A Beer Primer

The word “ale” translates roughly from its Proto-Indo-European roots as,

That’s a pretty strong endorsement.

This page is for people who respect the history of a beverage that is over 5,000 years old and want to know something about it. It’ll take you from zero to hero in a just a couple of minutes.

Beer is the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage, and third most consumed beverage overall—after water and tea. It’s referenced in some of humankind’s earliest writings, including the Code of Hammurabi, and the earliest evidence points to an origin in Iran.

Beer is made by separating the carbohydrates within malted barley and malted wheat, and then fermenting the resulting sugars. Fermentation is the conversion of the sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide using yeasts and/or bacteria in an anaerobic (airtight) environment.

Most beer is then flavored with hops, which are the female flowers of the hop plant. Hops grant beer both flavor (a bitterness and tang) and stability.

The alcohol content of beer is generally around 4% to 6%, but there are many that are much lower and higher (from 1% to 40%).

The Netherlands and Germany export the most beer, and the United States, France, and the United Kingdom import the most.

The basic steps for brewing are to convert your starch source into a sugary liquid called wort, and then use yeast to convert that sugar to alcohol through fermentation.

Malted barley is a common starch source for beer. Malted barley is the germinated seeds of a barley plant, meaning seeds of the plant that have been soaked in water long enough to grow to a certain point, and are then halted by exposure to hot air.

Malt is the name for these germinated and halted seeds in large quantities.

There are two main types of beer: Ales, and Lagers. These are differentiated by the types of yeast and the temperature used during fermentation.


Ales are far older than lagers (around 5,000 years old), and are generally more intense than lagers, often with a sweet or fruity flavor.

Ales are created using top-fermenting yeasts at warmer temperatures (60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit). Their age when consumed can vary from very young (weeks) to quite old (years), but in general are consumed younger than lagers.

Examples include Brown Ale, Mild Ale, Old Ale, Pale Ale, Stout, and Wheat Beer.

[ TIP: Remember AWOT for Ale, Warm, Old, and Top. ]


Lagers (from the German “to store”) are a much more recent player in the beer scene. While Ales have been around for over 5,000 years, Lagers just showed up in the 1800s.

Lagers and are created using bottom-fermenting yeasts at cooler temperatures (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit). The cooler fermentation temperature and longer fermentation time is known to produce a cleaner, smoother, and more subtle taste.

Pale lagers are the most commonly consumed beers in the world, and lager brands include many national beers such as Heineken, Tsing Tao, Sapporo, Kingfisher, and Budweiser.

[ TIP: Remember LCNB for Lager, Cold, New, and Bottom. ]


Ales are an ancient type of beer that’s produced more quickly, at warm temperatures, that are usually more intense in flavor. Lagers are a fairly new type of beer that takes more time to ferment, at cooler temperatures, which are more subtle, balanced, and smooth.

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Following their brewing conditions, ales are generally served a bit warmer (sometimes called “cellar temperature”), whereas lagers are usually served quite cold.

Now that we’ve talked about the two main types of beers (ales and lagers), let’s look at some of the options you’re likely to encounter.

Now that we’ve covered types and subtypes of beers, let’s take a look at some brands you’re likely to come across.


Hopefully this has been informative. Contact me below if you think anything should be added or adjusted.

  1. There is also another main type of beer, called a Lambic, but it’s only made in Belgium and isn’t nearly as popular as Ales or Lagers.

  2. For the brand comparison, I’m going off of the main line. Major brands are likely to have many types and subtypes.

  3. The Wikipedia article on beer.

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