Ale vs. Lager. Which is Right for You?
Beer is one of the world’s oldest beverages. It’s been brewed and consumed for centuries. Each beer takes on a unique taste and flavor depending on several different factors. All beers are made from water, yeast, grains, and hops. The combination, style, and heat all play a factor in how the final product comes out.
Ale and lager can be classified as two separate beverages completely. Even though they are made up of the same stuff, the way that they are created makes a big difference in the end result. The 3 main variants are the yeast used, the temperature it’s made at, and it’s overall taste and color. A few simple things can change the beer completely. Ales are typically darker in color and have a hearty or bitter taste. You’ll find things like IPA’s all the way to Stouts listed in this category. Lagers are lighter in color and are generally fruitier and sweeter. These are similar to Belgian beers, German blends, and summer shandys.
Ale: The darker beers are created with a type of yeast called top-fermenting, or Saccharomyces cerevisia. This yeast is hearty and can withstand high temperature heats. It will be dispersed throughout the vat as it is fermenting, and will reside at the top of the brew once it’s close to the end. This type of yeast is also used in making wine, which means that it creates a higher alcohol content.
Lager: On the other hand, lagers use a bottom-fermenting yeast called Saccharomyces uvarum. It is still dispersed throughout the solution while it’s fermenting, but once it’s close to being finished, it will settle down to the bottom of the vat. It’s not as robust of a yeast and requires attention to temperatures. This is the style of yeast that was brought over from Europe, which is used to make Bavarian beers dating back to medieval times.
Ale: For fermentation to actually take place, the temperature of the solution needs to be somewhere between 60-75 degree Fahrenheit. Some variations, like Saisons, need temperatures upwards of 95-100 degrees.
Lager: The lagers don’t need high heats to ferment. They prefer to thrive in 45-55 degree temperatures. Most can ferment at higher temperatures, ranging up to 75 degrees, but it will change the flavor profile of the beer.
You’ll notice that ales will have a higher hop concentration, which is what gives it a robust taste and bitterness. It’s darker in color with a higher alcohol content. Ales, on the other hand, are lighter and clearer in color. They won’t be as strong to the taste or in alcohol content. Usually people think of lagers during the summer time, and ales during the winter.
It’s hard to choose a favorite. If you are beginning to try new beers, start off with the lager side of the spectrum and work your way towards the stouts. IPAs and Porters usually take some time to train your palate. They both have such a unique flavor, that you can easily switch from one to the other day to day.