Today's beers offer complex and intriguing flavors and features. With subtle and robust flavors that pair admirably with food -- better than wine does in some cases -- craft brews invite partygoers to venture beyond sports-focused drinking and into the realm of sophisticated party mingling. To get to know beer better, you should learn the difference between lagers and ales. Most beers fall into one of these categories.
Lagers are fermented in cooler environments, where toasted or sweet malt flavors characterize the brew. Lagers are clean, refreshing beers with typically light aroma and flavor. They are best served cold and can pair easily with a wide variety of foods.
Ales are fermented at warmer temperatures, resulting in complex, flavorful beers that grip the palate and leave a longer aftertaste. Many are served closer to room temperature and contain rich aroma and flavor. Their complexity makes pairing more selective but highly rewarding.
Specialty beers include the remainder of beers that aren't categorized as ales or lagers. Lambics and fruit beers are becoming increasingly popular in this category.
Within the broad categories of ale and lager, individual styles have specific characteristics. Those characteristics influence how beer pairs with food.