BEER 101: Ale vs. Lager

February 5, 2015
The Legend of Chaco Canyon
April 5, 2015

The Difference is Brew-tiful

From four simple ingredients come a wonderful thing, beer. But you won’t believe how many variations a brewer can create.

The basic ingredients of beer are water, malts, hops and yeast. Malted barley is the most commonly used starch in beer, serving as the main source of strength and the key flavoring agent. The malted grain produces enzymes that convert starches into fermentable sugars.

The mixture of hot water and malt sugars created in the brewing process, called wort, makes hearty-a-meal for the tiny fungus called saccharomyces.

Yeast metabolizes the sugars of the wort, which creates alcohol and carbon dioxide, and births the beer’s character and flavor. Last but not least, hops kick up the flavor and function as a natural preservative.

One of the many choices a brewer has is the selection of a yeast strain. Ale yeast, known as saccharomyces cervisiae, prefers a warmer fermentation temperature and works quickly; on the other hand, lager yeast, or saccharomyces uvarum, works more slowly and at cooler temperatures.

Ale yeasts tend to have characteristic flavors and aromas that enhance the finished beer. Ale yeasts support bolder, complex flavors, while lager yeasts lean towards clean and subtle flavors.

The flavors of a finished beer are also influenced by hops. The hop adds aromas and flavors ranging from smack-you-in-the-face bitterness to more subtle notes of pine and tropical fruit.

Brewers may also choose to add flavor enhancers during the brew process through the use of additives. For centuries, brewers have been adding fruit. Cherry, raspberry, peach and black currant are a few of the most popular fruit flavors.

The addition of sugars such as lactose (milk sugar), honey, candi sugar, molasses and maple syrup is widely accepted. Spices are not uncommon either. Popular examples include coriander, juniper berries, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and chamomile.

While all ales and lagers are made with the same four ingredients, it’s the brewing process that makes beers different. With so many flavor varieties to take in, we think you had better get started.