There are two broad categories of beer, namely ale beers and lager beers, which are mainly distinguished by the
type of yeast used during the fermentation. Fermentation is the process that transforms sugars into alcohol and
carbon dioxide. The type of yeast used in ale beers is called 'top fermenting' due to its tendency to float near
the top of the fermentation tank. However, the results go far beyond providing a simple way to filter the brew.
Techniques used to make ale beers can be traced back through the centuries and with that much time for
experimenting, it is not surprising that there should be such a wide choice. Indeed the choice of ale beers almost
seems endless with names such as Pale ale, India Pale Ale, Trappist Ale, October Ale, Barley Wine, Scotch Ale,
Saison and Tripel to name but a few.
As it's name suggests, Pale ale is light, bitter and mild in hops. It was originally made from malt dried with
coke, which is a product of coal, and nearly every beer producing country now has its own variety.
India Pale Ale
This ale is derived from another called British October. It was brought to India during the eighteenth century
and is heavier on hops. The method of preparation helped preserve the brew for the long sea voyage to India
Barley Wine Ale
In spite of the name, Barley Wine is a kind of heavy, sweet beer. It is also very strong in respect of alcohol
content. Barley wine is an English type ale with an alcohol content as high as 10% by volume. Special yeasts are
used that can tolerate the high concentration and the result is a full bodied copper to dark brown mix.
Occasionally wine yeasts are also used which may account for the name Barley Wine.
Darker still is the Scottish Ale, which also has a maltier taste. Although the hops were imported, the Scots
produce their own unique style, aided by the colder weather. Various sources put the origins of brewing in Scotland
as far back as 5,000 years where herbs were used rather than hops.
Two Belgian style ale beers that have long been favorites outside their country of origin are Saison and Tripel
The Saison, which comes from the French word for 'season', has a spicy, earthy taste that is dry and smooth. It
is traditionally brewed in small farmhouses in winter, each one having its own unique profile. Some types of Saison
can have an alcohol content as high as 8% .
The very top of Belgian brewing is achieved by the six Trappist monasteries. Amongst other brews, they produce
the outstanding Tripel. The name Tripel derives from the brewing process, where up to three times the amount of
traditional Trappist malt is added. Light golden in color, they are high in alcohol and full of flavor.
Forming creamy heads, with rich aroma, they are mildly to moderately bitter. Thanks to the use of Belgian candy
sugar during the brewing process, the body of the ale is light
Top of line amongst Trappist Tripel ale beers is the Westmalle, produced by the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart,
founded in 1794 . Some varieties reach as high as 12% alcohol, but the taste, far from being too strong, is that of
a heady mixture of malt and hops.