Ale vs Lager vs Beer – Differences and Similarities

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With new local breweries popping up all around us and a wide variety of excellent craft beers to choose from, now is the finest moment ever to be a beer enthusiast. However, with so many options available, such as Pilsners, IPAs, Stouts, Porters, and so on, it would be simple to become disoriented.

Ales and lagers are the two primary subcategories of beer. Although each is excellent in its own right, trying to comprehend them both can be daunting. So let’s go back a bit.

We need to start by realising that every type of beer is either an ale or a lager. This is decided by the fermentation process and the yeast used in brewing, not by colour, flavour, or alcohol content.

This article will present all you need to know about lager vs ale beer, their similarities and differences!

Table of Contents

What Is Ale Beer vs Lager Beer?

What Is Ale Beer?

A top-fermenting yeast that thrives at moderate room temperatures is used to produce ales. Because of this, ales are normally kept between 15° and 24° Celcius (60°  and 75° Fahrenheit) while they ferment.

Ales typically taste fruitier and spicier than lagers because of the type of yeast used and the fermentation temperature. Ales tend to be more robust and sophisticated. Pale ale, India pale ale, amber ale, porters, and stouts are typical ale varieties.

  • Blond Ale (Victory Summer Love)
  • Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale)
  • India Pale Ale, IPA (Dogfish Head 60 Minute)
  • Amber (Bell’s Amber)
  • American Wheat Beer (Three Floyd’s Gumballhead)
  • Hefeweizen (Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier)
  • Witbier (Allagash White)
  • Gose (Anderson Valley Gose)
  • Saison (Saison DuPont)
  • Porter (Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald)
  • Stout (Left Hand Milk Stout)
  • Barleywine (Stone Brewing Old Guardian)

What Is Lager Beer?

Lagers, on the other hand, are produced using bottom-fermenting yeast that functions best between 4° and 13° Celcius (35°  and 55° Fahrenheit). Ales cannot be stored for as long as lagers because ale fermentation proceeds more slowly and the beer is less unstable.

Less of this yeast is often seen in the finished beer. Lagers are sharper and cleaner tasting than ales, with a focus on hop and malt characteristics. Pilsners, bocks, and dunkels all belong to the lager family.

Learn more about malt in our Difference Between Malt Liquor and Beer guide!

  • American Light Lager (Coors Light)
  • American Lager (Budweiser)
  • International Pale Lager (Heineken)
  • Pilsner (Pilsner Urquell)
  • Octoberfest or Marzen (Samuel Adams Octoberfest)
  • Helles (Victory Helles)
  • Bock (Einbecker Ur-Bock Dunkel)
  • Baltic Porter (Jack’s Abby Framinghammer)

Ale vs Lager Beer

You can divide nearly every beer (I’m sure there are some exceptions) you’ve ever had into one of two categories: lager or ale. What makes a difference between the two? Yeast.

Many of our favourite alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, cider, mead, and even whiskey in its early stages, are fermented by yeast, a single-celled bacterium (not to mention bread, cheese, aged meats, etc.) —yeast is a great substance.

In order to produce carbon dioxide – the fizzy bubbles in beer – alcohol, and other chemical components, yeast consumes sugar.

These two major categories of beer are fundamentally different from one another in terms of fermentation as previously described.

Lagers ferment with bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures (4-13 C, 35 -50 F) and ales with top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures (15-24 C, 60 -70 F).

Ales may typically ferment and age in a short amount of time due to their warm fermentations (3-5 weeks). Conversely, because they are cold fermented, lagers take much longer to ferment (up to 6 to 8 weeks).

Lagers can successfully ferment under the same conditions as ales. Considering that the majority of us grow lager yeast starters at room temperature rather than in the cold.

Lagers are fermented cold for two distinct reasons. First, because Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria forbade summer brewing in 1553, brewers mistakenly chose yeasts that could withstand the harsh winters in Bavaria. As a result, lager yeasts have evolved to favour—and flourish in—the cold.

Second, the beer can be mostly malt- and hops-focused thanks to cold fermentation, which suppresses many of the by-products of yeast fermentation. We’ve come to value a good lager’s clear, crisp taste.

The difference between warm and cold is one factor, but it’s not the only one. Some ale yeasts can tolerate conditions that would make other strains just give up and flocculate, whereas some lager yeasts can function effectively at temperatures that are only moderately warm.

