Our earliest relatives, back in the Paleolithic period, were hunters and gatherers. They foraged for food and scavenged or hunted meat. It wasn’t until the Neolithic period, some 10,000 or so years ago, that people began to realize they didn’t necessarily have to search for their food or even chase after it but instead could grow it themselves.
Lagers outsell ales in the US by a landslide, but most folks are still a bit hazy on exactly what makes a lager, well, a lager. We are currently in a golden age of American-made lagers—and your local shop is packed full of delicious options—but let’s back up a bit and give you a little background.
First things first, the question of ale vs. lager boils down to three very simple principles: yeast strain, time, and temperature. Lager yeast is ‘bottom fermenting,’ which means that it makes its way through the beer-to-be, settling at the bottom of the batch, and preferring to work at colder temperatures. Lagers are then matured; again, at cold temperature for weeks or even months. The word ‘lager’ actually comes from the German word ‘lagern’ which means ‘to store,’ or ‘to lay down.’ Ales, on the other hand, use a top fermenting yeast that works best at warmer temperatures. Ales ferment much more quickly than lagers. A lager is not defined by its color, flavor, or alcohol percentage: just the yeast, time, and temperature.