The first of a series of beer articles breaking down all there is to know about our favourite beverage. Article 1: Differences between Lagers and Ales
Now I’m no expert. I don’t have any beer sommelier qualifications. All I know is I like to drink beer and I drink a lot of it and I try lots of different kinds. I’ve listened and learned. I’ve asked questions when a particular beer piques my interest. My “go-to” pint depends on the day. Sometimes I enjoy good Hefeweizen other times I just want to savor a thick, creamy stout.
Craft beer continues to thrive in our Canadian neighborhoods with flavor profiles running the gamut of spicy to hoppy all the way over to fruity and sour. People aren’t just lifting up a glass of their frothy favorites to quench their thirst or help them see through rose tinted glasses. Instead people are caring more about what they drink; where it came from and how it was made. But do you really know what you are drinking? I’m going to help you find out.
Beer can broken down into two types; lagers and ales. From there they are further broken down into styles like pilsners, wheat beers, cream ales etc. but your base beer is either a lager or an ale. There is a third type of beer called a hybrid beer but it’s a little finicky so I’ll save that to the end. What makes them different are three simple things; the yeast, the temperature and the time. Let me explain as non-scientific as possible.
First off they been around for thousands of years. Your grandfather’s grandfather’s great-grandfather probably raised a glass of ale.
Ale yeast (Saccharomyces cervisiae) is fermented using warmer temperatures, somewhere around 59°F to 77°F causing them to mature and ferment faster. In fact in as little as seven days. Yes you could have fresh beer within the week. Not vouching for its flavour though.
They’re considered to be more robust, aromatic, fruity, spicy, or bitter and have a very pronounced flavor. The taste and aroma are complex and they are best enjoyed a little on the warm side. Like the Weezer vs Smashing Pumpkins side of cool. Ales allow for more experimentation and is where you’ll find your stout, IPA, porter and brown ale styles.
Lagers on the other hand haven’t been around quite so long. A measly 200 years or so.
Lager yeast (Saccharomyces Uvarum) prefer a cooler fermentation, between 40°F to 50°F, therefore the brewing cycle is longer and produces what is considered lighter tasting, more carbonated, crisper, smoother and mellower flavored beers that are best enjoyed cold. Pilsners, Bock and Dunkels are all styles of lagers.
Okay so let’s briefly talk about the proverbial third wheel. Hybrid beers are not so much a type onto themselves as they are a switcheroo of the first two. Brewers will hold fast to the idea that it’s the yeast that decides if it’s an ale or lager however with hybrid beers yeasts and brewing style can be interchangeable. This is when you will find beers such as cream ales, German wheat beers and fruit beers.
Pretty simple eh? It all comes down to how they’re treated and the ingredients used. Much like your last tinder hook-up. And with hundreds of ways beers can be personalized it’s safe to say that any true beer connoisseur really doesn’t have a type.
Next up…Beer 101: Is that Code? Understanding Beer-Speak