Beer 101: A Basic Guide to Beer
Oktoberfest 2012 in South Florida: Celebrations in Lantana, Las Olas, Oakland Park, Boca, and Miami
At the most basic level, there are just two broad categories of beer: ales and lagers. They are defined by the temperature and the type of yeast used in the fermentation process, although they can be further categorized by the color and region from which they are brewed.
Ales are produced with a top-fermenting yeast at a warmer temperature, between 59 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and are ready to drink in as little as three weeks. What results is a malleable beer with varying flavors and generally higher in alcohol content. The types of beers within this category are many, from porters to IPAs to wheat beers. Compared to lagers, ales often have a cloudy appearance.
But, as ancient beer brewers discovered, ales spoiled quickly and thus came the need to preserve beer. Enter lagers, which are fermented longer with at a colder temperature (between 45 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit) with bottom-fermenting yeast, then stored -- or lagered -- at a temperature close to the mid 30s. The result is a pale golden, crystal clear lager beer with an alcohol content of around 5 percent. Pale golden lagers like Budweiser are the most common beers in the world.
In Germany, most beers are lagers due to the Reinheitsgebot, or the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, which regulated that all beer in Germany had to be made only with barley, water, and hops. Yeast was added later, with the advent of pasteurization. Despite the law being lifted in 1988, many brewers in Germany still abide by it.
Now, let's take your beer basics a step further. Here's a little more detail about the most common kinds of ales and lagers.