Styles of Beer
Perhaps what is most wonderful about Beer is the sheer range and variety brewed. This short article isn’t going to define every type and style of beer, because if it did so it wouldn’t be quite so short!
In the UK there are two main types of Beer; Ale and Lager. Despite generally sharing the same basic ingredients of water, malted barley, hops and yeast, Ale and Lager are quite different styles which are categorised by the yeast used (which determines the temperature at which they ferment and time to complete fermentation).
Ale is brewed using top fermenting yeast (Saccharomyees cervisiae) which raises to the top of the brew in the fermentation vessel; hence its name! It typically ferments at higher temperatures (15.5 to 24 degrees C) and so for a quicker period than lager yeast. Ale yeast can produce esters which are flowery and fruity in aroma and taste.
Ale is traditionally served straight from the cask, however over the years the hand-pull dispense system has replaced the sight of casks behind the bar. It is generally served at cellar temperature (10 to 14 degrees C).
Lager derives its name from Lagern, the German word for storage. Lager yeast (Saccharomyces Uvarum) sinks to the bottom of the brew, so it is called bottom fermenting, and it ferments at a lower temperature (between 11 and 13 degrees C). The longer, colder fermentation process reduces the production of esters and other fermentation by-products common in ales. The absences of these characterful esters means that the dominant flavours in lager are provided by malt and hops. Once fermented, lagers are stored cold usually for at least four weeks to enable flavours to mellow and the natural carbonation to build up.
According to beer folklore as far back as the Middle Ages the Europeans stored their lager in ice caves and found it to be clearer, crisper, smoother and cleaner taste compared with when it is consumed immediately.
Poor old lager has something of a bad reputation in the UK due to the past predominance of mass produced, overly carbonated tasteless lager and the 90’s culture of heavy consumption and bad behaviour that spurned the term ’lager lout’. However, over the last 10 years there has been something of a quiet revolution within the Beer World in regard to lager. With the establishment of microbreweries like us who have concentrated on keg beers the reputation of British lager is starting to challenge the dominance of its European counterparts and to attract a new following, over turning old stereotypes around lager taste and drinkers.