What is the difference between and ale and a lager?
In the most basic classification scheme, there are two main types of beer. They are ales and lagers. Ales, the oldest beers in the world, have been around thousands of years longer than lagers. Looking at the history of beer, civilizations as far back as the Sumerians and Egyptians have been brewing and drinking what would be considered ales. Lagers, on the other hand, may have only been around since the mid-nineteenth century. However, many have speculated that lagering may have been discovered as far back as the Dark Ages, when some European brewers may have stored their beer in ice caves for later consumption. What they found was that the beer that was stored and fermented cold had a much clearer and cleaner beer.
The main difference between ales and lagers is the type of yeast used in the brewing process, which in turn dictates what ingredients and techniques can be used.
Ales are fermented warm and made with a top-fermenting yeast, which is, just like it sounds, a yeast that rises to the top of the brew during fermentation. Ales are generally stronger and more forceful in taste than lagers because of their relatively fast and warm fermentation. Many countries, including England, serve their ales at room temperature.
Lagers, from the German word “lagern” meaning to store, are made with a bottom or cold-fermenting yeast that sinks to the bottom of the brew during the fermentation process. While ales can be brewed in as little as 7 days, lagers traditionally need to age before their brewing process is complete. This can increase their brewing time to more than a month or more. This longer, colder fermentation process inhibits the production of esters (which give beer a more fruity taste) and avoids other fermentation byproducts common in ales. The lager process creates beers with a generally cleaner, smoother, crisper, and more mellow taste. Unlike ales, lagers should always be served cold.
What are the main ingredients in beer?
In its most simple form, beer is made of four basic ingredients: Water, yeast, malt and hops.
As is the case with the human body, the most abundant ingredient in beer is water. Over 95% of your brew is made up of water. With such a large amount of your final product coming from a single ingredient, you can imagine how important it is to use good water.
Natural water supplies contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, carbonate and sulfate. These minerals influence the flavor of the finished beer, so brewers often adjust mineral content before brewing. It can take between 3-5 barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer.
Yeast is the engine that makes the whole process go (without yeast, you would just have a sweet, brown, tea-like substance with no alcohol… I shudder at the thought). Yeasts, part of the fungus family, are single-celled living organisms that eat sugars and convert them into alcohol and carbon dioxide through the wonderful and amazing process called fermentation.
In order to make a great beer you can’t just use any old yeast that happens to fly by (the fact is that yeasts are everywhere… hey there’s one right there.. watch out!). Wild yeasts can all but ruin your beer if they get in during the brewing process (unless, of course, you are making a true Belgium Lambic). The yeast we want is usually classified as Beer Yeast – yeasts that are specifically cultured for the purpose of brewing beer.
Malt – Traditionally malted barley
Malted barley is really nothing more than barley grains that have been soaked in water until they first begin to sprout. When the barley begins to sprout it draws on its starch reserves, which are transformed into simple sugars. This is the food we will be feeding to the yeast later. The barley is then dried and cured, creating a perfect source of sugar and soluble starches for the fermentation.
When it comes time to brew, the malted barley needs to be cracked and boiled in water in the process known as mashing.
Hops are the conelike flowers that come from a vining plant. There are over 50 different recognized varieties of hops with names like Saaz and East Kent Goldings. Hops are used in beer much the same way spices are used in cooking – to enhance the flavor and smell of the final product.
During fermentation, not all of the sugars from the malt will be consumed – leaving the beer with a sweet smell and flavor. Hops, which adds a certain degree of bitterness, a spicy flavoring, and a distinctive aroma, are especially useful in balancing this sweetness. However, this is not the only reasons that hops are used in brewing beer. Hops are also known to act as a bacterial inhibitor and as a natural clarifying agent.