Lager and ale comprise the two primary categories of beer. However, many consider ale to be the world’s best and most important beer.
The two styles are differentiated by the type of yeast a brewer uses to catalyze the fermentation of maltose into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Ales use top-fermenting yeast, so named because it tends to rise in tank and accumulate near the top, making it simple for the brewer to filter it out as he sees fit.
Ale-making techniques date to the early medieval period. During the ensuing centuries, several distinct approaches to the craft developed, and account for the wide variety of contemporary ale types, including:
|Barley Wine||Belgian Ale||Brown Ale|
|India Ale||Pale Ale||Saison|
Pales ales are lightly-hopped and a little bitter. Virtually every been producing nation on the planet makes a variety of pale ale.
India Pale Ale, for example, descends from the British October Ale, exported to India during the 18th century. India Pale Ale features more hops in its recipe than many other pale ales. British sea captains found that extra hops better preserved the beer with which the crew was provisioned for long voyages.
Barley Wine is not wine at all; Barley Wine is a sweet and quite heavy beer brewed in a style preferred by the English. It is high in alcohol- sometimes as high as 10% ABV. To make Barley Wine, the brewer uses yeasts that can stay active despite the high alcohol concentration they stimulate. Barley Wine is deeply colored, from fiery copper to rich dark brown.
Scotch Ale is even darker. It is sweet, quite malty, and the malt is sometimes caramelized to both deepen the color further and accentuate a toffee flavor. Brewers will sometimes put barley malts through a smoking process, which gives the beer flavor that recalls whisky. The most popular example of this type of brew in the US is Samuel Adam’s Scotch Ale.
Although Belgian Ales have a long history of production in their home locale two, in particular, are renowned around the globe.
Saison, which derives from the French word for season, is earthy, a little spicy, dry and smooth. Traditional brews were mom-and-pop productions; each farmer would develop a unique twist on the basic recipe.
Belgian brewing may reach its pinnacle in the hands of the brew masters of the six Trappist monasteries, who produce, among other brews, Tripel. To make Tripel, the brewer adds as much as three times the usual amount of Trappist malt. Tripel beer is light gold, high in alcohol, and chock full of malt flavor. Thick creamy heads and rich aromas further characterize most examples. Tasters commonly note Tripel’s slight bitterness, despite that fact that Belgian candy sugar is occasionally part of the recipe. The finest Trappist Tripel may be Westmalle, and produced at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Westmalle Ale is very heady: alcohol can be as high as 12% ABV, and the flavor a rich mix of malt and hops.
Ale has a rich history and continues to evolve and develop new styles as brewers around the world experiment with new technologies and import new flavoring agents.