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The explosion of the craft brewing industry, which the Brewers Association notes experienced a 5 percent growth in 2017, ensures that just about anyone can find a beer that suits his or her palate. Beers are often placed into one of two categories, ales and lagers, though the difference between beers within each category is significant. Craft beer novices or those who simply need a refresher course on their refreshments may benefit from studying up on these popular beer styles.
Ales are a type of beer brewed with top-fermenting yeast, which is often referred to as “ale yeast.” One of two types of yeast used in brewing, top-fermenting yeast is unable to ferment some sugars. Because of that, beers made with top-fermenting yeast may have a sweet flavor. Beers made with top-fermenting yeasts can tolerate high-alcohol concentrations, so ales may have a high alcohol by volume, or ABV.
Stouts also are made with top fermenting yeast, placing them in the ale category, though they are not as sweet as ales.
Stouts, including the popular Irish stout Guinness, tend to feature creamy heads. A dark, coffee-like character also is common in many stouts, and that can be traced to the use of unmalted roasted barley during their production.
Similar to stouts, porters are made with top-fermenting yeast. Porters are brewed with roasted malt, setting them apart from stouts. Porters are dark, and many are described as producing flavors of chocolate, coffee and caramel.
Lagers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast and generally feature a lower ABV and lighter color than ales. Examples of American lagers include Budweiser and Coors, though many craft brewers also produce lagers. Dark lagers are malty and smooth, and such beers typically have a higher ABV than more traditional lagers.
Craft breweries produce a variety of styles of beer, and those new to the craft beer scene should know that many craft breweries produce their own ales, stouts, porters, and lagers. When visiting a craft brewery for the first time, people may want to order a flight, which is a selection of the various beers brewed by a particular brewer, with each beer typically served in a fourounce glass. Doing so allows beer drinkers to sample various beers and find the style that suits them best.