There are lots and lots of different ales and lagers that I've enjoyed over the years but I've always wondered what the difference between the two types of beers were. Call me a barbaric beer Philistine and laugh away if you will but I'd never read or heard a lucid explanation of the difference before. So for those of you that are in the same state of blissful ignorance as I was (even if you're not willing to admit it in public!), here's an explanation which I am taking the liberty of quoting in its entirety from a credible beer site I found:
"In the beginning, all German beers were ales. Top-fermented at a relatively fast pace under moderate temperatures, ales are fruity in character and often hopped, or otherwise spiced. Ales could not, however, be made in the hot summer months because bacterial contamination was a certainty."
"A few German ales survived the onslaught of brewing history. The early style is represented today by Alt, which literally means “old.” Another, Kolsch (named for the city of its origin, Cologne), is often lager-like in mouthfeel and flavor profile."
"The discovery of a type of yeast in the mid-19th century that would ferment slowly at cold temperatures allowed the creation of lagers, a distinctive beer of another flavor altogether. Because of the extended fermentation period, lagers could be brewed during the winter season and stored away, or lagered, in caves throughout the summer months. The last casks of the lagered winter beer, often called Märzen (“March” in German), were usually extracted from their cool cave just in time to celebrate Oktoberfest and a new brewing season. "
So now you know!
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, a fairly strong Märzen lager at 5.1% alcohol by volume, has been brewed in Bamberg by Brauerei Heller Brau Schlenkerla since 1678. The prime characteristic of this dark beer, (such a deep rich brown colour as to be almost opaque unless held up to a strong light at which point the beautiful reddish tint becomes apparent) is its intense smokey aroma. The marketing material tells me that this flavour is achieved by exposing the malt to the intense aromatic smoke of burning beechwood logs. The powerful and almost unique combination of smoke with the trace bitterness of a typical hoppy beer won't appeal to every beer drinker. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it would be an acquired taste with most. But as a confirmed lover of all things smokey, whether it be tea, meat, fish or beer, its wonderful smooth flavour in the drinking came as no surprise to me.
While it's certainly a refreshing beer with a smooth finish, that overwhelming flavour probably works best in small doses. One or two beer at a sitting would probably be the most that even a confirmed lover of smokey flavours would enjoy.