There are two kinds of beer, ale, and lager, with ale being the older beer style. Ales are generally brewed at higher temperatures and are top-fermented for a shorter period of time than lagers, which are bottom-fermented and brewed at colder temperatures for a longer period of time.
What’s that yeast doing?
Eating sugar and pooping out alcohol and carbon dioxide. Different yeasts also produce different aromas and flavors. Cultivated yeast starts the fermentation process although some beer styles utilize spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast.
Where’s that sugar coming from?
Traditionally, grains such as barley, wheat or rye are germinated and then dried—a process known as malting. These grains may also be roasted which results in more complex flavors and a darker beer, be it an ale or a lager. Some beer styles also add sugar, honey, fruit or spices during the brewing process. Big breweries often use corn or rice with the traditional grains.
What about hops?
As well as being a preservative, the bitterness of hops balances the sweetness of the malt and, depending on when they are added in the brewing process, also produce hop flavor and aroma. Lagers generally have a lower hop presence, ales a higher hop presence.
Which is better, ale or lager?
That’s up to you. Lagers tend to be golden or amber with light aroma and flavor; Pilsner, Märzen, Bock and Oktoberfest lagers pack more flavor and may be darker. Ales tend toward more complex flavors and may be pale, blond, amber, red, brown or black. Bitters, Stouts, Porters, IPAs, Hefe-Weizens, Wits and Trappist beers are all ales. Some beers, like Kölsch and Steam beer, meld ale and lager characteristics. Beer can be quite strong so please remember to explore and enjoy responsibly.