Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Art of Brewing: Ale v. Lager

The process of fermenting grains to produce beer is, without question, a great art.  Too many fail to appreciate the rich history, complex chemistry, and great art that is brewing.

Perhaps one of the most interesting initial observations to make is that of the major division of beers into two general categories -- Ales and Lagers.  The vast majority of those beers consumed in the world are of the Lager variety, and most of these tasteless pedestrian drinks, hardly worthy of the name of beer.

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Ale All-Stars from the Monasteries: The Trappist Ales.  It is hard to find better examples of Ales.

Ales are, quite simply, those beers brewed using ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), which ferment wort at a temperature of 60 to 75 degrees (F), ferment on the top, and do their work quickly.  Prior to the 19th century, Ales were the dominant class of beers.  Ales to produce more complex, cloudy, and even fruity beers.  The Abbey Ales, Pale Ales, Scotch Ales, and Brown Ales.  The British Isles and Belgium produce some splendid ales, such as those of the Trappist Monks, or the Scotch Highlands, true masterpieces.

File:Pilsner Urquell 2.JPGFile:Ayinger celebrator db.jpg
Lagers: Pilsner Urquel, the original Czech Pilsner.  Celebrator is a German Doppelbock.

Lagers, however, are brewed from lager yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus), which ferment wort at a much cooler temperature of 42 to 55 degrees (F), ferment on the bottom, and take much longer to finish.  Indeed, the name Lager comes from the German word meaning "to store."  Lagers have their heart in Bavaria, where a law of 1553AD of Duke Albert V forbid brewing from the Feast of St. George (23 April) to that of St. Michael (29 September), meaning that brewing would only occur in cooler times of year, favoring lager yeast.  Perhaps the most famous lager, however, is the Czech Pilsner of the 19th century.  Refrigeration made the production and shipment of lagers much easier, and the clear, crisp qualities of the beer make it generally more popular.  Other lager styles include the German bocks, doppelbocks, marzenbier, and schwarzbier.  The most robust lager is perhaps the Austrian Samichlaus.

The blogger still prefers his ales.

My main source for this post is the splendid Oxford Companion to Beer, edited by Garret Oliver:


Live well!

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