Even if you’re a beer aficionado, beer can seem pretty overwhelming. There are just so many different types, along with plenty of substyles and variations from one product to the next. This is particularly obvious when we talk about sweet beer.
The idea is simple enough – beer that’s sweet rather than bitter. But, bitterness is what makes beer distinctive, so sweet beer can seem like a very strange idea indeed.
Part of the answer is that many sweet beers are simply sweeter than regular beer. They retain some of the distinctive bitter notes that you love, just with the addition of sweet ingredients and flavors. The sweet notes make the beers easier to drink, making them perfect for beginners and in the warmer months (just watch out for the sun skunking your beer if you’re drinking beer outside).
Still, as you’ll see, sweet beers come in many different styles, including both ales and lagers. Some are decadent dessert stouts that offer chocolate and dessert-like flavors, while others are light and sometimes fruity beers that are much milder. Unfortunately, most of these beers contain gluten, as gluten free breweries haven’t yet branched into dessert beers.
Let’s take a look at these styles, along with some of the best expressions for each.
Sweet beer isn’t an officially recognized type of beer. Instead, it’s simply any type of beer with some sweetness or one that’s simply marketed as a dessert beer.
However, the beers do fall into a few rough categories, as you can see below.
Dessert Stouts (& Porters)
Dessert stouts truly are inspired by desserts and are one of the most common types of sweet beer. These beers tend to be dark and sweet, with a fairly high ABV (often between 9% and 15%). There’s often a thick mouthfeel as well, which makes the beers even more decadent.
Adjuncts may be added to provide these extra flavors, including ingredients like cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, and coconut. Some brands use natural flavors to further complement the flavor profile.
Dessert stouts are often obvious from their name alone, like Mud Cake Barrel Aged Stout, Imperial Biscotti Break, or many in the list below. These names tell you the flavor profiles the brewer was aiming for. Some beers meet these target flavors well, while others fall short.
Barrel Aged Imperial German Chocolate Cupcake Stout
This impressive release comes from Angry Chair Brewing and is one of the most well-reviewed dessert stouts on the market. The beer comes in at an impressive 11% ABV and is an imperial milk stout that’s been aged in bourbon barrels.
Cacao nibs, vanilla, and coconut all contribute to the flavor profile, creating a beer that actually tastes much like a chocolate cupcake. The beer also has a thick and chewy mouthfeel that perfectly complements the flavor profile and gives you a decadent drink.
Imperial Doughnut Break
This limited edition beer comes from Evil Twin Brewing and actually pulls off the donut and beer idea surprisingly well. Yes, truly. The beer includes distinct flavors of coffee and roasted malt, along with plenty of chocolate and vanilla.
This is another beer with a rich mouthfeel and plenty of flavor. Those features combined with the 11.5% ABV make this a beer to drink slowly and truly savor.
Imperial Donut Break is classified as an imperial porter, so it has many characteristics as the previous imperial stout but isn’t exactly the same. Also, if you enjoy this expression, keep an eye out for other offerings from Evil Twin Brewing, like their Pappy’s Imperial Biscotti Break.
Dragon’s Milk Reserve
Dragon’s Milk Reserve is a little different, as the company produces a variety of flavored beers that are released annually. They all focus on flavors of oat, roasted malt, and vanilla, but each expression has its own distinct characteristics.
The 2023 release was Dragon’s Milk Reserve Coffee Chocolate. This stout was aged in bourbon barrels for three months, then finished with cocoa and coffee, to provide a distinct and delicious flavor profile.
Previous years have seen interesting releases as well. For example, the 2022 Reserve 2 featured flavors of stroopwafel cookies, coffee, caramel, and cinnamon. The 2022 Reserve 3 was exciting too, featuring chocolate, graham cracker, and marshmallow flavors.
Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout
It’s hard to go past Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout, as this is one of the most popular and well-reviewed dessert stouts on the market. The expression even tastes a little like chocolate milk initially, although that first impression is quickly followed by more complex and bitter flavors.
Unlike most other dessert stouts, this beer keeps the alcohol content low, at just 5% ABV. This is helpful, as strongly alcoholic beers aren’t always the best way to go. Sometimes you want something easier to handle.
Odyssey Beerwerks Fluffy Pumpkin Porter
Let’s step away from the chocolate for a moment, with this entry from Odyssey Beerwerks. This is described as a toasted marshmallow pumpkin porter, which tells you everything there is to know about the flavor profile.
