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The two main categories are ales and lagers. They are distinguished by the yeast strains that are used. Ale yeast ferments from the top of the fermenter and lager yeast the bottom, they also have many different characteristics such as flavor profiles and temperature requirements. Lager requires colder temperatures.
There are many different styles of beer, and it is generally accepted that beer is brewed from malted grain (in almost all cases at least some portion is barley), water, hops and yeast. The different styles get their flavors from the types of grain used, the varieties of hops, and the strain of yeast. Note that mead is not beer -- it is brewed from honey, ...
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