All About Ales

Ale might sound like an old-fashioned way to refer to beer, but don't let the name fool you. While it's definitely a type of beer, it's in a separate class because of its fermentation method.

What Is an Ale?

Think of ale as a slightly bitter beer with a slightly higher alcohol content. At least, that's the bottom line.

If you're into beer, however, you might want to dig deeper. In centuries past, brewers referred to any drink brewed without hops as an ale, but that's no longer the case. It's a distinct alcoholic beverage that you have to experience to understand.

How Does Ale Differ From Lager?

Lager and ale share similarities, but they're different types of beer. For one thing, ale typically gets fermented with top-fermenting yeast, while lager comes from bottom-fermenting yeast. Additionally, ale undergoes a warm fermenting process instead of a cold fermenting process. For this reason, some people claim that ale tastes sweeter and fruitier than lager.

What Types of Ales Exist?

If you're ready to take your first sip of ale, you have plenty of choices.

  • Stout: A stout ale generally has between 7 and 8 percent alcohol by volume and features a dark, rich color. You can also find it in flavored versions.
  • Pale Ale: There's lots of hops in pale ale, which, as the name suggests, is much lighter than other ales. The more pale malt the brewer adds to the recipe, the lighter the color becomes.
  • Wheat: While many ales feature large concentrations of barley, wheat ale (or wheat beer) contains higher concentrations of wheat relative to the barley content. It's often more sour than other types of beer, so it appeals to a particular palate.
  • Sour/Wild Ale: Different types of ale contain different strains of yeast and bacterial. An American wild ale contains "wild" strains of these components. If you're wondering about the taste, some connoisseurs refer to it as the "blue cheese" of beers.
  • Amber Ale: You can generally recognize amber or red ale by its color, which can range from a pale rose to a dark mahogany.
  • India Pale Ale: This is another hops-heavy choice that comes from (you guessed it!) India. It's a pale ale that aficionados often refer to as an IPA. It's highly bitter, so you'll need a tough palate to reach its salty-slash-sweet undertones.

Now that you're more comfortable with ale, why not give one a try? You might find that it becomes part of your evening ritual.