Stem canker or blackleg of brassicas, caused by Leptosphaeria maculans, is one of the most damaging diseases of winter oilseed rape in the UK. Airborne ascospores, released in autumn and winter, initiate leaf infections which may lead to colonization of the petiole and, later in the season, formation of stem lesions and cankers. Although isolates of the pathogen differ in ability to cause damaging stem cankers, this is not readily apparent from leaf spotting or stem lesion symptoms. However, several cultural, biochemical and genetic characteristics appear to be associated with the ability to form damaging stem cankers and isolates can be assigned to one of two groups, termed A and B, on the basis of differences in these characteristics. To investigate the relationship between leaf spotting symptoms and subsequent stem canker formation, and to improve understanding of the epidemiology of this pathogen, it is desirable to differentiate between the stem canker forming A group and the less damaging B group of L. maculans. Characterization of isolate type is also important in seed testing and crop breeding programs, particularly in countries such as Canada and Poland where the A type is not ubiquitous. This article reviews methods, including plant assays, assessments of growth characteristics in vitro, isozyme analyses, secondary metabolite profiling, serology, and nucleic acid analyses, that can be used to differentiate the A and B groups.