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Kleine Bierkunde: The Two Categories of Beer

May 2022

Beer is one of Germany's most famous exports. German beer culture is steeped in tradition, being home to the oldest consecutively operating brewery in the world - Weihenstephan.

But what are the types of beer typical for Germany, and what is their history? We will try to shed light on German beer in this monthly column going forward, we hope you enjoy reading it, and then 'testing' the different beers at the BSV!

Every beer that you’ve been served at your local brewery, pub, or restaurant can be broken down into two basic types: ales and lagers. The main difference between an ale and a lager is the type of yeast used to ferment the beer. Although using a different type of yeast may sound like something simple, it completely changes the way a beer is fermented and tastes.

How are ales made?

Ales are brewed with Saccharomyces cerevisiae which is a yeast that ferments throughout the beer and settles at the top of the vessel (top-fermenting). They typically ferment at temperatures between 60°F to 75°F which allows the yeast to quickly process. Ales have a high tolerance for alcohol and are known for having richer and more complex flavors than lagers.

German ales are the wheat beers (Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Weizenbock), Kölsch, Alt, and Berliner Weisse. And, as a new addition, the German interpretation of an IPA. Try our Progusta IPA from Braufactum as an example for a German IPA.

How are lagers made? Lager beers are brewed with Saccharomyces pastorianus yeast which ferments at the bottom of the vessel (bottom-fermenting). This type of yeast ferments best at temperatures between 35°F to 55°F. The fermentation process of lagers takes longer to complete than ales because they ferment in cooler temperatures. This longer process is the main reason why most microbreweries in the US brew ales, and not lagers. Lagers also tend to have a crisper and cleaner taste than ales.

German lagers are Helles, Pilsner, Kellerbier or Zwickel, all Bockbier (except Weizenbock), Schwarzbier, Rauchbier, and, most important of all, the various Festbier and Märzen. Try Paulaner or Weihenstephan Helles at our next Biergarten at the main bar!

Next month's feature: Kölsch vs Alt - Two cities divided by beer



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