Thursday, January 30, 2014

Just like people, there are only two kinds of beer...

There's no shortage of unusual beer names and obscure beer styles, but knowing some of the major style differences can help you to pick an unfamiliar beer from a list while having a pretty good idea of how its going to taste, and by trying something new, you might find a beer that you really, really like. 

So where can the casual beer drinker begin? Here are some basics.

Beer can be roughly divided into two categories: lagers and ales. 

What's the difference?

If this question were on an exam, you could give the following answer:
The primary difference between lagers and ales is the the type of yeast used for fermentation. Ale yeast ferments at warmer temperatures than lager yeast does.
While this is a correct answer, it doesn't address the difference in flavor, which is all I really care about. 

How does this difference affect how the beer actually tastes?

Ale yeast ferments at a relatively warm temperature: 65°F – 70°F (18°C - 21°C). Ale yeast floats to the surface of the fermentation vessel before settling to the bottom. Ales tend to have fruit aromas, and have a pronounced, complex taste. They also have coarse, larger bubble carbonation, which affects how the beer feels in your mouth.

Lager yeast ferments at cooler temperatures (46° - 55°F, 8°C - 13°C) than ale yeast does. Lager yeast does not float to the surface of the fermentation tank. Lagers tend to be dryer than ales, with a subtle, clean, balanced taste and finer bubbles. 

There are many beer styles within both the ale and lager families, but they all have similar properties:

  • complex flavors
  • more robust
  • fruity aromas
  • pronounced, complex taste
  • subtle, clean, crisp flavors
  • lighter body
  • tend to be smoother
  • highly carbonated

In the next beer post we'll taste some lagers.

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