There is no greater time than now for beer lovers. There are a vast number of beer options to choose from around the world, and these numbers keep on growing. Ales are but one of the many options for the avid beer enthusiast but understanding the different types can be quite overwhelming.
That’s where we come in.
What Is Ale?
Ale is a particular beer style that is defined by a type of yeast used during its fermentation process. The brewing method consists of using warm water as a form of fermentation which results in a sweet, fruity, and well-bodied taste.
What is the History of Ale?
During the medieval ages, it was normal for all social classes to consume beer. It was relatively easy to make and definitely tasted better than the water they had to their availability. Women brewed most of the local beer during the Middle Ages for either domestic consumption or to generate some income within their communities.
Ale was an important source of nutrition since it provided grains, pottage, and bread around the fourteenth century in England. The medieval ages had a type of beer that was referred to as small beer or table beer. It was highly nutritious and acted as a preservative due to it containing just enough alcohol. Children were said to have consumed it too.
What are the Different Types of Ales?
There are a number of varieties of ales in the world, and these are just a few to whet your tastebuds:
Pale ale is a golden to an amber-coloured ale that’s brewed using ale yeast and mainly pale malt. They are full of hop and malt flavours, but not too heavy.
Brown ales are normally lightly hopped, with a fair amount of mild flavours with often a nutty taste. Brown ales differ in the north and south of England. In the south, they are a dark brown colour and contain around 3 to 3.6% alcohol volume. In the north, they are a reddish, brownish colour with a somewhat drier taste containing between 4.5 to 5 % alcohol volume.
Golden ale was introduced in the hopes of attracting a younger audience and driving them away from consuming lagers in favour of cask ales. There are similarities between golden ale and pale ale, however, the differences are quite notable too. Golden ale appears paler and is brewed either with lagers or in lower temperature ale malts. They’re served at colder temperatures and the alcohol volume varies from 3.5 to 5.3%.
Old ale was a traditionally strong beer in England that used to be stored for about a year to gain sharp, acidic flavours. Currently, the terms are used to refer to medium, strong dark beers, of which some are treated to resemble the traditional styled old ales.
Cask ales are unpasteurised and unfiltered beers that are transferred into casks, carbonated, sealed, and then undergo a slight fermentation in the cask. Cask ale is also referred to as real ale in the United Kingdom.
Scotch ales are predominantly produced in Scotland, but the term is used internationally to symbolize the malty, strong, dark, and red-amber colour. The malt can be slightly caramelized to convey coffee notes. Generally, Scottish beers tend to have a darker, sweeter, and less hoppy flavour than English beers.
Belgium produces a variety of speciality ales that are typically high in alcohol volume but are somewhat light in body. This is due to the substitution of sucrose for part of the grist, which supplies an alcohol boost without the addition of unfermentable materials to the finished products.
Burton ale is named after the town it was brewed in known as Burton on Trent. It’s a type of strong ale that has a dark and sweet flavour. Burton ales were generally aged and needed cellaring for months prior to serving.
How Much Ale Is Consumed Worldwide?
Beer holds a prominent share in the global market when compared to other alcoholic beverages and Europe is seen as the largest consumer of beer in the world. It’s also gained immense popularity among millennials and Gen Z, largely due to its innovations in using various flavours, formulations, and taste offerings. Lagers are the most famous type of beer all over the world because their brewing processes offer refreshing and crisp appeal to their consumers. Ales held the second spot in the beer industry with a market share of 20%.
What is the Difference Between Ale and Other Beers?
The difference between ales and other types of beers is the fermentation processes they all go through.
Ale fermentation: Ales are fermented at room temperatures between 15.56°C (60°F) and 21.11°C (70°F) by using a top-fermenting yeast. This ferments the sugar at the top of the fermentation tanks and allows the brewer to skim the yeast to reuse it in other batches. Top fermenting yeasts work thoroughly in warm temperatures, meaning fermentation time for ales tends to be relatively short, around two to five weeks.
Lager fermentation: Lagers are fermented at cooler temperatures between 5°C (41°F) and 10°C (50°F) using a bottom-fermenting yeast. The bottom-fermenting yeast sinks to the bottom of the fermentation tanks after it has consumed all the sugar to form alcohol. Lagers take longer to ferment due to the cooler temperatures and the action of the yeast, normally around four to eight weeks.
What Is An Ale Vs A Lager?
People tend to generalize the two by comparing them to their tastes, colours, aromas, and alcohol volumes, however, what mainly distinguishes the two is the way they are both fermented. Remember that ale is a top-fermented beer and lager is a bottom fermented beer. The distinguishing factors such as colour are found in their subcategories.
