I realize that some of you may already know the differences in different styles of beers, so forgive me if I’m assuming the worst, but bear with me. I need to do this so I can feel ok about talking about beer styles and other beer-related things. I just want to make sure everyone’s on the same page. If this is like taking 8th grade math and you’re a regular Tom, then go to the head of the class and shut up. Here we go…
Not all beers are created equal. In fact, that’s why they’re so beautiful, like the people of the world, each one is different and unique, with a different look, taste and smell. The ingredients are the same, in concept, but there are different KINDS of ingredients that change the outcome of the beer. Ok I’ve gone away from the ‘we are the world’ analogy, but I think you get the point. The four main ingredients in beer are: WATER, MALTED BARLEY/GRAINS (SUGAR), HOPS, YEAST. No one ingredient is more or less important and they all play a role, if you change any one of these elements in the slightest way, even if you change how much or when you added it during the brewing process, you create a different beer. Did I mention that’s why beer is beautiful? It’s like a chemistry equation you can keep changing (and not necessarily in ratios) that still results in the same great thing (assuming you don’t screw up too badly).
So, as you guessed, the variation in the ingredients is what makes different styles of beer. You may have heard of various styles, know a little bit about certain ones, have preferences, know which ones to avoid, and that’s great, you should. You should know these things if you’re drinking the stuff. There are two main categories of beer styles: ales and lagers, and then a ton of ones that go in each of the categories (and of course, some outliers). Ales are beers that are made with yeasts that are generally top fermenting and are fermented at higher temperatures (not hot, but warmer than lagers, think room temperature) while lagers are beers made with generally bottom-fermenting yeasts at lower temperatures (a little bit like refrigerator temperatures). Because ales are at higher temperatures and there is a wider range of yeasts available, there is a wider range of flavor profiles and styles within ales. Also in general, for homebrewing, lagering is much more difficult because it requires lower temperatures that a basement generally can’t provide, and ales are just more fun and vibrant (like young people). I’m not going to go into the styles that are considered ales and those that are lagers, that’s a lesson for a different day. We have to start small. Like my math teacher in high school used to say, you can’t build a house without first building the walls. And if you build crappy walls (with holes… in your education. Get it?) the roof will fall in on you. And you will die. However, for a taste, see the awesome image below for an overwhelming yet beautiful description of beer styles (note: this is not my image, but I love it and it’s beautiful and I want to buy it, or you can buy it, or you can buy it for me if you’d like, I’d love that, here).
In conclusion, and in reference to the title, ales aren’t really the Dr. Jekyll to the lager’s Mr. Hyde, but you see what I’m getting at—you can’t have one without the other and they’re both beers. There are good lagers and bad ales, and awesome ales and awesome lagers because they’re all beers; it’s all part of the circle of beer life.