California Certain German ale strains used for Kölsch and Altbier may safely operate down to 13-16°C (55-60°F), whereas common strains like Wyeast 2112 and White Labs WLP810 perform relatively lager-like at up to 18°C (65°F). The distinctions between temperatures are sometimes muddled by so-called hybrid strains.

Lager vs Ale Beer History

Much of the world was first exposed to lagers in the 1800s with the invention of the Pilsner style. Since yeast was not widely known as an ingredient and cold fermentation would have been challenging, almost all beer before that time was an ale. Want to learn more about beer ingredients? Visit our What Is Beer Made Of guide!

Today, it is relatively simple to create both ales and lagers. Ale yeast, on the other hand, may make beer in as little as 7 days, making it more practical for tiny breweries that may lack the fermenter space to regularly manufacture lagers. As a result, ales are often more popular among craft brewers in the contemporary craft beer industry.

In mediaeval Europe, bread and ale were two of the most significant sources of sustenance. During this time, tiny beer was consumed by adults and kids alike. It was unfiltered, had a porridge-like consistency, and contained just enough alcohol (1% ABV) to serve as a preservative. Without the negative effects of alcohol or the risks of water, this supplied nourishment and hydration.

If you wish to learn about Filtered vs Unfiltered Beer, don’t hesitate to visit our guide!

The development of ales and lagers was significantly influenced by technological improvement. The only ingredients that could be used to brew beer were grain, hops, and water, according to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516. Yeast was not mentioned because it was an unidentified element.

The development of refrigeration and the capacity to view yeast strains under a microscope in the 1800s changed the path of beer history for the following century. The dramatic rise of lager beer occurred in the late 19th and most of the 20th centuries. Pilsner-style beers have become more popular due to their mild flavour and lower alcohol content.

Thankfully, over the past 40 years, ale has had a revival. There were just 55 breweries in operation in the United States in 1974. They were mass producing the tasteless, diluted “lager” that a true craft beer enthusiast would never be seen dead consuming.

More than 6,000 breweries are currently in operation, producing ales, lagers, and hybrids of the two that have reintroduced beauty and art to brewing.

Beer vs Lager vs Ale: The Bottom Line

Despite having a shorter history than their ale cousins, lagers are the most popular beers worldwide. Even though, it took until the 1800s for yeast to be recognised as the true secret ingredient in beer and other fermented drinks.

Wild ale yeasts have been employed (at first unwittingly) from the beginning of modern human civilisation, thousands of years ago. Lager yeast was first isolated in 1883.

Lager beers initially had longer shelf life because lager yeasts were some of the first to be isolated in their pure form without wild contamination. Some people think that because ales did not age well during the period, this led to their widespread diffusion.

The invention of refrigeration made it possible to produce lager beer all year long. Brewers can choose from among the hundreds of known ale and lager yeast strains today in the same way they would choose a specific grain or hop.

Ale or lager is the only two types of beer (or hybrid). This is decided by the fermentation process and the yeast used in brewing, not by colour, flavour, or alcohol content.

The esters in ale are the sole discernible distinction between it and a lager. Warm fermentation results in a greater production of these esters. Due to their warm fermentation, they are therefore more prevalent in ales.

We are in the midst of a brewing renaissance, which has provided beer enthusiasts with a wealth of flavour and character in their beer selections.

Although lagers are still popular, the rise of ales has broadened the palates of many beer lovers and changed the path of beer history for the better. We only have a more fantastic beer, both lager and ale, to look forward to.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is there a difference between beer and lager?

No, and yes. There is a difference if you are referring to “ale” when you mean beer. Beer comes in two varieties: ales and lagers. Lager beer ferments at lower temperatures than traditional beer, or ale, which uses top-fermenting yeast. Additionally, lagers typically bottle up cleaner than other types of beer.

What makes a beer a lager?

When making beer, bottom-fermenting yeast is used to create lagers. Lagers mature slowly because they are kept at colder temperatures. As a result, unlike many ales, lagers typically have a clear, crisp, and refreshing flavour.

Is lager stronger than beer?

The response would be no when contrasting commercial lagers with other types of beer, namely ales. Although lagers and ales can both contain very little alcohol, lagers are normally the weaker type of beer. This is a result of the yeast used and the fermentation temperature of the beer. Yeast that ferments at the bottom is a little less robust and can’t stand very much alcohol.

Is Budweiser a lager or ale?

A lager is something like Budweiser. Lagers make up the majority of commercially produced beers like Heineken, Coors, Miller, and Corona.

By Tickety Brew

Ivor Ardghal : Brewer and Writer at Tickety Brew