Different Kinds of Beer
Given the amazing number of brands of beer, domestic or imported, you can find in any supermarket, it seems somewhat odd that when you want to discuss different kinds of beer, it all comes down to two kinds: lagers and ales. Some people compare this to the fact that all the wines in the world come down to two kinds: white and red.
The differences between an ale and a lager starts with yeasts and temperatures. The yeast used in ales ferments on the top of the tank while those used in lagers ferment on the bottom of the tank. Ales prefer temperatures to be warm as well, in the 60- to 72-degree range. Lagers, with their yeasts that ferment at the bottom, like it cooler, in the 45 to 55 degree range.
The aging process after fermentation is also different in ales than it is in lagers. Ales are aged between 40 and 55 degrees and for a short amount of time–just a few weeks. Lagers prefer to be aged at temperatures roughly ten degrees colder than that, and then are aged for many months. The end result is that lager beers taste refreshing–clean and cold, while ales have what might be described as a moodier disposition. They are rich and flavorful and in some instances are served nearer room temperatures than the colder lagers.
If you want a frame of reference for lager beers, there are basically four kinds–pale lagers, pilsners, light lagers and dark ones. Americans have tended to prefer the pale lager category, with the most popular beers, such as Budweiser and Coors falling in this category.
Pilsners are also more of a bright yellow in color and the taste is different. They have a heavier flavor than American pale lagers and are considered to have a more bitter taste. Light lagers and dark lagers are more European than American. A light lager is light in color but not light in calories Dark lagers are quite strong and have a dark coloring as well. Dark lagers use roasted barley and hops.
Ales go from mild to dark in their appearance and flavors too. The lightest ale is often called a copper, red or brown ale. It is the most mild-flavored. Porters are in the middle of the road between a brown ale and a stout. And stout, originating in Ireland, is the darkest and strongest of all ales.
Thousands of brands of beer are made with these ale or lager qualities. The newest trend toward microbrews, often based on a region or locale, takes the possibilities even further. Special fruits or vegetables are often added to these to give them a unique flavor. Many microbrews are wheat beers or organic beers. Still, no matter what they taste like, light or dark, every beer is either an ale or a lager.
There are also starting to be more specialty ales being brewed that are sold according to season. For example, summer ales are lighter for the freer nature of summer, while winter ales are darker, for the cold nights of winter. You can even find holiday versions, such a pumpkin ale for Thanksgiving or Christmas. As more and more regional breweries develop, there will be a lot more choices in what kind of beers are available for us to drink.
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