Ale and Lager what is the difference? I am asked that question a lot and it is a good one considering there is a certain amount of snobbery directed at lager drinkers, generally along the lines of;
Ale = Honest English Yeoman enjoying a convivial pint surrounded by hop fields and acres of beard
Lager = Tattooed yob in a football shirt with a lower IQ than his tattooed Staffy
The answer though is not as simple as some may think.
I have heard a lot of talk about top fermentation and bottom fermentation. Now bottom fermentation is closely associated with ale consumption. That is why; if you notice the bus you are about to board is occupied by the local CAMRA branch on its weekly quality control mission, it is often a good idea to wait for the next one. However, where the fermentation takes place does not always define whether the end product is ale or lager. It is generally true to say that ale top ferments and lager bottom ferments but as with most things in life, there are exceptions.
The best answer lies in the yeast. Ale yeasts occur naturally in Europe. They have been with us since early man discovered fire and decided that it would look much better surrounded by a pub. Lager yeast has not; it is probable that it hitched a lift on ships returning from South America. This hypothesis was developed after researchers traced the origins of Lager yeast to the forests of Patagonia.
Lager yeasts are more tolerant to cold and metabolise sulphates. This means that the warmer, faster process of ale brewing retains many more complex flavours while the colder slower produced lager results in a cleaner, crisper flavour.
As to the question of which of the two is the superior product, well that is purely a question of taste. I have had lagers that have tasted like a visit to the dentist and some that have turned a lovely hot day into a slice of heaven. I have drunk ale that has had all the character of the flip side of a camel trader’s welcome mat and some that have transported me to the far reaches of bliss.
My only piece of advice is to trust your taste buds rather than other people’s small-mindedness. At the Freed Man, we vary our draught lager and we are constantly looking for new and unusual styles. If you don’t like what’s on draught then we carry some bottled Lagers, just in case. You may not be a huge fan of a Bavarian beer that smells of bacon but at least you can say you have had the experience, and you may find a hitherto unknown passion for strong German Bock Bier. I’ve had a lot of lager drinkers giving the ale a go and many ale drinkers like a lager when it’s hot.
At the Freed Man, we drink without prejudice.