When you hit the bars with friends, which type of beer do you ask for first? What’s your go-to brew when tailgating at the football game? Many of you may say a nice ale, which features more of a fruity feel, while others may say lager is their preferred beer because of the crisp taste. No matter which way you slice it, though, the fact remains that Americans love their beer. We consumed an estimated 6.3 billion gallons of beer in 2012 alone, with each person over the age of 21 drinking 28.3 gallons throughout the nation, according to a report by the Beer Institute on CNS News. New Hampshire topped the list, with 43 gallons each and Connecticut at the bottom of the list at 21.8 gallons. That’s a lot of beer.
Ales and lagers are much different from one another and it has nothing to do with taste, appearance, or even the hops, grains and malts used in each. No, it has everything to do with the yeast used during fermentation. That yeast dictates the flavors and aromas we experience with ales vs. lagers. Let’s take a look at the history and profile of a few different types:
India Pale Ale
This is one of the more popular beers preferred by Americans, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. IPAs don’t originate in India, contrary to the name, but actually came from England in the late 1700s when the British Empire started heavily trading with India via its newly appointed governor there. Beer was one of England’s trading items, but the pale-colored malts couldn’t seem to make the long journey to India and so high amounts of hops were added as a preservative for the long trip. Today’s IPAs don’t taste nearly like they did back then!
An amber ale is light golden to deep red in color depending on the type and brand, with a rich taste and medium body. Ambers used to be used interchangeably with pales until about the early 20th century when more hops were added to the mix. They became especially popular in California, Oregon and Washington, with many amber ales developing a copper color.
Featuring pale malt in the fermentation process, pale ales are very light in color. They first hit the scene in the early 1700s, crafted from coke which gave the beer its distinct light color. Pale ale is more palatable by the general population, hence its popularity in the United States.
Brown ale originated in London in the late 17th century when brewers crafted a lightly hopped brown malt brew that was more expensive to make than other types. When cheaper pale malts became available, the prevalence of brown malts faded in the next century, but have since made a comeback.
Lager first cropped up in Bavaria in the late 15 century, eventually spreading to the rest of Europe, including Plzeň where pilsner was born, according to Popular Science. Brands like Heineken, Kingfisher and even Budweiser are all lagers. It all has to do with the lager yeast, scientifically known as Saccharomyces pastorianus, which best performs under cold conditions – something that would make ale yeast go into hiding.
So, which type of beer person are you: ale or lager? Think of these profiles the next time you order a beer at happy hour.
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