Those flavors aren’t just in the name either. The aroma and taste of the beer really do live up to the claims. It would be a great beer for celebrating the fall – and much more interesting than another pumpkin spice latte.
Sweet Baby Jesus
This beer needs to be mentioned for the name alone, even though it isn’t as sweet or intense as some of the dark beers we’ve talked about thus far. The expression comes from DuClaw Brewing Company and is a chocolate peanut butter porter.
It’s a well-reviewed beer, complete with a creamy mouthfeel and distinct flavors of chocolate, coffee, and peanut butter. The subtle sweetness is a nice change from other dessert beers, which can sometimes be too much.
The peanut butter flavor is fantastic as well. This works well in the beer and sets it apart from products that are based purely on chocolate and coffee flavors.
Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean
Stone Brewing first produced their Stone Smoked Porter With Vanilla Been back in 2006. It was tough to find initially but was released in bottle form in 2012, much to the delight of fans.
Not surprisingly, the beer features distinctive chocolate and vanilla notes. Coffee is present too. The coffee helps to balance out the other flavors and stops the beer from getting too sweet. All told, the flavor profile is surprisingly complex, giving you an expression that’s well worth trying.
Southern Tier Nitro Crème Brûlée
Finally, we have this beer from Southern Tier Brewing Company. It’s an imperial milk stout, with a 10% ABV and plenty of rich vanilla and custard flavors.
The mouthfeel complements the flavors nicely, creating an expression that is truly reminiscent of a crème brûlée. Still, there’s more going on than just that. You’ll still catch distinct beer flavors, along with some hints of bitterness.
Other Flavored Or Spiced Styles
Stouts aren’t the only type of flavored sweet beer. Other beer styles can be flavored too and some are even more ambitious than the dessert stouts.
A famous (and now discontinued) example is Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale. The goal here really was to create a donut flavored ale, although success was mixed, as the beer received many abysmal reviews.
The expressions below are all flavored, but also receive positive reviews. They’re sweet beers that people actually enjoy drinking (what a concept!).
Eagle Brewery Banana Bread Beer
Against all odds, here’s a surprising beer that tastes much like banana bread. Eagle Brewery does this by using fresh bananas in the brewing process, which perfectly complement the malt blend.
The banana flavor is surprisingly strong in this beer, especially on the nose. As such, the beer is best reserved for true banana lovers. The biggest catch is the price, as the beer is surprisingly expensive for what it offers. Still, you might get lucky and find a few less expensive bottles.
Newcastle Brown Ale
Newcastle Brown Ale follows the classic English brown ale style, while offering an interesting balance and some distinct flavor notes. You’ll taste distinct nuttiness and bready notes, along with subtle caramel malt flavors.
The beer was first brewed in England back in 1927 and has seen bursts of popularity since, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. Some changes were seen in 2019, with the Lagunitas Brewing Company picking up production for American audiences.
The versions of Newcastle Brown Ale produced in America do have a different flavor profile than the beer once did, but this isn’t a reason to avoid the beer. Despite the changes, it remains a sweet and delicious beer that’s often easy to find.
Frambozen comes from pFriem Family Brewers in Oregon and is actually defined as a wild ale (making it unusual right from the outset). It’s a fascinating beer that’s difficult to categorize, as it has a distinct red pour with pink foam, plus plenty of fruit flavors on the body.
Much of the beer’s sweetness comes from raspberries, but there are also flavor notes from rose, jam, lavender, and even kiwi. These flavors meld together much better than they sound on paper, which is why the beer is consistently popular.
Once again, the company has some interesting other beers to experiment with, if you can find them. For example, Pêche highlights the flavors of peaches rather than raspberries, while Bosbessen relies on blueberries.
Funky Buddha French Toast
Funky Buddha is a remarkable brewery that features some truly unique expressions. They feature barrel aged stouts, limited release dessert porters, and hard seltzers, but today we’re interested in what they call their imaginative ales.
There’s one in particular that’s worth talking about – French Toast. This expression is classified as a double brown ale and truly lives up to the idea of French toast in a beer. To achieve this, the beer has a sweet palate, with distinct notes of maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon.
It’s an 8.8% ABV ale with a dark pour and rich flavor profile, making it similar to some of the dessert porters we’ve featured. The ABV might make this a little too rich for breakfast – although there’s no harm in trying.
Sweet Potato Ale
Bent River Brewing Company produces this seasonal beer. It’s an American wheat ale, with notes of sweet potatoes, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. So, really, it’s exactly what you’d expect from the name.
