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All Beer Is Ale

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American beer is fizzy, weak, cold, and contains salt. That is not beer. Real beer is ale. Ale is served at room temperature, has a stupid name like "Old Gruntfuttock," and usually comes in at six-point-five to seven percent by volume. It tastes of yeast and hops, not recycled water.

In fantasy fiction, whenever a character is drinking beer, the beer will always be an ale rather than a lager. You can read about the difference elsewhere.

There are a number of possible explanations for this. The difference between styles of beer isn't as immediately obvious or as much discussed as the difference between styles of wine. The word ale sounds old-fashioned, and many people assume it's simply an old-fashioned word for beer.note 

Medieval Europe (or something very much like it) is a common setting for fantasy stories, and the typical Medieval European beer would have been an ale. Lager wasn't even invented until the fifteenth or sixteenth century; the process was serendipitously discovered when some ale casks stored in cold caves in Germany tasted like something else, and the actual yeast required for making it might have been accidentally brought from South America (!). While the common belief that medieval water supplies were so bad that beer was needed to avoid being made sick is a myth (except in cities), the calories, taste, and mild buzz of weak beer (around 1-4% ABV) meant it was consumed in large quantities by all ages and professions throughout the day.

Many fantasy tropes are taken from the very, very, British The Lord of the Rings, and the vast majority of British beers actually are ales—again, lager is a German wordnote  for a German invention, and it wasn't until relatively recently that lager spread outside Germany, broader Central Europe and the Americas. (This is where German and other Central European brewers settled in the 19th century—why do you think all of the Americas from Argentina and Chile to Canada and Alaska drink lager?)

Compare Uncoffee where coffee goes under another name or actually is something else. See also The Need for Mead (where, despite the name, ale is more likely to be the drink of choice than actual mead, because mead was pretty expensive and ale wasn't).


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    Fan Works 

    Live Action TV  
  • Deep Space Nine has a science-fiction version with the Bajorans drinking synthale, their version of synthehol. Quark doesn't think much of it, commenting that you should "never trust ale from a god-fearing people." Clearly Earth's monks could teach them a thing or two.


  • In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, the favored alcoholic beverages for the upper classes are wine, wine punch, and brandy. When any one else is seen drinking beer, though, it is ale.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: There is frequent mention of ale, but never lager. Westeros is clearly based upon Europe in the Late Middle Ages, i.e. before lager was a thing.
  • In the novels of Deverry, at least some of the beer brewed in Deverry is small beer. During the siege of Cengarn, Rhodry remarks that once the beer runs out, they'll be forced to drink vinegar-sanitized water.
  • The Dresden Files: Although the series takes place in 21st century America— where most commercially available beer is lager— Harry actually prefers a craft ale brewed by the owner of MacAnally's. This is because Mack is a brewing genius.
  • Discworld:
    • Lampshaded in The Last Continent, which notes that "Ankh-Morpork beer was technically ale, that is to say, gravy made from hops", in the context of explaining why Rincewind doesn't take the light, fizzy stuff they have in Fourecksnote  seriously... until he wakes up with little memory of the previous evening.
    • The Clubs and Societies section of The Unseen University Diary 1998 says that the Ankh-Morpork Folk Song and Dance Society might be for you if "you call all kinds of beer 'ale' and can make a half-pint last all evening".
  • In Firekeeper Saga there are no bars or pubs, only alehouses - guess what is served there. Lager is never mentioned.

    Tabletop Games  

  • Nearly every mention of beer in Dungeons & Dragons lists it as "ale". Pretty much the only drinks available in most games are ale and wine.

    Video Games  

  • Subverted in Brütal Legend: upon arriving to the Age of Metal, Eddie automatically assumes that everyone there will be drinking ale and mead, but Ophelia is puzzled by these terms and says that they only have generic beer. Beer must be the most metal of beverages since it is produced by the land itself, specifically a sacred tree covered in breasts.
  • In The Sims Medieval the default brewing recipe you can make without ingredients is "Ale." A few other varieties of Ale become available if you have ingredients, but they're all still ale.
  • Notably averted by Wurm Online, a rare Medieval European Fantasy setting that's set in a sort-of Fantasy Counterpart Culture of southern Europe, which has wine instead.
  • Averted in The Witcher's various taverns. Naturally there's ale, but there's also everything from lager to stout.
  • Pillars of Eternity has both beer and ale as consumables that buff Constitution, but ale gives a stronger buff.
  • Averted in The Elder Scrolls series, as while there is ale, there's also beer, wine, brandy, whisky, mead (especially in the Province of Skyrim, and distilled skooma (a drink made of refined "moon sugar", a sugar that also acts as a potent narcotic).
  • Averted in Fable, where NPC background chatter in taverns has them order both "ale" and "beer", and the latter is the only drink available to the Player Character.

    Web Comics  

  • Averted in The Order of the Stick, Durkon drinks a lot of beer, not specifically ale. And at one point he complains that he hasn't had a decent lager since he left his home in the dwarf lands.

    Real Life  

  • Before the invention of the refrigeration, bottom fermentation (with which beers like lager or bock are made) was notoriously difficult to perform, and will succeed only in certain months during the autumn and winter when it is cold enough for Saccaromyces carlsbergi yeast to function, even in the caves in which the Germans traditionally produced the stuff. On the other hand, top fermentation (with which ales are made) will succeed at any temperature, using Saccaromyces cerevisiae yeast. Indeed, many German states had prohibitions on the production of lager—and in some cases, on the production of all beer—between March and September because attempts to make the stuff outside the season invariably produced an inferior product. Also, modern efficient methods of refrigeration were first developed in the 1870s by the engineer Carl von Linde for Gabriel Sedlmayr's Spaten Brewery, who was trying to find a way to make lager year-round.
  • Almost all really strong natural brews, such as stout, barley wine and porter, are technically ales. S. cerevisiae yeast can produce higher alcohol contents than S. carlsbergi. On the other hand, the quality and taste variations with S. cerevisiae are wider than with S. carlsbergi. That is the reason why lagers usually taste just the same, the only differences being the ethanol contents, the roast on the malt, and the use of hops.