All beer is either ale or lager. This is based on the fact that there are only two general categories of brewers yeast: ale and lager. Since yeast determines the type of beer then it stands to reason that there are only two types of beer. So, then, what are hybrids? These are beers that are supposed to be a little bit ale and a little bit lager. But, how can that be? Are both kinds of yeasts used during fermentation or is it something else?
There are a few beer styles out there that are collectively known as hybrid beers. They are so called because they are seen to be a hybrid of lager and ale but, this is not actually the case.
Two Kinds of Beer
Lagers are fermented with lager yeast which is active at cooler temperatures than ale yeast. Lagers are also often held for weeks or even months at cool temperatures after fermentation has completely. Ales are fermented at warmer temperatures and are packaged or served shortly after fermentation is finished.
So, even though the yeast determines whether a beer is an ale or a lager, there are brewing methods that are commonly exclusive to either ales or lagers. These brewing methods are used because in most cases, they enhance the flavor and quality of the beer styles being brewed; they do not change the classification of the beer.
Different Beer Styles
There are a few beer styles that are brewed with methods common to lager brewing but fermented with ale yeast and vice versa.
These are the styles that are sometimes referred to as hybrid styles.
Kolsch is one example. The German beer style is made in and around the city of Cologne. It is a pale colored beer with a delicate flavor profile. The beer is fermented with ale yeast, making it an ale, but, it is held at cold temperatures for some time after fermentation, a practice commonly associated with lagers.
Steam beer, which originated in San Francisco, is just the opposite of Kolsch. It is brewed, fermented and served quickly like most ales, however, it is fermented with a lager yeast.
So, hybrid really is not the right word to use to describe these beers. There are many different ways to brew beer and, as long as you get beer in the end, they are all correct, right? If we tried to categorize beers based on the brewers' methods then we would have dozens or even hundreds of categories to think about.
This is why it makes sense to stick to my claim that all beer can be divided into two camps: ale yeast and lager yeast.