Types of Beer

There are 2 main types of beers – Lagers and Ales. Some consider hybrids a beer type, a hybrid would contain both ales and lager beer characteristics.

What differentiates them is the type of yeast and fermentation process.

Lager style of beer

Lager beer refers to a specific type of beer characterized by its fermentation and aging process.  Below are some key characteristics and details about lager beer.

Fermentation

Lager beer is fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast strains, most notably Saccharomyces pastorianus (formerly known as Saccharomyces carlsbergensis). These yeast strains work at cooler temperatures (typically between 44°F to 55°F or 7°C to 13°C) and settle at the bottom of the fermentation vessel, hence the term bottom-fermenting. This cool fermentation process results in a cleaner and crisper taste profile compared to ales.

Aging

One of the defining features of lager beer is the extended aging or conditioning process it undergoes. This aging typically occurs at near-freezing temperatures, a phase known as lagering (from the German word lagern, meaning to store). Lagering can take place for several weeks to several months, depending on the style of lager being produced. During this time, the beer matures, flavors mellow, and any undesirable compounds are removed, resulting in a smoother and cleaner taste.

Flavor Profile

Lager beers are known for their clean, crisp, and refreshing taste. They tend to have a balanced malt and hop character, with a subdued yeast aroma. The extended fermentation and aging process contribute to a smoother and less fruity flavor profile compared to ales. Lagers can range from light and mild to darker and more robust in flavor, depending on the specific style.

Lager Styles

There are several substyles of lager beer, each with its own unique characteristics. Some well-known lager styles include

  • Pilsner is a pale and highly carbonated lager with a crisp, bitter finish.
  • Helles is a German-style pale lager that is maltier and less hoppy than a pilsner.
  • Bock is a strong, malty lager that can vary from light to dark in color.
  • Märzen is a medium-bodied amber lager often associated with Oktoberfest celebrations.
  • Vienna Lager is a medium-bodied amber lager with a toasty malt character.

Worldwide Popularity

Lager beer is one of the most widely consumed beer styles globally. It originated in Central Europe, particularly in Germany and the Czech Republic, but has since spread worldwide. Many of the world’s largest beer brands produce lagers, and they are readily available in most parts of the world.

Lager beer’s popularity can be attributed to its approachable and versatile flavor profile, making it a favorite choice for both beer enthusiasts and casual drinkers. Whether enjoyed as a refreshing drink on a hot day or sipped slowly to savor its complexities, lager beer has a rich tradition and continues to evolve with various regional and craft interpretations.

Common in Europe and Canada

Half of all beer sales in Europe and Canada are lagers. Lagers are bocks, pale American Lagers, and darker pilsners. IPAs and stouts are different kinds of ale.

Pilsner is a subspecies of lager. They are among the hoppiest and usually have a dry and slightly bitter flavor. Their have a light gold color and a crisp finish. Pilsners are a popular summer beer.

American Lagers are highly carbonated beers. They have a pale color that varies from straw to a golden hue. American lagers tend to lack the haps and malt flavor that is found in ales.

Ales

Ale beer is characterized by its distinctive fermentation process, which differs from that of lager. Here are some key characteristics and details about ale beer.

Fermentation

Ale beer is fermented with top-fermenting yeast strains, primarily Saccharomyces cerevisiae. These yeast strains work at warmer temperatures (typically between 60°F to 75°F or 15°C to 24°C) and rise to the top of the fermentation vessel during the process, hence the term top fermenting. The higher fermentation temperatures and the rapid yeast activity contribute to a more complex and fruity flavor profile compared to lagers.

Flavor Profile

Ales are known for their diverse and often robust flavor profiles. They can range from light and refreshing to dark and rich, depending on the specific style. Ales tend to have more pronounced fruity, estery, and often hoppy flavors. The yeast strains used in ale fermentation produce various aromatic compounds that contribute to these flavors.

