Did you know that there are just two types of beer that all beer styles come from? Like red and white wine, in the beer world there are just ales and lagers. The difference between the two is how each is created.
When wort (the sugary liquid of water and malts) is turned into beer it uses yeast to essentially eat the sugars and in turn burp out carbonation bubbles and alcohol. For ales this activity (fermentation) takes place at the top of the fermentation tank, in warm conditions (18°C-22°C) using an ale yeast which loves the warm temperatures. For lagers the same activity takes place at the bottom of the tank, in cool conditions (less than 12°C) using a lager yeast which prefers the cool temperatures to eat the sugars.
The outcome, the creation of beer, is the same but for ales the yeast is ‘busier’ meaning the time it takes to become beer is shorter, normally 4 weeks or less. For lagers in contrast the process is slower and will normally take 4 weeks or more to become beer.
The majority of beer consumed in the world are lagers. Think of every large mainstream beer brand whether in Australia (Carlton Draught, Tooheys, XXXX, Crown etc) or worldwide (Heineken, Carona, Peronia etc). In the world of craft beer however, the opposite is true; the majority of beers are ales. While there are over 200+ styles of beer worldwide, the vast majority of styles fall under the ale parent category.
Ales typically have much greater flavour profiles than lagers so it does make sense that in the craft beer category, where more flavoursome beers are sought, that ales are the more common style brewed.
So no matter what beer you reach for next time from the fridge or at the bar, remember one thing, it is either going to be an ale or a lager.