Beer is the oldest recorded alcoholic beverage in the world! Dating back almost 7,000 years, scientists have found evidence of fermentation of grains and malt. The beer industry has come a long ways since then and new styles with new flavors are popping up every week. In addition to our beer related blog articles,  below is a little introduction to how beer is made and the two general classifications.

There are four ingredients that are necessary to brew beer: water, grain, hops and yeast. Let’s take a look at each of these individual items to see what role they play!


Water can induce flavors as well as aromas in the brewing process. Everything from the mineral content, source of the water and hardness are key factors brewers look at when they select a water source.


Grains such as Barley, Wheat, Oats, Rye, Corn or Rice can be used to create different flavor profiles in beer styles.
-Barley adds sweet, soft, clean flavors.
-Wheat adds tart flavors.
-Oats add an oily, silky finish.
-Rye adds spiciness.
-Corn and Rice can be used lighten up flavor and body.


Yeast is the workhorse of the brewing industry. Yeast, which is a live single cell microorganism, converts the sugars in the Wort (explained in the brewing process) into carbon dioxide and alcohol. There are different strains of yeast specific to the beer style (Lager or Ale). The different strains of yeast can also impart different flavors and aromas.


Hops are actually a flower that grows on a vine-like plant. The main use of hops is to add flavor and aroma. Hops also act as a preservative in beer, sustaining its shelf life.



Malting is the process when the grain is converted into a syrup-like liquid high in fermentable sugars.

The grain is soaked in water until the kernels begin to germinate. Once the germination starts, the brewer will dry the kernels and roast the grain to the desired darkness. The different levels of roasting will also impart flavors, colors and aromas, very similar to roasting coffee beans.  These flavors include everything from caramel and toffee with a light roast to chocolate and espresso with a dark roast.

Once the grain is roasted, it is ground lightly turning into “grist,” and then cooked/boiled at high temperature to remove the “malt” which is separated from the water.


The malt is then boiled with fresh water and hops are added.  This boiled mixture is often referred to as the WORT. This is also the stage at which any additional flavors are added in, such as fruits, spices or herbs.

Hops added at the beginning of the boiling of the wort add dryness, bitterness and flavor, where as hops added at the end of the boil add aromas. Dry hopping is also used to strengthen the influence hop aroma of the beer. Dry hopping is adding additional hops usually after the fermentation process has stopped. There are numerous styles of hops with many different characteristics. Hops can impart flavors and aromas of pine, juniper, flowers, and citrus.


Once the Wort is boiled, it is cooled rapidly and then placed in a fermenter. The fermenter is usually a large stainless steel tank. Once in the fermenter, the yeast is “pitched” and fermentation starts.


The difference between the two categories has nothing to do with alcohol content, bitterness, or color. The difference between an ale and a lager comes down to three main differences in the brewing process which will be discussed below.

Ales are made with “top-fermenting” strains of yeast which means that the yeast ferments at the top of the fermentation tank. Actually, they typically rise to the top of the tank near the end of fermentation. Ale yeasts also tend to produce chemicals called esters that can affect the flavor of the beer, depending on which strain of yeast is used. Note that in rare cases, there are some brewers that use “bottom-fermenting” yeasts to make ales.

Lagers use “bottom-fermenting” yeasts which sink to the bottom of the tank and ferment there. Because they collect on the bottom of the tank, they can often be reused. The yeast in lagers does not usually add much in the way of flavor. This typically comes from the other ingredients in the brew (malt, hops, etc).

Temperature and Time
Ale yeasts ferment best at warmer temperatures, usually around room temperature and up to about 75° Fahrenheit. For this reason, they tend to mature and ferment faster than lagers.

Lagers ferment at colder temperatures (46-59°F). Historically, lager beers came from continental European countries like Germany, brewed where cooler temperatures are the norm. The word “lager” comes from the German word “lagern” which means “to store” which refers to the lagering process where the beer typically ferments over longer periods of time than ales. The combination of colder temperatures and bottom-fermenting yeast is responsible for the mild and crisp taste of most lagers.

Additional Ingredients
Ale recipes often contain a higher amount of hops, malt and roasted malts, hence they typically have a more prominent malty taste and bitterness.

Furthermore, brewers of ales seem to be more experimental than lager brewers and often add additional ingredients known as adjuncts to their brews. This can partially be attributed to the German 1516 beer purity law which basically limits beer ingredients to malted grain, hops, yeast and water.

From what we have seen, more lager brewers adhere to this law (particularly in Germany because they have to) than brewers of ales. The inception of the law was founded in a noble cause to prevent brewers from skimping on quality in order to save money by using cheaper ingredients. The problem is that the law is outdated and has stifled creativity in many European breweries that specialize in lagers and still follow this law.



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