The Bartender’s Guide on How to Serve Different Types of Beer

How to Serve Different Types of Beer

Beer has certainly enjoyed something of a renaissance over the last decade, with craft beer just about taking over the world. There are so many new options on the market, from big international names to small microbreweries, that only make a handful of cases at a time.

However, despite the influx of new and limited-run brews, the basics of serving beer haven’t changed. If you can master the basics of serving different types of beer, you should always have happy customers at your bar.

Not sure you’re doing it right? Check out this guide to ensure that you’re serving beer the right way. 

Understand the Differences Between Beers

Beers are basically divided into two categories: lagers and ales. 

Of course, there are a host of sub-categories within each one, but it’s good to know the basic differences between the two and then drill down into more detail.

To brew a lager, you use a bottom-fermenting yeast strain. This means that the yeast settles at the bottom of the barrel for the fermentation process. On the other hand, an ale needs a top-fermenting yeast strain. As the name suggests, the yeast settles at the top of the liquid during the fermentation process.

In the lager category, you’ll find that most of the larger brewers will have a standard pale lager. These form the bulk of the beer brewed in the world. You also get Pilsners and dark lagers in this category.

Ales come in a lot more varieties, but the most common one around the world is a pale ale. IPA (India Pale Ale) is incredibly popular internationally these days, and this hoppy beer has a huge fanbase. 

Stouts and porters also fall into the ale category, even though they may look and taste very different to pale ales. In the UK, you’ll find English Bitter Ale is a fan favorite.

Wheat beers—also known as Weiss beers from Germany—can be either an ale or a lager, depending on which yeast strains they use. However, the majority of Weiss beers tend to be ales.

Pick the Right Glass for the Beer

Now that you know what you’re serving, it’s time to look at how to serve it. 

The glass you pour beer into plays a major part in the drinking experience and can impact how the beer gets enjoyed.

The classic pint glass has straight sides that angle outwards slightly to a wider top. Despite the fact that most beers are served in a regular pint glass, they’re only really good for enhancing the drinking experience of stouts or beers with little-to-no carbonation.

The Pilsner glass is a tall flute shape. It starts narrower at the bottom and angles out to a wider top. This shape helps to maintain the structure of the beer’s head as you pour. It’s really good to use for lighter beers such as Pilsners (of course), pale lagers, and lighter wheat beers.

You also get chalices and tulip glasses. These do something very similar for the head structure as they provide a wider surface area for the beer to get proper aeration after you pour it. You want to use these glasses with your stronger, denser beers. An IPA and strong pale ales work well in tulip glasses, while dark ales are best in a chalice. 

Get the Serving Temperature Right

The temperature you serve beer is also extremely important, as it can vastly alter the taste and drinking experience. 

Almost all beers should always be served cold, but not too cold. When it’s too cold, you can’t taste any of the nuances within the beer, which is why you should be concerned if beer makers suggest ice cold as a serving suggestion. This is a tactic often deployed by brewers brewing for the mass market.

The exact temperature for beers will vary based on the still of the beer and how it’s brewed. However, you should always aim for between 42F and 55F. 

As a general rule, paler beers can and should be served the coldest. Dark lagers and ales work well at around 45F, while stouts and the darkest ales are better at 48F-52F. The warmest temperatures are reserved for beers like bitters.

Master Your Pouring Technique

Before you go anywhere near a beer can, bottle, or tap, rinse your beer glass in cool water. This removes any dust or residue from cleaning, and the wet glass actually makes pouring the beer easier. 

Then, whether you’re pouring from a bottle or a draught tap, never put the spout or bottleneck into the glass. You want to leave a bit of breathing room and not get the spout wet as you pour the beer.

Start by holding the glass at a 45-degree angle and slowly turn it upright as it gets fuller. 

The speed you pour should be based on the type of beer. Your lighter lagers and wheat beers should get poured slowly so that you aren’t foaming the beer too much. Denser beers that need to be activated should be poured with more force to build up the head. 

When pouring IPAs and similar, strong ales, it’s best to keep the glass upright the entire time you’re pouring and to keep the pour slow and steady. You may also want to stop the pour at about the two-thirds mark and let it settle before filling up the glass.


Serving beer is something you should always do with care and precision. If you go to bartending school, this is something you’ll learn how to do. But if you’re new to the industry and are winging it behind the bar, it’s still well worth taking the time to learn the different beer and serving styles.

Once you’ve learned how to achieve the perfect head and are serving beers in the right glasses at the right temperature, you’ll soon notice an increase in customer satisfaction. 

Happy customers equals a better bottom line and better tips, too. Both are great reasons to serve beer the right way.

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