The type used in ales is called ‘top fermenting’ because of its tendency to float near the top of the tank. But, the results go far beyond providing an easy way to filter the brew.
Techniques used to make ale go back centuries. With that much time for experimenting, it’s not surprising there should be such a wide variety. Pale ale, India Pale, October Ales, Barley Wine, Scotch Ale, Saison, Tripel. The choices are endless.
Pale ale, as the name suggests are light, bitter and mild in hops. Originally made from malt dried with coke (a coal product, not the drug cocaine), almost every beer-producing country now has its own variety.
A type known as India Pale Ale is derived from a British October, brought to India during the 18th century. Heavier on hops, the preparation method helped preserve the brew for the long sea voyage.
Despite the name, Barley Wine is a kind of heavy, sweet beer. An English-style ale, the name may come from the fact that the brew is high in alcohol, often as much 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 mixture. Sometimes wine yeasts are, in fact, used.
Darker still is the Scottish Ale, with a maltier taste. Though the hops were imported, the Scots produce their own unique style, aided by the colder weather. Some sources put the origins of brewing there as far back as 5,000 years, where herbs were used rather than hops.
Two Belgian-style ales have long been favorites outside their country of origin.
The Saison, from the French word for ‘season’, has a spicy, earthy taste that’s dry and smooth. Traditionally brewed in small farmhouses in winter, each one had its own unique profile. Some types have an alcohol content as high as 8%.
But the very pinnacle of Belgian brewing is achieved by the six Trappist monasteries. Among other brews, they produce the outstanding Tripel. The name derives from the brewing process, in which up to three times the amount of traditional Trappist malt is added. Light golden in color, they’re high in alcohol and full of flavor.
Forming creamy heads, with rich aroma, they are mildly to moderately bitter. Body is light, thanks to the use of Belgian candy sugar during the brewing.
Top of line among Trappist Tripel ales 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.
Whichever type you naturally prefer, do yourself a favor and emulate the brewers – experiment.