Ales are typically sweeter and fuller-bodied compared to lagers and have hints of bitterness that stem from the hops. Examples of ales are Pale ales, Brown ales, and Indian pale ales.
Lagers are typically smoother with crisp notes from slow and cold fermentation. Examples of lagers are Pilsners, Bocks and Dunkel.
How Does Ale Taste?
Ales tend to have fruity flavour profiles and compared to lagers, are sweeter in taste and fuller-bodied. Appearance-wise, you can identify some ales by their darker colour and cloudier look. Expect ales to be more potent since they have higher alcohol content. They are also much more robust in flavour, and bitterness and consist of strong hints of hops.
How to Serve Ale Beer
If you have ever been to a pub around your surrounding neighbourhood or have ever experienced one while on vacation, you would’ve realized that people drink ale from a pint or half-pint glass. In stores, ales generally come in cans or bottles.
During the 16th century, ale was drunk using a tankard which is characterized by a conical metal design with a large handle. They were mostly used in the northern parts of Europe such as Germany, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. Nowadays, it is extremely rare to find establishments serving beer in tankards, you can however purchase some as souvenirs if you happen to be a beer and ale enthusiast.
What Is The Most Popular Ale Brand In The World?
The original Guinness is the most popular ale brand.
Guinness is an Irish brand and a type of ale known as a stout. It’s made from grains that include a large number of roasted barley which give it a very dark colour and intense burnt flavour. In terms of aroma, the Guinness original is medium and balanced with roasted characters and subtle fermented fruitiness.
Expect to taste a perfectly rounded flavour of bitter and sweet with a smooth and dry finish on the palate. Guinness original has 5% alcohol volume. Although Guinness is Irish, it is surprisingly mostly consumed in Great Britain.
The other two countries following with the most consumption are Nigeria and Cameroon, located in West Africa. In January 2020, Nigeria was seen surpassing Ireland to being the second-largest Guinness consumer market, as it has been sold in their country since 1827. Guinness owns five breweries around the world, Ireland, Malaysia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon.
What Foods Can You Pair with Ale?
Below are some varieties of ales you can pair with your favourite dishes:
Indian pale ale
Better known as IPA, Indian Pale ale is one of the most popular styles of beer in the craft brew industry. They typically have a medium amber colour with minimal flavour. Many breweries add some citrus and herbal tones to the beers to make the bitterness more palatable. IPA’s come in a number of varieties, hence there aren’t any hard rules when it comes down to pairing. These are a few general food pairings that can go well with IPA’s: Steak, barbecue ribs, burritos, and fries.
Amber ales can be characterised by colours ranging from a deep reddish and gold, to amber. They are strong in flavours of malt, with notes of sweet caramel that perfectly complement the roasted malted taste. Amber ales have a dry and crisp finish which makes them an excellent choice for pairing with Pizza, brisket, jerk chicken, and barbecue pulled pork.
Brown ales aren’t as bitter or hoppy compared to other medium-coloured beers. They instead have hints of coffee and chocolate similar to porters and stouts. Brown ales are versatile when it comes to food pairings, they pair well with sushi, fish, roast pork, and sausage.
An Ale For All Seasons
Ultimately, all beers fall under two categories, lagers, and ales. Both have different methods of fermentation, which is what mainly distinguishes them apart. Ale is fermented using top-fermenting yeast under warmer conditions in shorter periods. Ale consists of a variety of beers ranging from pale ale, brown ale, and golden ale, to name a few.
The main characteristics of ales are strong, malty, and hoppy flavours that are bitter and full-bodied. Ale’s appearance can be mostly characterized by its dark goldish, reddish, and dark brownish colours.
Now you know all about ale beer, there’s just one more thing. Remember that when you drink your ales, they’re recommended to be enjoyed as a pint!
Jake has been a craft beer and homebrew enthusiast since his college days. He loves scouring Europe for unique and unusual hops to add to his beers.
Founder of Jake’s Brew Haven – he currently hosts beer-tasting sessions at select local pubs in Baltimore.
Jump To a Section Below
- What Is Ale?
- What is the History of Ale?
- What are the Different Types of Ales?
- How Much Ale Is Consumed Worldwide?
- What is the Difference Between Ale and Other Beers?
- What Is An Ale Vs A Lager?
- How Does Ale Taste?
- How to Serve Ale Beer
- What Is The Most Popular Ale Brand In The World?
- What Foods Can You Pair with Ale?
- An Ale For All Seasons