It’s already October, the month of Halloween, continuous Christmas songs, and Oktoberfest. There are many events around the world to celebrate the beer festival. It is believed that the Sumerians accidentally discovered beer six to eight thousand years ago. And the methods have been refined over millennia.

Like wine, beer has numerous styles and varieties. While the Philippine’s beer market is still ruled by the country’s biggest brewery, there are foreign beers and local craft beers cutting into a significant piece of the pie. This is a bit of a beer primer to learn some basic facts about this booze that has been called “liquid bread” and “nectar of the gods.”

Great Islands Craft Brewery beers

The main ingredients in beer are malted barley, hops, yeast and water. Barley is a grain and is high in starch, which turns into sugar during the mashing process. Hops add flavor and spice and balance the sugar with bitterness. Yeast is a fungus that produces alcohol and carbonation as it eats the sugar during the fermentation process. And we all know what water is, but since beer is mostly made of water, its quality and mineral content affect the end product.


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There are two main categories of beer: lager and ale. While the main ingredients are the same, the difference lies in the temperature at which they are fermented and the yeast that is used. Lagers are fermented at cooler temperatures (46-55°F) while ales are fermented at higher temperatures (65-75°F).

Brewing process: Ales vs Lagers

Lagers, which originated in central Europe, usually use bottom-fermenting yeast, and are brewed at low temperatures (46-55°F) for long periods of time. They are relatively new, having only been around for several hundred years. This limits the formation of by-products and results in a crisp, light-bodied beer best served cold. Varieties of lager include:

  • Pale lager – originating from Czechoslovakia, this is a pale yellow beer with a hoppy yet smooth flavor; Pilsner is a type of pale lager

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Heineken is a pale lager beer
Heineken is a pale lager beer
  • Bock – from Germany, bocks are brown-deep black with a heavier malty, rich flavor and less hops

  • Oktoberfest / Maerzen – known as Oktoberfest beer, this lager is a riff on Vienna-style lager; copper-colored and full-bodied with a toasty flavor

  • Dunkel – a dark lager from Germany, it is deep brown/mahogany in color and has a full-bodied, malty flavor

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Ales, on the other hand, are fermented at higher temperatures (65-75°F) for short periods of time and use top-fermenting yeast. They are the ancient types of beer that have been passed down for centuries. Ales are complex, flavorful beers. They can be served at a warmer temperature and have a rich aroma and flavor. Varieties of ales include:

  • Pale ale – there are American and English pale ales; they generally are gold or copper-colored and dry with a crisp hop flavor

  • IPA (India Pale Ale) – First brewed to have a slightly higher alcohol content, the IPA has more hops (which also served as a preservative during the spice trade from England to India when it was conceived), and is full-bodied. This is the go-to beer that craft brewers start with nowadays.

  • Stout – thick, black and rich, stouts get their color and flavor from roasted barley; they often taste of caramel

Enjoying the perfect pour at The Globe, Borough Market in London. Nothing beats a good local!

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  • Wheat – arguably the oldest style of beer (the original wheat beer, hefeweizen, comes from Bavaria); its mixture of barley and wheat gives it a cloudy appearance and prominent yeast flavor

Then there are emerging types of beer that don’t really fit into these two main categories. There are hybrid beers that cross the styles of ale and lager (like a beer that uses ale yeast but is fermented at a cold temperature). Specialty beers are another type that doesn’t fall into the ale/lager categories, and they are practically limitless. They cover a wide range of brews that are hard to define. Some specialty beers start out in a classic style, but with some new flavor added. Guidelines are mere suggestions. There is an air of rebellion in the brewery and the sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity.

Beer has evolved throughout the centuries, and has been reimagined countless times. Styles have come and gone and more will be created. It’s amazing that there are literally dozens of kinds of beer out there. There is more to the world of beer than the usual fare we get at bars (though that is also changing). Explore and try them out and you’re bound to find at least one kind that you’ll enjoy.

Restaurateur, expert drinker, creative proprietor of steam punk bar Hooch, SMITH Butcher and Grill Room, Ebeneezers, Poulet Manille, and Ampersand. She wrote The Standard newspaper’s Tipple Tales cocktail and spirits column and co-hosted the Manila episode of the Travel Channel show Booze Traveler with cocktail connoisseur Jack Maxwell. She is DrinkManila’s resident mixology expert.

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