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Clarification, definition, frustration

Working with a local historian in writing an article on the roots of the brewing industry and a family connection to hops growing. His contention is that there is Ale, and Beer. I said that Beer is more of a generic term that covers Ale, Lager, Pilsner, Porter,etc. ie. a fermented malt beverage and that the yeast and conditioning has more of an impact on what it becomes, but it is all Beer. He pulled out a Dictionary the definition of Ale " A fermented alcoholic beverage containing malt, and hops, similar but heavier than beer." Now I’m doubting my understanding of what’s what.Help a brother out. Thanks.

“Beer” means lager in the US and ale in the UK. IMO you’re correct as it is all BEER with ales & lagers being the subdivisions. That dictionary definition from your friend is only partially correct. First it assumes that BEER=Lager and that ales are always stronger than lagers, which of course they are not. :cheers:

And we all know that bottom fermenting yeasts are used for lagers and top fermenting yeasts are for ales, but the truth is that the yeast ferment through the entire strata of the wort. Cooler fermenting strains (saccharomyces pastorianus) are lager yeasts and warmer fermenting strains (saccharomyces cerevisiae) are ale yeasts. So really the distinction is merely the yeast used - even if used at the improper temperatures. Now if that is clear, you are a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

(hey y’all - first time poster, long time word dork )

Definitions are so variable that I think folks armed with reference material could argue endlessly. What a given dictionary definition says is going to depend a lot on where, when, & by whom the definition was written. For example, my dictionary (a 1968 edition of Webster’s) gives definitions for the two words that directly contradict each other:

ale: a fermented drink made from malt and hops; it is like beer but contains more alcohol and undecomposed sugar
beer: an undistilled, fermented malt beverage, as ale, porter, or stout

(So much for the supposed infallibility of of dictionaries. . .)

According to what I’m seeing on the online etymology dictionary, if you want to go with Renaissance-era definitions, the two definitely referred to distinct beverages. But the distinction had nothing to do with what defines ale nowadays. Ale was the stuff you got from the the older no-hop recipes, and beer was the stuff that used hops.

Personally, I think words belong to the people who use them. The best definitions can never be found printed on dead trees. So ale is a type of beer, 'cuz that’s how hopheads use the word.

Of course, there are also those who would argue that not only are ale and beer to different things, but that stouts/porters are neither beers nor ales. And historically, going WAY back in time, ale was evidently defined as not containing hops.

I personally think that in our modern times, the definitions are somewhat liquid (no pun intended. honest), owing to ever changing and evolving tastes, methods, local traditions, industrialization, moon phases etc.

In the modern landscape, it seems as though ale is considered to be a type of beer, but not all beers are ales. Most (but not all) “ales” are and have been made with ‘top fermenting’ yeasts, and most (but not all) “lagers” are and have been made with bottom fermenting yeasts.

These days, it’s more about what you taste in the glass rather than how the taste got there. Come to think of it, it has probably always been that way.

It’s all perfectly clear.
As clear as mud.

There is beer, which includes lagers and ales. And then, there’s the Reinheitsgebot, which frowns on many shenanigans that we have grown to love as home brewers. Definitions are overrated. It’s all beer.

From the Wikipedia entry (fwiw) on gruit

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I think these days it’s safe to say that the OP’s original understanding of “beer” and “ale” probably describes how most Americans think of the terms (it’s certainly how I thought of it until I started brewing). Actually, I think a lot of Americans just think of “beer” and that’s that.

Just finished watching the Brewing TV interview with Fred Eckhardt (#20). He mentions that in the USA before homebrewing was legalized and craft breweries started to form, the big breweries were basically only putting out those lagers that us Americans are probably never going to live down. Aside from that (and, I assume, a few imports), other beer just wasn’t really available.

Maybe that explains the distinction that beer specifically means lager or maybe "light fermented malt beverage, and ale is something else. If pale lager is the only thing that’s familiar, an ale really would be something else.

That’s the legend as it is passed down these days. In a very broad sense, somewhat true, I guess. Technically though, not totally correct.

As someone who started buying beer almost 45 years ago I can say with certainty that although rarer, actually there were indeed American made beers other than yellow fizz back then for those willing to seek them out…and it wasn’t even as hard as the current folklore wants us to believe. No denying…there was nowhere near the choice we have today, to be sure, but there were options, many of them were quite good, and a few of them would even outclass some of what we have available today.

Always the odd man out, the first sixpacks I ever bought for myself were American made Bocks and American made Munich style dark lagers (and a few pretty good ones at that) and my favorite beer from the late 1960’s through the mid 80’s was an audaciously hopped IPA that had been around since the end of prohibition, and probably still has no equal even today.

So the ‘dark ages’ weren’t quite as dark as some would have you believe. You just had to work a little harder to see the light and just like today, pay a bit more (but it was certainly worth it).

That’s the legend as it is passed down these days. In a very broad sense, somewhat true, I guess. Technically though, not totally correct.

As someone who started buying beer almost 45 years ago I can say with certainty that although rarer, actually there were indeed American made beers other than yellow fizz back then for those willing to seek them out…and it wasn’t even as hard as the current folklore wants us to believe. No denying…there was nowhere near the choice we have today, to be sure, but there were options, many of them were quite good, and a few of them would even outclass some of what we have available today.

Always the odd man out, the first sixpacks I ever bought for myself were American made Bocks and American made Munich style dark lagers (and a few pretty good ones at that) and my favorite beer from the late 1960’s through the mid 80’s was an audaciously hopped IPA that had been around since the end of prohibition, and probably still has no equal even today.

So the ‘dark ages’ weren’t quite as dark as some would have you believe. You just had to work a little harder to see the light and just like today, pay a bit more (but it was certainly worth it).[/quote]

What breweries were making those beers Professor? Especially the IPA… I enjoy history lessons :smiley:

This is all the OP is looking to hear as spoken to above.

In medieval England, ale was an alcoholic drink made from grain, water, and fermented with yeast. The difference between medieval ale and beer was that beer also used hops as an ingredient.

In history ALE=no hops and BEER=hopped. This reference is all that is ever spoken to in historical brewing publications.

Now if your speaking in today’s terms you have ale and lager(not even known about in medieval times) and the subtypes of the main two and every malt/water/yeast/hop concoction is a beer no matter yeast or subtype.

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