Do you know your beer types?
Beer has been around a long time.
A really long time.
Archaeologists have brewing evidence—in the form of chemical traces of beer inside broken pottery which dates as far back as 3500 BC—from Godin Tepe, a dig site in Western Iran.
Even more amazing was the discovery of an ancient business receipt from the Sumerian city of Umma in Ancient Iraq. This receipt (dated 2050 BC) is known as the Alulu Tablet and includes the seller’s name, Alulu, the quantity, and the quality of the beer—the “best.” Is it a coincidence that Alulu is similar to ale in English? Maybe, maybe not, but the receipt establishes proof that there’s been a market for the tasty beverage for centuries, and that quality matters.
Fast forward about 500 years to Turkey and the small city of Hattusa. A Czech linguist, upon translating some Assyrian merchants’ tablets found there, discovered the Hittites had over fifteen different beers.
By the 15th century, hops were being used to flavor and preserve ales by brewers in Germany and the Low Countries; this new style of ale was called beer. When the trend reached Britain, and brewers of beer in Southwark, London started commandeering sales from the traditional brewers of unhopped ale, complaints and protests forced laws to be passed favoring either beer or ale. Until hopped beer became the standard style throughout Europe, anyway.
Also in the 15th century, Bavarian brewers had taken to storing their beer in caves during the summer months in order to prevent spoiling. The beer became known as lager from the German word lagern, meaning “to store”.
So, What Are the Types of Beer?
Simply put, there are two main types of beer: lagers and ales. There is a third type called a Lambic, but it’s considered slightly obscure and is only made in Belgium therefore not as popular as the other two.
Four basic ingredients go into making beer. Hops, malted barley, yeast, and water. Other botanicals—spices, fruits, or vegetables—get added to the basic beer recipe to create a variety of flavors. (Arch City Tavern has over forty flavors to choose from!) The kinds of yeast used and the fermentation temperatures determine which ‘type’ of beer the final product will be. Lagers use a yeast which ferments best at cool temperatures, ales use one that ferments at warmer temperatures. Lambics are made using wild yeast and spontaneous fermentation. The majority of beer in production today, however, are lagers.
Microbrews, Hybrids, and Specialty Beers
Microbrews are brewed in small, independent breweries. Their properties are usually unique to the beers because of the use of local ingredients. Microbreweries brew beer in much smaller batches, using specialty ingredients.
Hybrid beers are a crossover between ales and lagers. For example: beer fermented at cold temperatures using an ale yeast, or vice versa for a beer that’s warm fermented, using lager yeast.
When you delve into the world of Specialty beers, though, the options are practically limitless. An unofficial style of beer, specialties cover a wide range of brews which are hard to define, much less regulate. Typically, specialty beers are brewed to a classic style (such as Porter or Weizenbier) but changed up by adding new flavor—such as unusual foods that are fermented. Strict brewing guidelines are useless, and kind of pointless when the fun of crafting specialty beers comes from an attitude of “Rules be damned!”
Basic facts every beer enthusiast should know:
AGE: Ales are ancient (centuries old); lagers are “new” (only several hundred years old)
FERMENTATION: Ales take quick warm soaks; lagers enjoy longer cold ones.
YEASTS: Ales are done with top-fermenting yeasts; lagers are done with bottom-fermenting yeasts (mm mmm sediment)