From the HBD Archive
Subject: ale vs. lager
Date: 1992-03-27 22:55:00 GMT

Jack writes:
>When all of the opinions are sorted out we are left with nothing more that "a
>cleaner taste" and a lack of certain esoteric esterish remnants. Even the
>almost universally agreed to "fruitiness" of ale leaves me in the cold.

Personally, I'm not sure if I could tell the difference in a blind tasting
of Ales versus Lagers. I'm also not sure if many "experts" could. As in
the rest of nature, there is no clear dividing line between the flavor of
Ales and the flavor of Lagers -- all beers are somewhere on the frutiness
continuum. Another "stick-in-the-spokes" of this issue is something like
Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which is so highly dryhopped so as to make it
difficult to perceive esters, that I don't think even Michael Jackson
would be able to tell if it was a Lager or an Ale in a blind tasting.

>The only fruit I have ever tasted in my ale was bananas and apples resulting
>from contaminated yeast and the use of sugar.

As I've noted in a previous post, my Chemistry skills are pretty poor,
therefore, for the sake of discussion, I would like to present my
understanding and would greatly appreciate concurrence/correction from
experts. Here goes:

It is my understanding that esters are the product of alcohols and
organic acids. The well-known "banana" ester is isoamyl acetate, which
I assume is the product of isoamyl alcohol and acetic acid. I also
assume that the yeast does more than create the alcohol, rather the
reaction between the alcohol and the acid takes place in the yeast cell
(George? Help?). In any event (I digress) I don't think Jack should
immediately blame contamination for esters -- many yeasts are "chosen"
for their ester production (try St. Louis Gueuze for the fruitiest beer
I've ever tasted, that did not have fruit added).

The bottom line is that all beers have some esters, and IMHO while there
may be a theoretical division between Ale and Lager, there is no *real*
division (it depends on the sensitivity of the taster, among other things).
On the other hand, I don't think it's wrong for a judge to taste a beer
entered in the Pilsener category and to say "too estery for style." A
judge should have pretty-much tuned his/her senses to conform to the
AHA/HWBTA style definitions and should be aware of their taste/smell


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