If you are just starting out on the beer scene, then it can be difficult to choose your first brew. There are so many brands and styles on the market and it can be overwhelming for newcomers. You may find yourself wondering, what is an ale? Is it different from lager? Will I like one more than the other?
No two beers are the same. Each one offers its own flavor profile with varying fragrances, colors, alcohol content, and carbonation levels. The act of drinking beer is a whole experience.
As with all alcohol, beer is an acquired taste. Learning how to appreciate it will take a little time and an open mind. So make the most out of each brew you order by taking a quick look behind the scenes—particularly with ale, which is experiencing a resurgence in the market.
The Difference Between Ale and Lager
While both ale and lager can be used to make beer, the process of fermentation differs between the two. Ale is fermented at warm temperatures with the help of top-fermenting yeast. Conversely, lager is fermented at cold temperatures with bottom-fermenting yeast.
Due to the wide variety in brewing and fermentation techniques that we have the opportunity to harness today, there are no clear-cut differences between ale and lager. They cannot be separated according to flavor profile, color, or alcohol strength. The only detectable difference, on a molecular level, is the presence of esters in ale.
How to Serve Ale
As a rule of thumb, ale does not need to be served at sub-zero temperatures for it to be at its best. In fact, this drink is best enjoyed when it is closer to room temperature.
However, beer brewers throughout the ages have developed so much variety in ales. It would be unfair to shoehorn all the styles into such a general rule. To help you decide further, observe the color and flavor of your chosen ale: the lighter these factors are, the colder it should be served.
Different Types of Ale
This is far from an exhaustive list of all the different types of ale that you can sample. However, you will find that most of the brews available fall under these categories. These categories, thanks to the experimentation and dedication of breweries, have also branched out into sub-categories and hybrids.
Pale ale is the original brew. It first appeared in the early 1700s, when English brewers started taking a different approach to making beer. They would use malt roasted with a fuel that had a high carbon content and low smoke yield. This resulted in a very pale drink, which was unusual at the time.
This beverage was also colloquially referred to as the “bitters” because it had a stronger hoppy flavor than its darker counterparts. Pale ale was the only beer with a prominent hop flavor until the IPA came along.
Indian Pale Ale (IPA)
Where do we begin with IPA? This style has become so ubiquitous, it’s sprouted several other sub-styles underneath it. IPAs are generally a bright, lively, and bitter drink. It has a moderate and persistent head, with a nice hoppy fragrance. This drink will have a golden to amber color. IPAs generally use a fusion of malty sweetness and bitter hoppy flavor.
Underneath the IPA label, you will find that there are plenty of variants to explore. There are American IPAs, English-Style IPAs, Imperial IPAs, New England IPAs, and more. The fun part of exploring IPAs is that you don’t really know what to expect. Brewers have taken the original recipe and introduced their own styles throughout the years, so keep an open mind when exploring this style.
Looking for something a little new? Sour ale is quickly becoming popular because of its refreshing flavor profile. True to its name, this brew is characterized by its sourness. This is made possible by a combination of acetic acid and lactic acid.
This drink may initially throw you off because it does not taste like traditional beer. However, it’s a crisp, revitalizing twist to a classic beverage that many beer drinkers enjoy. Sour ale is best paired with fruit, beef, and aged cheese.
With all things considered, ale made a place for itself in the beer community and it continues to prove it even to this day. We don’t know what innovation or twists that will happen in the future, but a certain thing is that ale will be here for a while.