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By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


The beer vs. ale debate

Posted 6/14/16 (Tue)

Lately breweries have been popping up like mushrooms and at least one brewery is located in all four major cities in North Dakota.

But are they really bonafide breweries because what they are brewing is ale rather than beer?

Back in the early 1960s, there was a brewery on 26th and Main in Bismarck. That’s where Dakota Beer was brewed.

When that brewery closed, sometime around 1965, the state was without a brewery until Old Broadway in downtown Fargo became the first craft brewery in North Dakota in the early ‘90s.

Now there are at least eight breweries in the state.

But again, I have to ask the same question, are they really breweries.

As a journalist who has been playing around with words for the past 30 years, I believe there is an unmistakable difference between beer and ale.

The dictionary makes it an obvious difference as well. The dictionary describes beer as an alcoholic beverage usually made from malted cereal grain (as barley), flavored with hops, and brewed by slow fermentation.

Ale is described as an alcoholic beverage brewed especially by rapid fermentation from an infusion of malt with the addition of hops.

There’s also the difference in taste. In my opinion, drinking ale is like drinking gasoline. Drinking a beer is a satisying taste, especially after sitting on a dusty combine all day.

So the way I understand it, there are three kinds of beer, stout, lager and pilsener. Ale is ale. It should be in a different class and as far as I’m concerned, it is.

Too many people use beer and ale interchangeably and it’s wrong. It’s just like people interchanging the words hemp and marijuana.

They are too completely different plants. They look the same but their properties are quite different.

I just wish people wouldn’t mix beer and ale together as if they were one and the same.

I saw a poster one day that stated, “we don’t want this to be the only beer you drink, we want this to be the best beer you drink.”

Then it went on to describe this brand of India pale ale, which isn’t beer at all.

Budweiser is a beer, Coors is a beer, chocolate raspberry stout infused with oatmeal is not a beer.

There are several barley producers in this part of North Dakota who contract their malt crop with Coors and Anheuser Bush. I just wonder what they think about more than 20 tap “beers” that are available at JL Beers that taste like anything but beer.

Now the folks at Samuel Adams admit they brew a craft beer. It’s a high-end beer and they have seasonal varieties. For all intents and purposes it’s beer, not ale.

Guinness is a good stout, Foster’s  is a good lager and Labatt’s is a good pilsener. There are numerous others that are great thirst quenchers and taste like they should, a bit of barley, a bit of hops and a crisp, clean, refreshing taste.

When my wife and I go out for a burger, I’ll almost always order a Moosehead, a premium lager, with my burger. Nine times out of 10, the wait staff will bring out Moose Drool, an ale from Missoula, Montana. They don’t even think about it, even though both are on their menu.

Now if you are really looking for a good beer, the Germans know how to whip up a batch of beer.

We can get beers from Canada, Italy, here in the United States and even from Japan, but the Germans have the best beer. In fact, Beck’s is rated as one of the world’s top selling beers. It is brewed in Bremen, in northwestern Germany.

We can look at beer just like we do wine. There are many different ways to produce wine, with many different products, but when it boils down to the best quality, the wine will always be made from grapes.

Beer takes months to brew and ale takes weeks. If you’re ever in St. Louis or Golden, Colo., visit Anheuser Bush or Coors and see a real brewery in action. They’ll give you a tour and you’ll get a real feel for real beer.

Winnipeg has three breweries. One of them produces Red River Lager, a premium beer that has a strong hop flavor to it.

I understand these ale guys are trying to create something and build a market. They’re entrepreneuers. More power to them for their attempt.

But beer is beer and ale is ale. They are two different beverages and two different tastes.

What North Dakota needs is a real brewery to prove there is a difference. The Dakota Brewery building still sits at 26th and Main. It just needs the contents.