Ale or Lager? Is there a difference between Ale and Lager? What to drink?
How does one differentiate ale from lager? Is it important? For a beer neophyte or any serious beer-drinker, being able to distinguish ale from lager is a necessary skill. They are the two basic types of beer after all. Save for specialty beer, they make up almost all the beers.
But what is ale and what is lager?
The Difference Between Ale and Lager
The main difference between ale and lager are the temperatures used during fermentation. The lower temperatures cause slower chemical reactions.
An increase of 18 degrees Fahrenheit/10 degrees Celsius doubles the speed of chemical change. A decrease of similar degrees halves the speed. Yeast is compromised when the temperature goes above 104 degrees F/40 degrees C or falls below 58 degrees F/15 degrees C. Brewers keep fermentation temperatures as low as possible especially in the aging process. That continues until attenuation is complete.
How much are ale and lager different? Count the ways!
- Ale is the most traditional beer in the world, one of the oldest beverages. It was considered an important source of nutrients during the medieval times. Its alcohol content was enough and non-intoxicating to act as a preservative and provide hydration.
- Ale is fruitier, sweeter, more full-bodied, and with complex characteristics. The flavor and sweetness are courtesy of the fermentation it goes through.
- Ale is brewed using warm fermentation. How it happens: While brewing, the yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) gathers on the top of the fermentation tank. It does not take long as brewing does not take long either.
It “ferments throughout the body of the beer wort, rising first to the surface (where it can be harvested). In time, it will sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, remaining after the finished beer is removed.”
S. cerevisiae is the most common yeast. It is usually used in bread-making, wine-making, and other common formulations. It is often called top-fermenting or ale yeast and has greater tolerance to alcohol, producing stronger beers.
- Ale ages for a few weeks only before it can be consumed.
- Ale color ranges from rich gold to reddish amber.
- Popular Types of Ale:
- one of the strongest types of beer
- 8% to 12% alcohol by volume (ABV)
- often mistaken for wine
- high alcohol content with a light body (grist is used to the brew in place of sucrose)
- fruity, spicy, citrusy
- deceptively easy to drink
- various flavors and characteristics
- mellow yet flavorful (subtle citrus, caramel, toffee and toasty notes)
- traditional English brown ales:
- malty, sweet, full-bodied
- usually mellow and subdued
- fruity or dry and nutty
- bitterness and hop aroma:
- low in English versions
- vary in American versions
Indian Pale Ale (IPA)
- hop-forward, bitter taste (Stone IPA) in American IPAs
- big herbal or citrus flavor
- reddish-copper to golden caramel color
- English IPAs:
- less hop character
- lower alcohol content
- hoppier compared to normal English pale ales
- light malt (sweet) flavor as brewed using mostly pale malt
- usually a good balance of malt and hops
- pleasantly dry
- Bitter aftertaste
- tends to be light-colored
- American versions usually hoppier, drier and cleaner than British versions
- very dark color due to dark malts
- dark grainy flavors and light sweet notes
- may include coffee, toffee or chocolate aromas
- ideal sipping beer
- usually milder than stouts
- darkest and richest coffee-like brew due to roasted flavor since roasted barley is used during the brewing process
- from dry with high alcohol content to hoppy with low ABV
- flavors differ
- light and easy to drink
- tangy, spritzy bubbling
- hints of spice.
- Lager came later than ale in the late 15th or early 16th century when Bavarian breweries first made them. Soon, the rest of Europe was enjoying their lager.
- Lager has residual sweetness. That’s due to the aggressive fermentation. The flavors are simple yet distinct. It has a light aroma to it.
- Lager ferments at lower temperatures. How it happens: The yeast (Saccharomyces uvarum) precipitates in small masses at the bottom of the brew. S. uvarum is more fragile than S. cerevisiae. It attenuates more slowly and to a lesser degree
“It ferments throughout the body of the beer wort and settles to the bottom of the vessel at the end of that process.” Since it practically cannot sporulate, it continues to work even below 39 degrees F/3 degrees C.
The result is a product that has lower alcohol tolerance. More sugar and a very slow attenuation produce a more full-bodied, crisper, and less fruity beer. The upside is there are fewer esters and, for those not so fond of strong alcohol, it is more mellow on the taste buds, making it easier to drink.
- Lager ages for several months before it can be consumed.
- Lager looks clean and clear.
- Types of Lager:
American Pale Lager
- considered very basic, most common beer
- not best-tasting but clean-tasting
- delicately sweet with unmalted grains (corn/rice added to the mix while brewing)
- tends to be dry
- crisp with a slightly hoppy bitterness
American Dark Lager
- darker beer as a result of roasted malts (sometimes achieved with dark caramel syrups)
- slight changes done in recipes and spices, and in hops, malt and yeast variations — to distinguish from the German dark lager
- slightly heavier-bodied
- mildly sweet to caramelly
- ranges in color (light copper to brown)
- malty sweet with hard bitterness
- toasty flavor
- almost with no hops aroma
- a sub-category to the Bock style
- extra strong, malty sweet, with hop bitterness
- a bit stronger alcohol content
- balanced all-malt beer
- malty flavor similar yet slightly stronger than that of a Munich Helles
- crispness similar yet slightly stronger than that of a German pilsner
- pale gold color
- slightly distinguishable caramel
- spicy, herbal aroma
Eisbock (“Ice Bock”)
- the strongest sub-category to the Bock style
- highly concentrated if chilled first until water crystals form
- distinct malty sweet flavor
- strong alcoholic finish
- traditional Bock beer pale version
- sweet malty taste and subtle hops
- considered a light beer in Germany
- deeply malty with just enough hops
- classic brown lager of Munich
- smooth and malty flavor
- pale lager but heavier than most standard ones
- color often of golden hue
- slight malty taste with a subtle hop flavor
- subtle malty flavor
- crisp but with a bit bitter flavor
- high carbonation (medium to full body)
- dense, white beer head or foam (medium to full body)
- golden color
Rauchbier (“Smoked Beer”)
- very distinct smokey and pungent flavor
- amber-colored (medium body)
- well-rounded and bold-tasting
Storing Ale and Lager
Whatever one’s preference is, be it ale or lager, it does not matter as long as it is enjoyed. It’s different folks with different strokes. They can have their beer any way they want. And what better way to do enjoy beer than to keep it chilled and available anytime?
That is why it is better to get a kegerator. It keeps beer fresh in a long while and a keg of beer is usually more than enough to cater to a small group. That’s perfect for when there’s company or an impromptu little party. A kegerator can preserve flavors excellently and the host need not worry.
So get a kegerator! Keg Fridge has a variety of brands and models to choose from. They are all of good quality and costs are reasonable. Anyone who needs a kegerator to preserve the perfect beer, all he or she has to do is to ask Keg Fridge!
Visit KegFridge.com and find out how they can be of service. They’ll be happy to assist.