Beer 101

The difference between beers, lagers and ales, quickly by our local beer expert.
Posted September 16, 2011

All beer is essentially the same.

It is brewed using grains, hops and yeast. The brewer steeps grains, typically malted barley, in hot water until proteins convert to sugars. The resulting sugar water is boiled as other ingredients, typically hops, are added for seasoning.

The brewer then cools the resulting concoction, referred to as wort, and adds the yeast, which converts the sugars to alcohol (fermentation).

The amount and type of grain, the variety and amount of hops, and the type of yeast the brewer uses create a beer’s flavor profile, appearance and alcohol content.

All beer is in the same family, but the family tree forks, dividing beer into two major categories: ales and lagers.

There is a rudimentary difference between ale yeast and lager yeast. Ale yeast ferments faster and at higher temperatures. Lager yeast ferments slower and at lower temperatures.

Each type of fermentation imparts certain characteristics to the beer.

Ales tend to be heavy and robust, while lagers tend to be light and crisp.