The history of beer dates back hundreds of years prior to written history. Besides water and tea, beer is one of the most-frequently consumed beverages in the world. Contrary to popular belief, that all beers are typically the same, there are many variances in color, flavor, strength, production method, ingredients and origin. Beer can be divided into 2 broad sub-categories: ale and lager. Ales were the first type of beer ever created before brewers knew the role yeast played during the beer making process. Ale yeasts flocculate at the top of the fermentation tank and are brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation.
The yeast ferments the beer quickly, which gives it a full bodied and fruity taste. They also contain hops, which gives the bitter herbal flavor that helps balance the sweetness of malt and preserve the beer. After fermentation, ales are usually aged no more than a few weeks or so. Most are served close to room temperature and contain rich aroma and flavor. There are many different types of ales including brown ales, pale ales, dark ales, mild ales, strong ales cream ales, Burton ales, German ales, Belgian ales, and more.
Each type of ale differs in color, flavor, strength, and origin. The second type of beer is called a lager, the most popular style of beer in the world. Some have stated that lagers account for 90% of beers consumed across the globe. Many feel that this is attributed to the more watered down lagers produced in the United States. Lager is derived from the word “lagern” in German, which means, “to store”. A lager is a type of beer that is brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast at lower temperatures and is aged for a much longer time than ales creating a cleaner, clearer beer.
The yeast used in lagers, Saccharomyces Uvarum, produces fewer ester by-products than seen in ales, allowing other flavors, such as hops, to become more noticeable. The range of flavors noticeable in lagers is more limited than ales. They are always going to be hoppy, malty, sweet, or dry. There is nothing wrong with these flavors, but there are fewer variations, which explains why many people insist that all beers taste alike. They are invariably served cold and can pair easily with a wide variety of food. There are some fundamental differences in the way ales and lagers are produced.
There are three main discrepancies between the making of ales and lagers: types of yeast, temperature and time, and additional ingredients. In terms of the variances in yeast, ales typically use yeast that ferments at the top of the fermentation tanks. The yeast normally rises to the top closer to the end of fermentation. Also, there are chemicals that are produced in ales, called esters that inhibit a sweeter, fruity taste to the beer. However, in lagers, the yeast used is classified as “bottom-fermenting” yeast, meaning that the yeast ferments at the bottom of the fermentation tanks.
One of the benefits of using bottom fermenting yeast is that brewers can reuse the left over yeast to produce more beer. Unlike the fruity, sweeter tastes of ales, the yeasts used in lagers do not add any flavor to the beer itself. Much of the taste in lagers can be attributed to other ingredients, including malts and hops. The second major differences between the production of ales and lagers are temperature and time. The yeast used in ales usually ferments better in warmer temperatures, usually around room temperature or close to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
One of the benefits of being able to ferment at this temperature is that ales can age and mature faster than lagers. While ales are best produced in warm temperatures, lagers are made primarily in colder temperatures, around 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As stated earlier, lager is derived from the German word “lagern” meaning to store. Production of lagers is all about the “lagern” storing process. Lagers have historically been produced in more European countries where the climates are typically colder.
The unique combination of cold temperatures and the bottom fermenting yeast, causes lagers to have much more of a mild, crisp taste. Something else that adds to the taste of a beer, are additional ingredients. The last major difference between ales and lagers are there supplementary ingredients. Ales typically have more of a malty taste, due to an elevated amount of hops, malts, and roasted malts that are added during production. Ale brewers, typically have more leeway with how they produce their beer, and tend to add a several different ingredients during brewing, like the ones mentioned above.
These extra ingredients are referred to as, adjuncts. Brewers of lagers only have a few, simple ingredients: malted grain, hops, yeast, and water. The production method of lagers is somewhat due to the stringent Reinheitsgebot Law, also known as the “German beer purity law”. This law prohibits any adjuncts during the brewing process of lagers, only permitting water, barely, and hops as ingredients. Tea and water maybe two of the most consumed beverages in the world, but beer is right behind in a close third.
Beer is gradually becoming more and more popular. This is evident through the new trends of beer companies that have begun to accommodate for the new low calorie beer trend. Corona, Heineken, and Anheuser-Busch have led the pack by producing “Corona Lite”, “Heineken Lite”, and “Budweiser Select”. With more and more companies attending to these trends, beer has broadened their target market. Overall, these companies are innovating the deeply historic production of ales and lagers, that will appeal to people now, and into the future. Although there are a variety of differences between ales and lagers, they do share one common trait, which is that people have enjoyed them across the world for centuries upon centuries.
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