Types Of Beer: Ale And Lager

Ale and Lager are two broad types of beer. Learn about the history of beer, the part yeast plays, and representative styles.

Thousands of years ago, man learned to domesticate barley. Combined with water and wild yeast, barley will ferment and create a crude beer.

Some scholars theorize that the invention of beer helped the hunters and gatherers decide to settle down and farm. After all, sitting down beside the fire for a "cool malted beverage" seems vastly more civilized than chasing rabbits or being chased by wolves who were also chasing rabbits.

We've all evolved from our crude beginnings, and brewers have come a long way from relying upon nature to do its thing with the basic ingredients of beer. Commercial breweries, with a few specialized exceptions, no longer rely upon wild yeast in creating delicious-tasting beer.

Instead, brewers have cultured numerous varieties of yeast which are used to ferment the natural sugar found in malted barley.

Cultured yeast fall into two categories and help to create two very different styles of beer: ale and lager.

Within the ale category, consumers will find stouts, porters, milds, and wheat beer. Some well-known ales include Pete's Wicked Ale, Anchor Celebration Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale ale, Bass Ale, and Guiness Stout.

Within the lager category, consumers will find pilsners, octoberfest, bock, and dunkel. Some well-known lagers include Budweiser, Heinekin, Beck's, and Pilsner Urquell

Many people can taste the difference between lagers and ales. Ales tend to taste robust and complex. Lagers tend to taste smooth, clean and malty. But what is causing the difference?

The malty, sugary liquid used to create beer is called wort. Yeast eat the sugar in wort and create alcohol as a by-product. Yeast that ferment at the top of the wort are ale yeast, Yeast that ferment at the bottom of the wort are lager yeast.

Lagers and ale taste different because the each ale and lager yeast thrive in different environments.

Ale yeast ferments at warmer temperatures, usually 60 to 75 degrees. The process results in a faster fermentation that creates fruity-tasting esters and imparts flavors unique to ales. One historical advantage that ales have held over lagers is that brewing ale generally requires no refrigeration.

Lager yeast ferments at cooler temperatures. Many lagers will ferment over longer periods of time and at temperatures less than 55 degrees F. Some lagers will continue fermenting slowly at temperatures just above freezing.

Because the process of changing the sugar to alcohol occurs more slowly at cooler temperatures, the end product is clean and often simple.

Since many consumers preferred the taste of lager to ale, brewers were innovative in achieving the temperatures at which lager yeast will thrive.

Ice was cut out of lakes in the winter and hauled into ice houses to keep the beer cold. Caves were employed. And cold streams and rivers were put to good use. Records show that lagers were made in Bohemia as long ago as 1500.

So the next time you pop open a cold one, consider all of the hard work put in by your top-dwelling or bottom-dwelling yeast. Whether it's ale or lager, by the time you've finished your tasty beverage, you'll agree that drinking beer sure beats chasing after rabbits or looking for berries in the woods.

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