Beer is an alcoholic drink made from malted grains (usually barley or wheat), hops, yeast, and water. The word ‘beer’ is used to cover the two broad categories of ales and lagers. In the past ale was make without using hops, while beer used hops. Today, most commercial products use hops.
The major differences between ale and lager are a result of the varying lengths of fermentation and temperature used for the two beer types. They can also vary in the style and degree of hopping and in the types of malt used.
Ales generally undergo short, warm fermentations. This creates “fruity” or “buttery” flavors which vary in degree and flavor with the strain of yeast used and the temperature and duration of fermentation. Ales are best served at 50-60F (10-15C).
Ales are generally more complex and fuller in body than lagers. Ales are brewed with “top-fermenting” yeasts at close to room temperatures 50-70F (10-21C). Ales include a wide range of beer styles including bitters, pale ales, porters, stouts, barley wines, Trappist, lambic and Alt. Craft beers from micro-breweries are usually ales and much prized, making them perfect gifts for special occasions.
- Pale ales and their hoppier cousins, India Pal Ales can be both light and refreshing right down to heavy and nearly unpalatable. They’re know by the trademark bitterness.
- Koelsch and Alt, indigenous to Germany, are ales that undergo a cold secondary fermentation and storage period resulting in only a hint of ale-like fruitiness.
- Porters originated in the UK and identified by their dark color, roasted flavor with a hint of molasses-like sweetness. Porter’s ale is named after the porters of the London street markets who were especially fond of it.
- Stouts are dark, heavy and roasted. Guinness is the most famous. Stouts can be made a variety of ways with a number of added ingredients.
- Brown ales are dark and nutty, not so heavy and with less hop flavor.
- Belgian beers can be dark or light, but are almost always rich and complex. Belgian lambics are often sweetened with fruit flavorings. Generally prized the world over, lambics make the perfect gift for the beer connoisseur
- Sours, with a yoghurt-like tartness, are soured by introducing certain yeast strains to leaving the beer exposed to nature.
- Wheat beers can be light or medium bodied and are very versatile when it comes to adding other flavors or ingredients.
- American Pale Ale, Imperial, Foreign, Oatmeal, Sweet and Dry are other forms of ale.
Lagers are generally lighter in body and more crisp than ales, but there are exceptions. The taste is usually clean and they are better served very cold. They are brewed with “bottom-fermenting” yeasts at much colder temperatures than ales over months. Lagers include bocks, doppelbocks, Munich- and Vienna-style, Maerzen/Oktoberfest, and the famous pilsners.
Lager is made with yeast that works at lower temperatures. There are fewer by-products which are removed in the lagering process. The result is a very clean, sparkling beer. Lagers are best served at 40-50F (5-10C).
- Dark lagers are usually only lightly hopped and despite the color, not very heavy.
- Pale Lagers are a relatively new style of beer. Light in color and body, they are slightly hoppy and well carbonated.
- Bocks are German lagers that are brown to deep black in color. They have a medium-heavy body with a malty flavour and little hop taste. Double(doppel) bocks are extra strong, making them special occasion gift.
Amber beers can be ales, like Irish reds, or lagers, like Vienna, Marzen and smoked (or ‘rauch’) beers. Ambers can be easily identified by their color, which can run from amber to deep read.
Some beers don’t fit any of the above categories. These can include strong ales like barleywine, seasonal beers and fruit or spice beer.