The Basic Types of Beer and What Makes Them Unique
There are two main types of beer: lagers and ales. The best way to tell the difference between the two types is by looking at their fermentation processes. Each different type uses different strains of yeast, and therefore ferment in different conditions best suited to them. After that, each type has so many variations that can be applied to them, that the styles of beer that can be created are only limited by imagination. The ingredients such as the malt, yeast, and hops all affect the outcome and overall profile of a beer. By tweaking yeast types, completely different styles on top of the over-arching categories of lagers and ales can be made. An example of this would be a sour ale. They generally have additional types of yeast used in the batch to create funky, unique sour beers.
A lager is a type of beer that ferments on the bottom of the tank during its brewing process. They can vary in color, but they all are fermented at lower temperatures. The technical term for the yeast in lagers is “Saccharomyces Pastorianus”. This type of yeast prefer to ferment at the bottom of the tank, at temperatures between 42 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally the yeast that makes lager does not have a lot of genetic diversity, so there are less variants in types of lagers. Lagers are crisp, clean tasting beers. Generally the beers made with lager yeast are: German pilsner, American lager, Okotberfest, and bock. Lagers are the most commercially ingested beer in the United States. Some of the most popular lagers found on the shelves include: Budweiser, Coors light, and Miller light. These beers are not hoppy or tart, but rather crisp tasting and generally lower in alcohol content.
An ale is a type of beer that ferments on the top of the tank during its brewing process. Ales are very diverse and can vary in color, taste, smell, and feel. The technical term for the yeast in ales is “Sacchromyces Cerecisiae”. This strain of yeast prefers to ferment at the top of the tank, at warmer temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The yeast in ales has more genetic diversity than that of the lager. It also produces fruity, more complex smells and flavors for the beer due to its complex nature and abundant variants. Generally ale yeast produces beers like the American IPA, porters, American blonde ale, and Imperial stouts. Often times, when someone refers to “craft beer”, they are unknowingly referring to ales of sorts. Ales vary much more than lagers in terms of aromas, taste and color. Depending on the types of hops used, (in conjunction with the other ingredients) there is an extremely wide range of ales in the market.
Sours are unique beers, generally retaining a very sour, tart taste. The oldest beer known to man, sour beers use wild yeast and bacteria to achieve the flavors desired. These beers get their sour taste from the bacteria used in them. They get their earthy, funky flavor profiles from the wild yeast used. Generally today two types of wild bacteria are mainstream for these sours, and one type of wild yeast. The two types of bacteria most commonly used are lactobacillus, and pediococcus. The first bacteria is responsible for the tart, sour after-taste, while the second produces a buttery sort of flavor to balance out the sour/tart. The wild yeast used for sour beers is called Brettanomyces. This yeast produces a level of earth tones in the beer. Sour beers cannot be classified under lager or ale in the traditional way, however they do vary in types. Some different types of sours are: lambic, gose, American wild ale, flanders, and some Belgian style ales.
Old vs New
Humans have been consuming beer for thousands of years. Throughout this time, new methods and techniques have been formed to create new beers. There are still groups of people such as the Trappists, who still make beer the same way it was made in the early years of its existence. There are also groups of people who dedicate their time solely to trying new combinations of ingredients and methods to create new beers. It is important to understand the different types of beer and what goes into them in order to create a new brew. It’s also important to understand the history of beer (This will be elaborated on in another blog.), if one wants to create an old style beer like the Trappists.
Be sure to try an assortment of different lagers, ales and sour beers in order to find the perfect one as a go-to. The mainstream brands, while popular, do not have to be the only option when it comes to choosing a fantastic beer. Check online to find the bars near you that carry multiple types of beers. Often times, a brew pub will have a large selection of beer to choose from, as well as a knowledgeable bartending staff to assist!