Maybe you think that “ales” are those warm liquids drunk by Poms!
If that’s the level of your understanding – then read on!
Ales are one of several different types of beer rather than the other way around.
They’re amongst the oldest alcoholic beverages known to humankind and they may even by the first such beverage ever brewed.
There’s always a slight risk of generalisation but ales are usually dark, fruity in taste (sometimes strong in taste too) and often leave a strong aftertaste. They’re usually, though not always served at more-or-less room temperature though they can be chilled if the surroundings are unusually hot.
This is often used, correctly, as a generic term covering a range of products that are produced by fermentation. That includes ales.
Beers are perhaps best known for their lagers. These are typically much lighter in colour and taste than ales. Paradoxically they’re typically slightly more bitter than many ales but also considered by many to be more refreshing and palatable. They’re also less “fruity” to the taste unless some additional flavourings have been added.
Most people that are new to beer, at least today in Australia, start of their journey of discovery with lagers.
Some controversially argue that ales are a more acquired taste than lagers but that’s an argument we won’t get drawn into!
What makes the difference?
This is all about methods of fermentation and type of yeast used.
Ales are fermented using a “top-fermenting” yeast. That means, as the name suggests, fermentation tends to take place at the top of the barrel/vat. By contrast, lagers are produced using a “bottom-fermenting” yeast – so everything happens at the bottom of the barrel/vat.
In fact, it’s not quite as simple as that. These two strains of yeast (there are several in fact) often impart different qualities to the final product. That’s why ales often have a fruitier “out of the fields” taste than lagers.
What’s for you?
Lagers are often served very cold courtesy of beer dispensing systems that incorporate chilling and that can make them easier to cope with for some. Ales are more often associated with a mellow evening’s drink that can be savoured.
They’re both delicious, so the choice is yours!