The sweetness isn’t overwhelming here. It’s just enough to bring this drink into the sweet beer category and balance out the flavors. The sweet potato ale is an excellent choice if you enjoy pumpkin beer and other seasonal treats. If not, you might want to stick to a different sweet beer.
Light And Mildly Sweet Beers
These beers go in a very different direction. They tend to be lighter, much like a pilsner, and keep the hop flavors minimal. Such beers often have a fairly low ABV as well, like 5% or less.
Many add fruit into the mix as well, like lime in Bud Light Lime. The fruit helps to brighten the flavor profile and make the beer seem even sweeter. Other times, the brewers are simply careful with their ingredients and processes to make sure the beer has plenty of sweet notes.
Bud Light Lime
Let’s begin with something easy and familiar. Bud Light Lime is a light lager with a distinctive lime twist. Lime peels are used in the brewing process and add both sweetness and flavor to the finished beer.
The alcohol content is low too, at 4.2%. This helps to make this a light and enjoyable beer, one that continues to be popular.
Bud Light does produce other fruit flavored lagers, including orange, grapefruit, and lemonade. These have a similar balance of fruit and beer, but haven’t reached the popularity of the lime version. For example, many people find that the lemonade version is too sweet and doesn’t have many familiar beer characteristics.
Samuel Smith’s Organic Strawberry Ale
This fruit beer from Samuel Smith doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s a relatively complex ale that has then been blended with strawberry concentrate, strawberry extract, and sugar to create a sweet and fruity beer.
While the strawberry flavor is strong in this beer, there is still a distinctive ale base to enjoy. This balance is fantastic, as many fruity beers end up cloyingly sweet or don’t taste much like beer at all.
Blue Moon Belgian White
Here’s a simple and easy-to-find entry. Blue Moon Belgian White contains citrus flavors and a slight sweetness – a combination that creates a light and enjoyable beer.
The beer is perfect for anyone who wants a sweet drink that still retains some of the classic beer flavors. After all, some of the other entries on this list are very sweet, to the extent that it’s tough to taste anything else.
Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc
This beer is perfect when you want just a touch of sweetness. Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc is also a classic that’s been popular for many years, which is always a good sign.
Stylewise, this is considered a traditional French wheat beer. However, Kronenbourg has added a hint of citrus to make the beer sweeter.
If citrus doesn’t do it for you, then check out Kronenbourg Rosé. This follows the same French wheat beer style, except that this time it is infused with raspberries and elderberries. While this version doesn’t have the same long history as the Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc, it’s still a delightful alternative.
Dundee Original Honey Brown
This beer was originally created by the Dundee Brewing Company but is now sold under the Genesee Beer label (just to be confusing!). The beer is actually classified as a red lager, one that has distinct honey notes.
The honey takes this beer to the next level, as it helps to balance the bitterness and malty notes present in the beer. Despite the rebranding efforts, Honey Brown still tastes as delicious as it ever did.
Hoegaarden Original White Ale
If you’ve tried Blue Moon Belgian White, then Hoegaarden Original White Ale should be very familiar. The two beers are indeed similar, each with sweet and sour flavors, plus distinct citrus notes.
This is an easy-drinking beer, with an ABV of 4.9% and not much bitterness. But, like many other light and mild beers, the flavor profile won’t suit everyone. Some people liken the experience to drinking beer water.
Corona Extra is sometimes considered a sweet beer due to its citrus and honey flavors and light body. It’s not as sweet as some of the other beers on this list, but is still a refreshing lager that’s very easy to enjoy.
IPAs are famous for strong flavors and plenty of hops, but they’re not all bitter and intense brews. Some have strong fruity flavors instead and can be surprisingly sweet.
Fruity IPAs normally rely on fresh fruit as part of the brewing process, including mango, pineapple, grapefruit, and the like. As IPAs, these beers still include plenty of bitterness from hops, but the fruit nicely offsets this and makes the beer much easier to drink.
Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing
Not surprisingly, Hazy Little Thing is a hazy IPA from the Sierra Nevada brewing company. It’s one of many beers that can be classified as a New England IPA (or hazy IPA). This category features strong fruity flavors and only background levels of bitterness.
There’s also a session edition of the beer. That has an ABV of 4.6%, compared to 6.7% for the regular version. Flavor profiles and reviews are similar to the two versions, although the original sometimes receives a slightly higher rating.
Funky Buddha Coconut Cream Pie
Funky Buddha doesn’t just focus on dessert stouts and ales. The brewery also has some other interesting beers, including their Coconut Cream Pie IPA.
