Time and again I read some article along the lines of "There are two basic families of beer, ale and lager ..." followed by a simplified explanation of yeast behaviour at different temperatures.
I shall ignore for the moment the many beers which don't even fit into this categorisation ... and the related argument about whether it makes any sense whatsoever to call e.g. Weißbier "an ale", just because it is made with top-fermenting yeast (answer: no it doesn't).
This seems to be one of the first things people learn when getting into beer, even though it's actually quite an esoteric subject to confront people with.
Is this distinction so important? It seems to me to be only one of a multiplicity of factors affecting the final beer.
There are all manner of achses that you could choose to use to divide up the world of beer, along essentially arbitrary lines.
You do get people occasionally saying they think the main difference is between pale beers and dark beers, but they tend to be considered naive. But are they so wrong? Doesn't the kind of malt used contribute as much to the character of the beer as the kind of yeast and the type of conditioning?
Why do we have this obsession with lager versus ale? It's only one of many differences between different kinds of beer.
You never hear anyone say:
"There are two basic kinds of beer: bitter ones and sweet ones"
"There are two basic kinds of beer: those made with hard water and those made with soft water"
"There are two basic kinds of beer: those with high attenuation and those with low"
"There are two basic kinds of beer: the ones made with funky yeast and the ones with more neutral yeast"
"There are two basic kinds of beer: those made mostly from barley malt and those made mostly from wheat"
I am going to try an experiment. I will no longer pay attention to whether something is top- or bottom-fermented. I'm far more interested in whether it tastes of toffee, lemon, banana, mint, chocolate, coffee, mouldy brie, cowpats, vinegar, smoke, grass or wine.