Ales: This beer type is created using “warm fermenting” yeast that does its work on the top of the fermenter. This type of yeast ferments when it’s 60-75 degrees (F), so you can basically ferment your brew at room temperature. What’s more, ale yeast can consume the sugars in your wort in a matter of a few days.
The reason why we’re starting with a simple ale beer in this course is simply because it’s so easy to create these conditions. If you keep your house thermostat set at typical room temperate, then you have the perfect conditions to make a good ale. It’s easy.
Now compare this simple ale to lager…
Lagers: This beer type is created using yeast that goes to work on the bottom of the fermenter. Lager yeast requires cooler fermenting temperatures, somewhere in the range of 45 to 55 degrees (F). You may need to ferment for several weeks. A good lager may also require several weeks of conditioning at a temperature of around 35 to 40 degrees.
As you can see, fermenting a lager requires that you have a special set up that can accommodate cooler temperatures.
TIP: If you have an unheated basement, it’s likely that it maintains a temperature of around 50 degrees all year around. You’ll need to check this to be sure.
If your budget allows, you can buy a separate refrigerator for the cold conditioning process. That way you don’t crowd your regular kitchen fridge with your lager brew.
Within the general categories of ales and lagers there are a plethora of other beer styles. Some of them are specific to a local region. For example, the brewing style was developed at a time when a certain brewing process was in wide use in a specific region, so the resulting beer had its name associated with the region. The ingredients available to local brewers also had a huge impact on the type of beer styles they created.
Still other beers were brewed internationally (and these styles and recipes are still being developed today). Nearly anyone can brew these beers if they can get access to the same basic ingredients. Indeed, the Internet and its global marketplace has made it much easier for the home brewer to get his hands on specialty ingredients.
Beer styles are judged by factors such as their taste (flavor and bitterness), clarity, aroma, and gravity. These differences are based on (but not limited to) one or more of the following factors:
What type of water is used. Water chemistry is a big factor. For example, water from a well and water from a mountain spring will produce different styles of beer.
What type of yeast is used. Beyond top and bottom fermenting yeasts, there are other types of yeasts that contribute to different kinds of lagers and ales. Check your favorite brew-supply store to see the great variety.
What types of hops are added. It also depends on when the hops are added.
What type of grain is used. Is it barley? Rye? Rice? Or some other specialty grain?
How the malt is created from the grain. How the producer first germinates and then roasts the grain to create malt has a big impact on the beer style.
The conditioning process. How long you condition beer, what kind of sugar you add and the temperature of the storage location all affect style.
Now that you have a good idea of what affects style, next time you’ll learn about some of the more popular beer styles.