Rob Hardy, who recently returned from an extended stay in England, says he likes real ale. I've never been to England, but have come to enjoy ale and have been exploring some domestic brands. The eight ales listed below have all been sampled (read: consumed in sufficient quantities as to provide a more than adequate basis of comparison for someone who is not a connoisseur) in the past twelve weeks or so.
Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA (especially with Chico's favorite son Matt Garza on the mound)
Full Sail, Hood River, OR (first encountered in a waterfront bar not far from Giants stadium)
Summit Pale Ale, St. Paul, MN (all over)
Summit India Pale Ale, St. Paul, MN (ditto, especially at the Contented Cow pub)
Avalanche Amber-style Ale, Breckenridge Brewing, Denver, CO (during the Rockies' remarkable late-season winning streak, of course)
Schell's Pale Ale, New Ulm, MN (why is this hard to find when we live within spittin' distance?)
James Page Burly Brown Ale, Stevens Point, WI (a feature at The James Gang Hideaway)
Goose Island Hex Nut Brown Ale, Chicago (the father of a friend of my daughter is the CFO of Goose Island brewing, so we bought some just because we thought we should)
According to the kind folks at Cryptobrewology, an ale is a lager beer, except --
The main difference between yeasts used for lagers and ales is that ale yeast is a top-fermenting yeast, which means the yeast floats to the top and hangs around up there during most of the fermentation process. Lager yeast is a bottom-fermenting yeast, which means it hangs around the bottom of the fermenter. During both types of fermentation the active yeast does permeate the brew and eventually settles out on the bottom of the fermenter when it is done.I'll take their word for it. Baseball and beer are, of course, intimately intertwined: Miller Park, Coors Field, Busch Stadium. I remember going to a game at old Comiskey Park in about 1958 and being fascinated by the beer vendors hawking Hamm's. My uncle George worked for a time at the old Drewery's brewery (no kidding) in South Bend and would bring home a case a week, which he and my dad and my other uncles would consume in the back yard on a Sunday afternoon with a White Sox or Tigers game on the radio.
The other main difference in producing a lager or ale is in the temperature during fermentation. Most ales are fermented at a controlled temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, although Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale is said to be fermented at 65 degrees. Lagers, on the other hand, are fermented about 15 degrees lower, around 55 degrees.
Right now, my vote goes to Sierra Nevada, with Schell's a very close second. Full Sail seems a little weak to me. Summit Pale Ale is very crisp -- good with pizza (B & L, anyone?) The Burly Brown and the Hex Nut Brown are, for me, just novelty brews. Good, though.
What say thee?