The World of Ales
There are two basic beer classifications – ales and lagers. Ales are the beers of antiquity. In medieval times, ales were actually a significant source of nutrition. Small beer was low-alcohol ale that was consumed daily, even by children. As it was safer to drink than most water, it was an essential form of hydration.
Ales are usually fermented at room or cellar temperature using top-fermenting yeasts. Ales tend to be more complex in their flavour profiles (as compared to lagers) and are traditionally served closer to room temperature.
Pale ales are generally fruity and dry with light malt flavours. Indian Pale Ale was an English creation; extra hops added to the brewing process helped the beer survive its journey to British troops stationed in India. IPAs are thus hoppier tasting (bitter) that their Pale Ale counterparts and range from golden to copper in colour.
Brown ales may be malty or nutty with underlying flavours of caramel or chocolate. Some may even have a slight citrus accent. American versions are more aggressively hopped.
Strong ales include barleywine, Scotch Ale and Old Ale. All possess toasty flavours and caramel-like aromas. As the name suggests, barleywine may contain as much alcohol as wine.
Dry Irish stout (Guinness) is a very dark beer with strong roasted flavours (particularly coffee) and a creamy mouthfeel.
Dark red-brown in colour, porters are less imposing than stouts with a light-malt sweetness and subtle roasted or smoky flavours.
Citrusy and aromatic, wheat beers are easy to enjoy and popular in hot weather. Witbier derives its perfumy character from the addition of coriander and orange during the brewing process.
Lambics are produced in Belgium and are the result of spontaneous fermentation by airborne, wild yeasts. The resulting beer is dry and cidery with a sour aftertaste.
There are many other sub-categories of ale. The above outline is intended to highlight the most popular styles. It is not uncommon for ales to be classified by country of origin as well; Belgian Ales, Irish Ales, Scottish Ales, etc.