When is a beer an ale?

Sometimes, especially in Texas. Follow me here.
Let’s start with the understanding of the definition of ale, lager and beer (all lower case) from those who brew them.

In general, all ales and lagers are forms of beer (fermented grain tea). Lagers are grain tea fermented by a member (or members) of the Saccharomyces Pastorianus yeast family. Ales are grain tea fermented by a member (or members) of the Saccharomyces Cerevisiae yeast family. These yeast differ in that lager yeast are happiest at colder temps and prefer to work near the bottom of the vessel (scuba divers), while ale yeast prefer warmer temps and working near the top of the vessel (snorkelers). There are additional differences, but this is a good starting point.

In Texas, fermented grain tea (what we’d call beer) is divided by the Alcoholic Beverage Commission into two groups: Those that are below 4% Alcohol by Weight (ABW) (which they called Beer) and those that are above 4% ABW (which they called Ale or Malt Liquor). Until very recently, if you saw “Ale” or “Malt Liquor” on a label, you could be sure that the alcohol level was above 4% ABV, regardless of how it was fermented. Brewers that made beer (even one known to be a lager) that was over 4% ABW were required to label it as either “Ale” or “Malt Liquor”.

Stay with me.

TABC has recently acknowledged the problem with their definitions, so they are now allowing breweries to tag their brew appropriately based on the fermentation style with one requirement: if the brew violated the legacy TABC definition (more or less than 4% ABW), then the alcohol content had to be listed on the bottle. A label listing “Ale, 5.5% ABV” means you are drinking snorkeler fermented grain tea that is 5.5% ABV (alcohol by volume). Another listing “Ale” means you have fermented grain tea that is over 4% ABW, but may be snorkeler or scuba diver fermented. Yet another listing neither “Ale” nor the ABV/ABW means your beverage is below 4% ABW and may be snorkeler or scuba fermented.

For the record, Boerne Brewery brews are all snorkeler fermented and are all above 4% ABW, so they are both ales AND Ales.
Now go get your favorite ale or lager, find a comfy chair and enjoy.