Lager Vs. Ale: What Every Beer Drinker Needs to Know

Lager Vs. Ale
If you are curious about the difference between lager vs. ale at some point or the other, then perhaps now is the time to get the facts right. Read on to learn more about this fundamental difference in the way your favorite beers are brewed...
Tastessence Staff
Last Updated: May 7, 2018
  • Bottom fermentation process (yeast settles at the bottom of the fermenter)
  • Brew cycle - approximately 1 week
  • Brew temperature - below 50º F
  • Top fermentation process (yeast floats at the top of the fermenter)
  • Brew cycle - a few weeks to several months
  • Brew temperature - above 60º F
Many beer drinkers often wonder what is the distinction between lager and ale, and the answer to this simply lies in the method in which they are both fermented. Though they both qualify as beer, there are major differences in the fermentation process, and this results in the characteristics in appearance and taste as well. If you wish to get to know your beer better, you should educate yourself of the diversity of both types of beers.
Lager Vs. Ale - Which is What?
It is a type of beer which is produced after fermenting and conditioning it at very low temperatures. Lager was first produced in Germany within the confines of extremely cold Bavarian caves. There are two kinds of lagers available, pale and dark, which are consumed across the world by beer lovers and are served cold. Pale lagers are more popular and consumed in higher quantities than the dark lagers.
It is said that ales have brewed for thousands of years, way before lagers even existed; hence they are the oldest beers in the world. Ales are served at room temperature in many countries; it is quite popular in England. Ale is another type of beer which has a slight bitter flavor to it and is high in alcoholic content.
Fermentation Process
There are four essential ingredients that are used in beer fermentation, and these are water, yeast, malted barley, and hops. Different countries and cultures have devised unique methods of incorporating these main ingredients. However, the primary reason why lagers and ales have unique flavors and colors is due to the type of yeast used in the brewing process. This influences what ingredients along with brewing and fermenting techniques can be used for the preparation. Also, the difference in temperature has led to a change in the fermentation process for both these kinds of beer. The yeast in the mixture combines with the sugars of the barley to produce alcohol, and the temperature plays a prominent role in deciding what additional flavors are included in the beverage. It is these additional esters that are produced during the fermentation process, that lead to the uniqueness between lager and ale.

The position of the yeast during the brewing process also determines the characteristics of the beverage. Ales generally use top-fermenting yeasts, and lagers use bottom-fermenting yeasts. This may sound elementary to someone unaccustomed with the process of fermentation, but this factor also plays a major role in the contrasts between lager and ale.
The Flavors of Lager and Ale
Of course, the taste of these beers are distinct. A seasoned beer drinker can immediately tell them apart. However,for an amateur, individualizing the characteristics of both the beers can be a little tough. Ales are generally fruity, sweeter, and full-bodied in taste, and lagers are bitter, crisp and smooth, and more subtle in taste. The amount of alcohol in each type will vary from brewery to brewery, but lagers are generally lighter than ales because they are brewed at lower temperatures.

As you can see, the contrariety arise from variations in the fermentation process, the temperature of fermentation, and the kind of yeast used. This results in a very distinct change in the appearance and the taste of both these beers, and this is something that every beer drinker should be aware of.
Types of Lager and Ale
Lager Ale
Pilsner Brown Ale
Bock Pale Ale
Märzen Old Ale
Dortmunder Mild Ale
Dunkel Scotch Ale
Schwarzbier Ginger Ale
Pale Lager Belgian Ale

Some people often ask the distinction between a lager, an ale, and also a Pilsner. However, this is a question that stems from ignorance. Pilsner is merely a specific type and brand of lager. Both lager and ale have evolved greatly from the time they were first discovered, and over time they have spread to all parts of the world. All major breweries of the world today know the exact difference in the process of fermentation for both these types of beer, and they regularly produce both. Gone are the days when one kind of beer was synonymous with only one country or culture.
Being able to tell how ale and lager are unique in their own ways is something to be proud of. Plus, as a beer drinker, it doesn't hurt to be aware of the basics.
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