Jul. 04, 2012 - Issue #872: The Beer Issue
Beer NotesWho is Thomas Ireland?
Thomas William Ireland was Alberta’s first commercial brewer. Born in London, England, he emigrated to the harsh prairies, like thousands before him, in hope of creating a better future for his family. In the late 1870s he was an accountant for the CPR and was transferred to Medicine Hat. For reasons unknown to most of us, in 1882 he launched Alberta’s first brewery, called Saskatchewan Brewery. It got that name because Medicine Hat is on the South Saskatchewan river and we were just the Northwest Territories at the time. The brewery didn’t last long, closing in 1887, but Ireland remained in the Hat and raised nine children with his wife Amelia.
Ireland has mostly drifted into historical obscurity, overshadowed by Alberta’s longer lasting early beer players, like Fritz Sick, Alfred Cross and Charlie Flint (yes, I know most of you don’t know them, either, but trust me, they are way more famous than Ireland). Flint currently has a beer named after him, made by Alley Kat.
Thomas Ireland is a name worth remembering (and tossing out at parties to look smart) because he was one of the early pioneers of Alberta’s beer scene, reflecting the hardy prairie spirit that made our region what it is. Besides, aren’t you floored that Alberta’s first brewery was in Medicine Hat, of all places? I sure am.
Ale vs. Lager
When I run beer education sessions, the most frequent question I get is: what is the difference between ale and lager? I can understand the confusion.
First let me say that colour, bitterness, flavour and aroma do not distinguish the families. You can just as easily have a dark lager as a blonde ale, and characteristics like hop bitterness, malt sweetness and alcohol content are shared by both.
The difference comes down to one key thing, but that thing has significant consequences. The main distinction is that ales are fermented at approximately room temperature, while lagers require cooler fermentation (10 – 12 degrees) and an even cooler aging period.
The first big consequence of this difference is that each requires a different species of yeast. Ale yeasts would go to sleep at the temperature needed for lagers, so a different species, accustomed to lower fermentations, is used. These yeasts tend to produce a cleaner, crisper beer, while ale yeasts create fruity esters and other complex compounds.
The second consequence is flavour. Ales, due to their process, are fruitier, fuller and seem more complex. In contrast, lagers are cleaner and crisper. The extended cold storage time that lagers undergo (at close to zero degrees) emphasizes their cleanliness and crispness.
The third consequence is serving temperature. Ales like to be served a little warmer than lagers—although neither likes ice-cold. Ales should be served about 15 degrees, while lagers can be seven or eight degrees to maximize flavour.
Feel free to enjoy either, wherever your palate takes you. It is just good to know the difference. V vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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