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With beer, know your lagers from your ales

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By JAN GLIDEWELL

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001


It's time for one of my rare, but increasingly less so, in-print expressions of mea culpa.

As usual this involves me writing about something that any one of my dozens of readers knows more about than I, in this case, beer.

Reader Dan Luce took me to task for a recent column in which I mentioned having drunk just the tiniest bit too much "Harp Ale," which, he informed me, is actually a lager.

Apparently, to people who take their beer seriously, this is like referring to caviar as "fish eggs."

My only hope is that Rodney Forton, former owner of the Dog & Gun Pub in New Port Richey, has moved from our circulation area and isn't around to see my shame.

Forton, my one time ale guru, used to wax eloquent on the subject of ale as a constant work in progress and actually living biomasses, and would be as appalled as Luce at my faux pas.

What, exactly, is the difference?

I had to refresh my memory myself, although I remember first asking it as a child after hearing a Ballantine's Ale commercial. My grandfather gave me one of those long incoherent rambling monologues with which he also greeted questions about where babies came from and whether the godless Communist Russians were really going to turn Miami into a giant radioactive slag heap.

Luce, who met his wife while vacationing in Ireland in 1978 and who later returned there to live for 11 years, turned out to be an excellent source.

"Beer" covers almost any alcoholic beverage that foams when you pour it, Luce explained, but there are technical differences in the fermentation process for "lager," which is what most of us think of as beer, and ale.

The brewing process begins in a brew kettle, where malt, bittering, hops and water are boiled for an hour.

"Aroma Hops" are now added, according to information Luce sent me, and steeped for a few minutes, and the mixture, called "wort," is filtered, cooled to 16 degrees Celsius and transferred to the primary fermenter.

As the primary fermenter fills, yeast is added to the wort. The growth of the yeast organism produces alcohol. Primary fermentation takes five days for lagers and four days for ale, and the beer is then transferred to the secondary fermentation vessel for maturation.

Lagers are cool-matured, filtered and transferred to the dispensing vessels for maturation and sold directly from the dispensing vessels through the taps.

Ales are treated differently. Secondary fermentation is carried out at 8 degrees Celsius and the ales are neither filtered nor carbonated, and, because they are not carbonated, they are dismissed by means of traditional hand pumps, which are rare in the United States.

How they get some of it into bottles and carbonated is beyond me, but I'll bet Luce knows.

One of the things I love about this job is that it is a constant education. One week it's barbecue and another week it's ale.

And last week, for those of you who missed it, it was human nature.

Someone started a group home in Embassy Hills in Pasco County for six older women with Down's syndrome, and a 26-year-old mother of three who lived in the neighborhood circulated a petition raising the baseless fear that one of the residents might "snap at any given moment."

It turned out that the woman who didn't want mentally challenged people in her neighborhood had been placed on three years' probation for selling marijuana, but, of course, she had done that to support the family while her husband was in jail for lewd and lascivious contact with a minor under 16. Those charges, the woman said, were "a long time ago" (five years and four years, respectively).

No matter that she wanted the residents of the home punished for the crime they committed decades ago -- being born.

So far the group home residents haven't asked that the woman and her family, or the more than 75 other compassionate people who signed the petition, be removed from the neighborhood.

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