proper tasting out of a beer bottle or can, so pour your beer into a glass, but make sure it’s one with a narrower rim, which helps concentrate the aroma. Avoid pint glasses and instead choose a tulip glass—stemmed so you can swirl it.
Sniff the Beer
Start by swirling the beer glass to release the aromas. We recommend doing three sniffs: the distance sniff, the Bloodhound sniff and the long sniff.
- Distance sniff: Hold the glass level with the underside of your chin. Pass the glass back and forth under your chin and inhale.
- Bloodhound sniff: Swirl the glass again and stick your nose in it. Take three short, quick sniffs, like a Bloodhound picking up a scent on a trail.
- Long sniff: Stick your nose in the glass and take a 2-second sniff. This deep inhale should give you a bit of a head rush.
Each sniff should help you discover the flavor nuances of your beer.
Taste the Beer
Take a sip of the beer, enough to coat your entire tongue. Don’t swallow it immediately; rather, let it wash back and forth over your tongue a few times. This helps you taste all of the aromas you just smelled.
You’ll notice the hops at first, perhaps a fruity or piney taste. Then you’ll get the malts and yeast, typically a caramel-y/baked-good taste. When you swallow, you’ll notice the bitterness. Finally, when you breathe out after swallowing, you’ll get another wave of aromatics.
We recommend enjoying the beer as you normally would after that first in-depth taste analysis. So feel free to get that ketchup bottle ready to go.