As an IPA, this beer still features plenty of hop-based bitterness. But, these are offset by coconut in the flavor profile, plus creamy and fruity characteristics. Lactose helps to create a hazy body that further enhances the sweetness and fruitiness of the beer.
Fresh Squeezed IPA
Deschutes Brewery produces this fascinating IPA. It still registers with around 60 bitterness units, which should make it a bitter beer. Yet, the flavor profile means that the sensory experience isn’t bitter at all.
Instead of being bitter, the IPA is bursting with fruit flavors, including passionfruit and grapefruit. These flavors create a delicious and complex IPA that’s hard to pass up.
Sometimes we’re not talking about straight beer at all, but cocktail-like drinks. Shandies are particularly common. These cocktails combine beer with soda, often using ginger ale or a lemon-like soda like Sprite.
The soda adds extra bubbles and plenty of sweetness, while you’re still getting a distinctive flavor from the beer. You can make shandies yourself or find beers that rely on the same flavor profile.
Other beers skip the soda and use fruit juice or something similar to augment the beer. Sometimes the fruit juice provides a subtle extra flavor, while other times it dominates the drink. Here are a few interesting versions to try.
Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy
Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy follows the idea of a traditional shandy, complete with a distinctive lemonade flavor. The beer comes in at an ABV of 4.2%, so it isn’t terribly alcoholic.
The beer has a distinctive yellow color and strong lemon notes on the nose. The lemon flavor is lower when drinking the beer and traditional wheat beer flavors start to come through.
Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen Grapefruit
Combining grapefruit with beer is a strange idea, yet that’s exactly what you get with Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen Grapefruit. We’re not talking about a mild grapefruit flavor either. The color of the beer is a hint of this, as it’s actually bright orange when poured.
That said, this isn’t an excessively sweet beer. The acidity of the grapefruit provides a perfect counterpoint and means that many people still enjoy this expression. You end up with a refreshing drink that’s sweet, slightly sour, and still has some beer-like bitterness.
If you’re not fond of grapefruit, no worries, Schöfferhofer offers some other fruity beers, including pomegranate, wild cherry, watermelon mint, and passion fruit.
Sweet Touch Lychee Beer
This Sweet Touch Lychee Beer is sometimes defined as a radler, which is a similar style to a shandy. It’s a low alcohol expression too, coming in at just 3.5% ABV.
In many ways, this drink tastes more like lychee cider than a fruit-flavored beer, but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you are really looking for a sweet drink without too much complexity. While this is a Taiwanese product, it’s often imported, so you might be able to find it locally.
Hard sodas just squeak into the sweet beer category, as they’re often made in a similar way to beer, but have their own distinctive flavor profile. Many can be technically classified as beer, although they’re often not described that way.
Hard root beer is an example, as it’s carefully crafted to mimic the flavors of root beer, despite the alcohol content. Some brands get the flavor profile down pat, while others are dominated by the alcohol instead.
Hard sodas will often be too sweet for serious beer drinkers. However, they’re a great choice for anyone who doesn’t enjoy traditional beer flavors.
Not Your Father’s Root Beer
Now, Not Your Father’s Root Beer isn’t the only hard root beer on the market. It’s not even the best one, but it is arguably the most famous.
The beer has been through some changes over time, including a distinct decrease in ABV. Right now, it sits at 5.9% ABV and is marketed as an easy-to-drink alternative to beer, especially for women.
If the root beer version doesn’t appeal to you, there’s also Not Your Father’s Lemonade. That comes in at 5.0% ABV and does taste much like traditional lemonade, just with an alcoholic kick.
Henry’s Hard Ginger Ale
There are now a few flavors of Henry’s Hard Soda, including Hard Ginger Ale. This is one of the few alcoholic ginger ales that tastes pretty close to the real thing. It even has a familiar ginger bite.
Like most hard sodas, the alcohol content here is pretty low – just 4.2%. Still, that’s enough to make this into an ‘adult’ beverage and a very enjoyable one at that.
We’ve featured a variety of different sweet beers on this list. Yet, we’re only scratching the surface. Whether we’re talking about rich dessert stouts, fruity IPAs, or light fruity lagers, sweet beer is becoming increasingly popular.
As a result, many breweries are trying their hand at such beers. There are certainly some duds out there, including beers that are almost universally panned. Still, there are plenty of amazing products too, often with completely unexpected flavor profiles.
Why not try a few for yourself? If you do, please let us know what you discover. We’d love to hear more about which beers were amazing and which ones missed the mark entirely. You might even come across some new and exciting expressions that belong on this list.