How Well Do You Know Your Beer?
There’s one episode in the quintessential ‘90s sitcom Friends where new buddies Ross (David Schwimmer) and Mike (Paul Rudd) are left alone and awkwardly start to talk about the difference between beer and lager. It's the perfect example of the power of beer: when all 'ales' (get it) fail, you can always count on beer.
While beer is easily available in the market (in fact, some of them are off the market), not all are aware that there are many types of the most widely consumed alcoholic drink in the world. It's so popular, people even bathe in it.
There are about 157 available beer varieties all over the world based on the 2018 Beer Style Guidelines compiled by the Brewers Association, an American trade group that promotes small and independent brewers and craft brewing.
Though beer is made using basically the same four basic ingredients—yeast, barley, water, and hops—they can generally be easily classified into two main types: ales and lagers.
The difference is all in the process. Ales are brewed in warm conditions, while lagers are fermented in cold temperatures. The brewing process has an effect on the yeast used, which then creates a distinctive flavors and texture because it is essentially the yeast that turns the whole mixture into alcohol.
Because they are processed and fermented in warm temperature, ales tend to have a sweet and fruity taste. They also have a more full-bodied taste compared to lagers because the yeast used in ales have a higher alcohol tolerance. Ales are normally brewed between 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, according to alcohol.org.
Here are some of the most common varieties of ales and their basic distinctions:
- Pale ale - made with pale malts and has a fruity and light malt flavor.
- India pale ale - hoppy and has a more bitter taste compared to pale ales.
- Wheat beer - has a light and flavorful citrusy taste. It uses more wheat than barley.
- Brown ale - not too malty and has a mellow fruity and caramel-like taste.
- Red ale - comes in reddish amber or light brown shade, as the name suggests. It has a sweeter, caramelized taste.
- Porter - made from brown malts, which gives its darker color. Despite its tint, it still has a light malt sweet taste.
- Stout - has a dark color and strong flavor and is made with roasted malt or barley. Its taste has a chocolatey hint.
Compared to ales, lagers have a milder flavor and lower alcohol content—making them the typical entry point into beer drinking. Easily characterized by their light and malty taste, most commercial beers manufactured worldwide are lagers.
Some of the most common lager varieties are:
- Pale lager - usually has pale or golden colors, with a mild taste and a distinct hop bitterness. A variety of pale lager is the pilsner, which is also known as the most common beer in the world.
- Amber - also known as the Vienna lager, which (surprise!) originated from Austria. It has an amber color with a medium-bodied taste and aroma.
- Bock - strong and malty. Traditionally, bock beers are dark-colored but more modern versions are now characterized with light copper to brown shades.
- Dark - as the name suggests, the colors of dark lagers range from dark reddish brown to almost black hues. It is also known as a Dunkel in Germany, which has a smooth and malty flavor.