Styles

Ale beer encompasses a wide range of styles, each with its own unique characteristics. Some well-known ale styles include those listed below.

  • Pale Ale – Typically characterized by a balanced malt and hop profile with moderate alcohol content.
  • India Pale Ale (IPA) – Known for its pronounced hop bitterness and hop aroma, with variations like American IPA, Double IPA (DIPA), and New England IPA (NEIPA).
  • Stout – A dark and often robust beer with roasted malt flavors, varieties include Dry Stout, Sweet Stout, and Imperial Stout.
  • Porter – Similar to stout but typically lighter in body, with flavors of roasted malt and chocolate.
  • Belgian Ale – Includes a wide range of styles such as Belgian Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel, known for their complex yeast flavors and high alcohol content.
  • Wheat Beer – Ales made with a significant proportion of wheat, with styles like Hefeweizen (German wheat beer) and Witbier (Belgian wheat beer).

Regional Variations

Ales have a rich history and regional variations, with different countries and cultures producing unique ale styles. For example, British ales, including Bitters, Milds, and Porters, are known for their malt-forward profiles. Belgian ales are celebrated for their fruity and spicy yeast character.

Craft Ale Movement

The craft beer movement, gained momentum in the late 20th century and continues to thrive. This has led to an explosion of creativity within the ale category. Craft breweries experiment with various ingredients, brewing techniques, and flavor profiles, resulting in a wide array of innovative and specialty ales.

Versatility

Ales are versatile and can be enjoyed in various settings and seasons. The diversity of styles means there’s an ale for nearly every palate and occasion, whether you prefer a light and refreshing beer on a summer day or a rich and warming ale during the colder months.

Ale beer, with its broad spectrum of flavors and styles, remains a favorite among beer enthusiasts and continues to be an exciting and evolving category in the world of craft brewing.

Subcategories of ales like pale and brown ales.

This is the oldest style of beer and is easily accessible for home brewers. The short warm temperature fermentation turns what could have been a barley and malt tea into an Ale to enjoy.

  • Porter is a type of ale and is known for its dark black color and roasted malt aroma. They may be fruity or dry, this is determined by the variety of roasted malt used in the brewing process.
  • Stouts too, are a dark roasted ale. They are less sweet than a porter and many will have a bitter coffee taste. This comes from the unmalted roasted barley that is added to the wort. Stouts are known for their thick and creamy head.
  • Blonde Ales are a summer favorite. They have a light malt sweetness with just a trace of hops. They are pale color and clear body. They tend to have few traces of bitterness and tend to be crisp and dry. They are not hop heavy.
  • Brown Ales can range from amber to brown. They may have chocolate, citrus, nut, or caramel hints of flavor. Different malts used and the country of origin affects the flavor and scent of this beer.
  • Pale Ale is an English style of ale. They are known for their fruity scent and coppery color. American Pale Ale is somewhat of a hybrid between the IPA style and English pale ale. American pale ales usually use American two row malt and are hoppier.
  • India Pale Ale or IPA is a British pale ale brewed with extra hops. The extra hops give the IPA beers their bitter tase and made them stable enough to survive the boat ride to India without spoiling. IPAs may have a fruity citrus flavor or taste of resin and pine depending on the style of hops used. American brewers have used IPA style to introduce unusual flavors and ingredients to U.S. beer drinkers.
  • Wheat is an easy to drink light style of beer. It is known for its smooth, soft flavor with a hazy body. They tend to taste like citrus or spices. Hefeweizen or unfiltered wheat beer are more common styles.
  • Sour Ale is an ancient style of beer that has recently gained popularity. Similar to sourdough bread they are made with wild yeasts. They have a tart tang that pairs well with spices and tropical fruit. Sour Ales include lambics which are Belgian sour beers mixed with fruit. Goses are a German sour beer made with sea salt and coriander. Another Belgian sour beer fermented in wood tanks is a Flander.

For more information about beer styles visit Ales, Lagers and Both Lagers and Ales.

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