ALE VS. LAGER
Beer is a wonderful beverage that has never gone out of style, but it’s popularity today may be greater than ever before. New craft breweries seem to pop up with stunning regularity and the average beer drinker will be quick to tell you what specific style they favor. Some will lead towards IPA’s, while others are all about the stouts. There is no wrong answer here, as it all boils down to personal preference. If we were to create a family tee of beers, you would find ales and lagers at the very top, with all the rest branching off from there. The terms ale and lager are often used interchangeably because of that, but the reality is that there are some major differences between the two.
Ales were actually around long before lager was served, but it is not age that is the difference here. It all begins with the type of yeast being used to make the beer in question. The type of yeast used in making beer dictates the temperature at which said beer is fermented. Ales tend to be fermented at warmer temperatures, with 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit usually the range within which they fall. Lagers are fermented at much cooler temperatures, usually in the 38-50 degrees Fahrenheit range, which means the yeast activity is slowed to the point where lagers take a good deal longer to mature.
We should note here that there are some exceptions to the rule on both sides here, so while the temperatures at which ales and lager are brewed tend to be different, there are some lagers that perform better at warmer temperatures and some ales that do just fine at cooler temps. It’s all down to the yeast being used. The same rules apply when talking about the storage of lagers and ales. Generally speaking, lagers go through a cold-conditioning phase where they are stored at cooler temperatures to allow for primary fermentation. This is something that is not usually done with ales, which seem to do just fine at those warmer temperatures.
One of the best ways to determine the difference between an ale and a lager on your own is to sample as many different varieties as you can. With ales, you will find that you get a bitter beer that is usually quite robust in flavor and which tastes a little better when served warmer than other beers. With a lager, you get a clean, lighter tasting beer that always tastes better when served cold. There is a reason why lager makers always talk about their beer being crisp and cold in the ads that they run.
Those are the basic differences between lagers and ales, but as we mentioned earlier in this piece, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. Luckily, there are now all sorts of beer websites and apps to help you differentiate between the beers and help you find one, or more, that you will absolutely love.