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Beer, Ale and Lager: Can you tell the difference?

What's the difference between an Ale and a Lager?

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Beer brewers and drinkers all over the world may often be asked, “What’s the difference between beer and ale?” Before they can even think and answer, this question could lead to a nerve-racking confusion. So here’s a basic point in Beer 101: Beer is actually categorized into two broad types, which is ale and lager.

Beer, a fermented drink made from grains and yeast, is often interchanged with “Lager,” especially outside of Germany. Because of this, some consumers try to differentiate beer and ale, instead of lager and ale. These two categories basically involve the same initial process of production and only differ in terms of the way they are brewed and the yeast fermentation involved.

In producing beer, the first step is malting Barley or other types of grain. Malting involves the process of harvesting the grains and processing it by heating, drying it out and cracking the grains into pieces. This enables the enzymes in the grains to be isolated, making it ready for the next step, which is mashing. This step involves steeping the grains in hot water for an hour, so that sugar will be produced once the water is drained. This will then create a hot sticky liquid called wort, which will later on be boiled with hops – to be fermented, bottled up and aged, until it is ready to be consumed.

Ale and lager vary in terms of other methods involved in the production:

• Made without the use of hops
• Uses top-fermenting yeasts
• Fermented at a higher temperature, matures more quickly

• Made with the combination of hops
and other ingredients
• Uses bottom-fermenting yeasts
• Fermented at a lower temperature
• Traditionally brewed in German caves
Apart from these methods, the taste differs as well. While ale has a richer, more aggressive hoppy flavor with a higher level of alcohol content, lager, on the other hand, has a mild flavor with a clear, clean finish. Porters, stouts and many German specialty beers such as Abbey ales are under the first category, while pilsners, doppelbocks and Oktoberfests make up the lager kind. Ale is mostly distributed in the British Isles, Belgium, Canada and the United States. Lager, however, is widely served in most European nations, especially in Germany. These distinctions continue to make each kind unique, as many modern breweries integrate various brewing methods, as well as a wide spectrum of flavors in their beers.

So the next time you go out and have a drink, you’ll finally be able to enjoy your beer without asking that “vague” question. Now that you know the basics, are you ready for the next bottle?

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