The first challenge you might experience when entering a pub is understanding what differentiates one brew from another. Beer is classified into three types: lagers, brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast; ales, brewed with top-fermenting yeas; and hybrids, which fall between ale and a lager. Breweries often group an infinite variety of alternative beers in the hybrid category.
Differences in temperature influence the chemistry that ultimately creates a beer's flavor. Brewers adapt to changes by adding different ingredients. Ales, which are brewed with warmer, top-fermenting yeast, can be brewed stronger because the finished product floats to the top. In contrast, lagers are brewed at colder temperatures at the bottom of a barrel. Breweries often compensate for the lighter taste of a lager or hybrid by adding ingredients such as fruit, vegetables or herbs.
Choosing the Right Beer
Understanding the difference between lagers and ales is important because this can help simplify your beer pairing decisions. Well-stocked pubs often have hundreds of different drinks, including porters, pale ales, stouts and more. Since beers are categorized as ales, lagers or hybrids, most pubs divide their menus accordingly. If you recognize the difference between the three styles of beer, you can more easily tailor your selection to your meal.
When to Order Ales
Ales are stronger beers, best paired with heavier foods. Common pub food such as burgers and wings will taste great with strong ale. Some ales are stronger than others, so if you prefer lighter drinks you can identify an ale that is right for both your tastes and food pairing by asking the bartender or waiter.
When to Order Lagers
Lagers are relatively light and complement lighter foods. Examples of foods to order with a lager include fresh seafood, light pasta and salads. If you prefer lagers, recognize that beer pairing may require ordering a lighter meal. Flavor matching is rarely a concern for lager lovers because—whether they recognize it or not—they tend to prefer lighter meals in general.
When to Order a Hybrid
Hybrids stand between ales and lagers. While it’s relatively simple to order unknown ales and lagers, hybrids are more complicated because they vary widely in composition. The most common hybrids encountered in a pub are fruity beers, great with spicy food including Asian dishes and hot wings.