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Beer vs. Ale

The pot roast recipe asks for a bottle of beer, but I (without reading label) used pale ale instead. Now I'm all paranoidy, thinking it doesn't smell like the last time I made it. Is there any real difference between beer and pale ale, cooking-taste-wise?

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  1. Hope this doesn't come across as pedantic, but beer is a generic term that includes ale.

    By "beer" you probably mean pilsner and, if so, the answer to your question is yes, though to some extent it depends on the pilsner and the ale. Chances are the pilsners you've used in the past were light, not very bitter and relatively neutral in flavour (which is not to say that all pilsners are that way). Ales tend to be heavier/denser, are frequently quite bitter and usually have a maltier, sweeter, even fruitier taste. Those qualities, especially the bitterness, usually shine through in whatever you're cooking. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing; as ever, the proof is in the pudding.

    1. I'd think that the ale would be just fine. As above poster said, it's more bitter and dense. But for pot roast, that could be a really good thing!

      Let us know how it turned out.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kagey

        I used a recipe calling for, among other things, oxtail soup mix and 12 oz beer. During the first hour, the aroma was different from the way I remembered, then it mellowed and the ale flavor receded. Different from with beer, but still quite excellent. Thanks for everyone's knowledge and help!

      2. Lagers are another type of beer...they are not as bitter. I remember this by thinking "longer lager"...since they are aged longer they lose some of the bitter edge of an ale.


        2 Replies
        1. re: j2brady

          Aging has no large effect on the bitterness of a beer, it can smooth out a rough beer or change the flavor somewhat but it won't make it much less bitter. The amount and type of hops, plus when they are added to the boiling wort (prebeer) control bitterness.

          There are two basic types of beer. Lagers which are brewed at cooler temps and use a yeast that is bred to work at the cooler temps and ferments on the bottom of the tank. This takes longer to ferment because of the cooler temps. Also the beer is then cold aged, which is called lagering. The other type of beer is ale, which is a much older type of beer. Ales which are brewed at higher temps and use top fermenting warmer temp yeasts.

          There is also a third type of beer. Steam beer which is only made by Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. This is a brew made with a lager yeast but fermented at warmer ale temps.

          You can have the exact same wort and by using different strains of yeast you will have a different tasting beer.

          1. re: JMF

            I didn't know that! Thanks for the info.


        2. Using different type of beers will definitely influence the taste of your dish. A stronger beer will impart a stronger taste (duh!)

          The hoppiness of the beer is also a factor as it will give the food some bitterness.

          One very important aspect of cooking with beer is keeping the temperature as low as possible. High heat will kill many of the aromas of the beer.

          1. They probably meant larger.

            1. Was it a pale ale in color, or was the type of beer a Pale Ale or IPA (India Pale Ale)? Pale Ale and IPA's typically have a higher alcohol content and stronger, hoppier taste. In cheaper, more commercial brands, the hops account for a certain amount of bitterness.

              I find that for stews or braises, especially beef or lamb, a stout, porter or even a dark amber are good choices. Ales and lighter tasting lagers are nice in light sauces, pork dishes, and chicken entrees.

              When cooking with beer, as when cooking with wine, don't use something you wouldn't drink on its own.

              1. One man's beer is another man's ale, lager, lambic, barley wine blah balh bhal, belch.

                Just about everything brewed with water, malt, yeast, and hops is beer. There ends the promise of an easy defnition. From this bedrock starts a family tree of methods and styles which would put you to sleep if you didn't have coffee, or some ribald story telling beer geek at your shoulder.

                Specific strains of yeast for instance and other variations in ingredients and brewing method radically change the character of the finished product. The storage/conditioning part of the formula is also quite important (in what container, at what temperature, for how long).

                So ale is beer, and lager is beer, but ale is not lager. Ale uses a different kind of yeast, and is processed differently than lager. It has a flavor profile which a lager drinker would find upsetting, but then the ale drinker would think that the lager is boring....... Industrialized beer has great reliability in terms of flavor, but many would argue is about as interesting to drink as water. Craft beer (generally small regional brewery with a lot of style points) could be the cat's pajamas or a "what the heck were they thinking when they made this?" experience. You might find a pilsner lover who hates ale, but never lager, because pilsner is a lager. There's a very clear family tree at play, and really no mysteries.

                Your pot roast could be completely different depending on your choice, and viva la difference. Try making it with barley wine. Try making it with a non alcohol beer. A stout will taste alot different than a lambic, than a bud.