Beer Knowledge

The difference between Ale and Lager

Do you know the difference between Ale and Lager?

Whether you are a newcomer to the world of beer or an avid drinker, the many different terms of beer may confuse you – ale, porter, lager, stout, bocks, etc. To make it simple, all beer is classified into 2 main types, Ale or Lager. There are many differences between these two groups starting from the way they are prepared.

1.    Fermentation Ales ferment at room to warm temperature of around 15 to 22 Celsius where yeast cells float to the top. This process is referred to as “top fermenting” and take a relatively short amount of time up to 4 weeks. Meanwhile, lagers ferment at cold temperature of around 4 to 10 Celsius where yeast cells gather at the bottom. This process is referred to as “bottom fermenting.”  Lager take longer time than ales to ferment with storage of up to several weeks or months due to the slow chemical reactions associated with cold temperature.

2.    Appearance and Taste The brewing process, bottom fermented vs top fermented and the type of yeast result in different flavor for each type of beer.  It can be said that ale generally process an aromatic, strong, fruity, and full-bodied flavor and are generally served at warmer temperature than ales of around 6 to 12 degree Celsius. On the other hand, fermentation in cold environments prevents production of fruity aromas and other byproducts. Lager are known for its bright, clean yellow color with a smooth, light crispy taste and can be enjoyed at colder temperatures than ale. In addition to its subtle taste, lager has lower alcoholic content, making them easier to drink. It’s important to note though that the abundant styles of preparation and flavor added in can blur the distinction of appearance and taste between ale and lager.

3.    History Ales have been around far longer than lagers, recorded as early as 6000 years ago. Lager were introduced later in the late 15th or early 16th century. Traditionally lager was stored in caves for long periods during the winter, but the invention of refrigeration has made this process simpler. Hence, the origin of the word lager is from the German word lagern, which means “to store.” Examples of lager are Snow Beer, Heineken, Tsing Tao, Sapporo, Kingfisher, Budweiser, Snow, etc. Examples of well known ale are King Strout, Murphy, Elevator Hefeweizen, etc.

Lagers are relatively new to the brewing scene. They first arose in Bavarian breweries in the late 15th or early 16th century, then eventually spread to the rest of Europe (most famously to Plzeň, the birthplace of pilsner) and eventually to the rest of the worldFurther, unlike ale yeast, no “wild-type” lager yeast has ever been found in Europe and lager yeast need humans to continue its propagation. Finally, ale yeast usually spends its life as a diploid organism. Lager yeast is what biologists call “allotetraploid”: it has four copies of its genome, which is made up of genomes from two different species

Lagers are beers that are ferment slowly at low temperatures. They also ferment from the bottom up. Ales ferment quickly from the top down and are brewed in a warm environment

 Ales are fermented at relatively high temperatures — around room temperature — which means that they ferment relatively quickly (typically 2-4 weeks) , and tend to have a more pronounced flavors and aromas.

Lagers are fermented at much cooler temperatures — close to freezing — which means that they take much longer to ferment (several weeks or months), and typically have much cleaner, crisper flavor and aroma profiles. Typical lagers are clear, bright yellow, have a low bitterness and a very “clean” taste and a relatively low ABV. Most will think of Budweiser, which is a lager, but there are “craft” lagers as well that use better ingredients and are generally higher rated.

Ales tend to be fruity-estery, while lagers are clean-tasting and frequently described as “crisp”

Because ale yeast is much hardier in higher-alcohol environments, it will survive into higher levels of alcohol, causing ales to have a higher alcohol content, in a general sense.

By comparison, the slower, more fragile lager yeast generates less alcohol because it can’t survive beyond that lower alcohol content, causing lagers to generally have a lower alcohol content

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