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Discussing: Ale? Beer?

Ale? Beer?

OK, what is the difference between ale and beer? Since folks spend so much time drinking them in Middle-earth, I'd like to know if they are interchangeable, or if I'd better keep them distinct.




Re: Ale? Beer?

Hi Ang;

Here ia the answer as I know it. If there are any vinters out there that know otherwise, please pipe in.

Ale IS beer. A kind of beer anyway. Good beer falls into about four general categories:

Ales - golden and made with a top fermenting yeast, ales are described as "hearty, robust, and fruity."

Bitters - a mainstay in English pubs, this golden-brown draft ale is top-fermented, hoppy, dry, and lightly carbonated.

Lager - made with a bottom fermenting yeast, lagers are characteristically "smooth, elegant, crisp, and clean." Comparable to pilsener. can be golden to deep brown

Stout - typically dark, heavy, and richly flavored, stout is "top-fermented beer made from pale malt, roasted unmalted barley, and often caramel malt."

So there you have it.




Re: Ale? Beer?

Well, the distinction in the medieval period was simply whether or not the stuff had hops in it.

Ale had no hops. Which meant it was sweeter and didn't keep very well. It might, though, be flavored with various other herbs or spices, such as ginger, gillyflower, mountain thyme, or whatever was on hand - both for flavor and to disguise souring.

Beer had hops, was therefore more bitter, kept somewhat better. (Although none of it kept all that well before refrigeration.) This meant that it could be shipped further, too.

Ale also has a lower production ratio - that is, it takes more grain to make the same amount of beverage. One bushel of malt made about 8 gallons of ale; the same amount of malt might make up to 18-20 gallons of beer.

I'm not sure whether the 15th century (or before) made all the distinctions between beers that Elizabeth mentions, but since the Shire is more modeled on 19th-century England, the Hobbits very well might have.

There's a lovely book called Ale, Beer, and Brewsters by Judith Bennett that talks about the production of both and the shift from small-scale village-level production to more "modern" larger-scale production, and a corresponding shift from women being the brewsters to men being the brewers.




Re: Ale? Beer?

Beer was a huge deal in medieval England, so I'd bet all the varieties and then some were available. It was usually a home enterprise, usually done by women, and the critical office of Ale-Tester was the one civic office that was usually filled by women. Medieval English peasants were *very* concerned that their beer be of good quality and that they not be shortchanged by pub owners doing things like putting false bottoms in their measuring tankards (or even globs of tallow!) to maximize profits.

You also don't want to serve your beer "green" or too early in the fermenting process. It doesn't taste very good and gives indigestion.

Beer has lots of calories, keeps pretty well, and thus in a pre-industrial society is a major nutritional supplement. (& has been since at least Egyptian days. ) Nowdays of course it can result in unneeded weight gain.

It is quite possible to brew your own beer in small amounts in a dark closet in your home. As long as you don't sell it you don't need to worry about the revenuers.

Hops can also be cooked and eaten like asparagus when they're very young (the ends of the vine-shoots). When they get older the plants have a rasp to them like sandpaper and the vines are not something you want to pull on carelessly. (We had a hops vine that kept trying to take over the laundry pole when I was a kid.)



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