How many times have you stared at those foamy pints of gorgeous, gold-colored alcoholic beverages and wondered, what is the difference between beer and ale?
You’re in luck, my slightly inebriated friend. For today, we will divulge the secret behind this most perplexing of questions.
On the face of it, there appear to be not much difference between beers and ales. After all, both are usually made from just grains and water, and are the by-products of the yeast fermentation process. However, a closer inspection reveals an entirely different story.
Before we delve into the subject, it would perhaps be wise to take a step back and do a little clarification first. You see, the term beer’ is technically the common noun for this class of alcoholic beverage as a whole.
Ales and lagers are the two major subgroups of beer, which can be further classified, among others, into porters, stouts and bitters (ale) and pilsners, bocks and darks (lager).
However, sometime between the late 19th century and early 20th century, the term lager somehow gave way to beer, a shift that remain stuck to this day. So the original question should have been – what is the difference between lager and ale?
Essentially, it has all to do with the type of yeast and fermentation temperatures.
A top-fermenting process using a yeast species called saccharomyces cerevisiae at normal room temperature produces ales. This will yield the lighter-colored ale that the snobbier amongst us have always claimed to prefer.
Meanwhile, lagers are produced by utilizing the yeast species saccharomyces pastorianus in a bottom fermentation process under a considerably lower temperature. The result is lager, also known variously as beer, cold one, brewski, and even Britney (those crazy Irish).
It is worth mentioning that a few centuries ago, the difference between ales and lager were significantly more pronounced. At the time, ales were brewed using barley or wheat instead of hops, which only became a farming staple less than two centuries ago.
However we look at it, there is no denying that beers and ales have evolved into one of the most crucial elements of modern civilization. For many of us, a cold can, mug, pint or bottle of beer is the highlight of our day, bringing us unconditional comfort and joy.