Beer, it’s complex, it’s vast, it’s flavorful, it’s exciting…it’s so many things. The many different styles and sub-categories of beer can be overwhelming, but we are here to uncomplicated things for you with this quick guide about ales and lagers.
What is the difference between an ale and a lager?
Well, let’s start with an overall picture.
Beer has two main categories and those are: ales and lagers. Most all beer can fall somewhere in these two subsets and it all comes down to the type of yeast used and the temperature of the brew itself.
Sounds simple enough right?
Without getting to science-y on you, let’s explore the difference between an ale and a alger.
Yeast is a fungus that is added to a host of ingredients to create beer. Yeast eats away at the sugars while brewing causing fermentation and ultimately alcohol.
Different yeast is used dependent on what the brewer is after. Making a lager? It’s crucial to use specific yeast strains that will thrive at the specific temperature through fermentation. Do note that a lager yeast is different than a yeast used while brewing ales.
Ales are extremely fun in the craft brew world. They can offer radical styles and complex flavor profiles with an alcohol by volume at an extreme varietal range.
Beers such as hoppy IPAs, complex reds, tart sours, and creamy stouts are just a few of the different styles under the umbrella of ales.
The flavor profiles are extremely vast and intricate which makes ales exciting to the beer connoisseur.
Brewing Process of an Ale
Ales are brewed at a slightly warmer temperature than a lager would be. Typically the minimum brew temp is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
This warmer brewing temperature ultimately offers a more robust and fuller flavor beer than lagers do.
The yeast used during fermentation is known as top-fermenting. As one of the oldest brewing methods, ales are tried and true through time.
Top fermenting simply means that the yeast sits on top of the liquid and as mentioned before renders a beer that offers more flavor.
Lagers are smooth-sailing, easy drinking “crisp” beers. These are the beers that you think of when talking about needing a “cold one” at the end of a hard work day.
Styles that fall in the lager category include pilsners, bocks, and marzens. Just think of that ice cold beer at the ball-park…giant, cold and refreshing!
Brewing Process of a Lager
The yeast fermentation is known as bottom-fermenting rather than top-fermenting as an ale uses. The bottom feeding yeast works it’s magic at the bottom of the liquid in the wort at a much lower temperature than an ale would.
Lagers are brewed anywhere between 35-55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Due to this lower temperature, the beer can take sometimes up to twice as long to brew as an ale would to offer a similar alcohol by volume percentage.
Recap: Difference between an Ale and a Lager
Written By: Michelle Fecteau
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