What is beer?

Beer is considered to be the world’s oldest and most popular alcoholic beverage. It is made from malted grains, hops, yeast and water. The grains provide a source of starch by fermenting the sugars derived from them. The most commonly used grain is barley, but wheat, corn and rice are also commonly used, usually in combination with barley. In certain parts of the world different sources of starch are used producing speciality beers. Additionally, fruit, herbs and spices may be used to produce special types of beer.

Types of Beer

The methods and ingredients used to produce beer vary greatly. There exist a variety of ways in which different types of beer are classified, which creates debate over the grouping of different types of beer. Most commonly beer is categorized according to the type of yeast used and the production method. Originally the terms ‘beer’ and ‘ale’ were used to refer to two different drinks; ale was made without using hops, while beer was made using hops. Now however, hops are used in most commercial beers and the terms ‘ale’ and ‘lager’ are more commonly used to refer to two different types of beer. When categorizing beer by yeast type, beers made using fast acting yeast which leave behind residual sugars are considered to be ales, while those which use slower acting yeast which remove the sugar are termed lagers. Within these two main groups, ales and lagers, there is a wide variety of different tastes and styles of beer. Styles such as Pilsner, Vienna and Märzen are all examples of lagers, while ale can be split into categories such as dark and pale ales, Belgian ales and German ales.

A third less common classification of beer exists known as Lambic beers. These are distinct from lagers and ales because they are produced by spontaneous fermentation as they are exposed to wild yeast and bacteria.

Differences between Ales and Lagers

Not only are ales and lagers differentiated by the type of yeast involved, but also by the brewing techniques used. Following fermentation ales are usually only left for a few weeks and the ageing process is carried out at 40 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Lagers on the other hand are aged at lower temperatures of 32 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit and for a longer period of time, more typically several months. These differences result in two distinctive beers. Ales are considered to be a flavourful beer with a rich aroma, which are served close to room temperature. Lagers on the other hand are considered to be a refreshing beer with a light aroma and flavour which are served cold and can be more easily paired with a variety of foods.