What is the Difference Between Ale and Lager?
There are a vast number of different varieties of beer and they are so popular because they are so easy to enjoy. Ale and lagers are the most common types of beer and with so many kinds to choose between, it is simple to find a nice tasting beer to suit everyone. However, there are some differences amongst these different styles of beer. Take a closer look at lager vs ale to help give you an improved understanding of how these beers are truly unique.
The Difference Between Ale and Lager
So, lager is a distinct type of beer as is ale. Beer is the general name used to group a particular type of alcoholic drink which comprises of not only lager and ale, but a number of other types of beer. Beer is created through the blending together of water, yeast, grains, and hops to create a delicious alcoholic beverage. Beers can be drunk from room temperature or straight from the fridge. They can also be used as an ingredient in lots of recipes from stews to soups.
The German word for lager means “storage,” which relates to the technique of brewing beer. Whether or not a beer is classed as either an ale or a lager will not be established by differences in color, flavor, or even the strength of the alcohol. Whether a beer gets classed as either a lager or an ale is down to the fermentation method that has been used and the variety of yeast that is initially used when brewing the beer. The temperature that the beer is brewed at during the whole time it is being made can also have an impact on whether you end up with an ale or a lager.
Brewing beer has been a cultural practice in almost every area across the globe for thousands of years. Until the 16th-century virtually all beer that was brewed could have been considered an ale. Lagers were actually accidentally created be not until the 1500’s as the ale changed when it was being stored at differing temperatures. The practical difference between all of the beer classifications is in exactly how the beverages have been brewed.
Over the years the understood differences between lager and ale has become blurry and many people confuse the two. In many countries, if you ask for a beer, you will most likely be given a lager. It is also true that in lots of countries there is not even any special words for lager or ale, so you are probably safest just asking for a beer.
Lager vs Ale
So, while taste of the beer will not automatically be defined by how the beveridge was produced, there are some broad distinctions which can let you know whether or not you are drinking a lager or an ale:
- Lagers have a tendency to offer you a crisper, fresher taste, even if other ingredients like malts have been used to add different flavors.
- Beers will taste better colder. So, if you are ordering a drink when you are out an about if your drink is really cold then it is probably a lager. Ales are often enjoyed when you drink them when they are warmer, and they will usually be best out of a room temperature bottle.
- Ales will seem to be more well-rounded in terms of taste, being very often much sweeter that lagers and they can often be fruity in nature. This is down to the fermentation process which is much quicker in ales and this makes ‘esters’ in the brew which makes it sweet.
- The lower alcohol content in ales might also be noticed by drinkers and that is also an indication that you are drinking an ale rather than a beer.
- Think about how they make your food taste. Lagers pair best with shellfish, grilled meats, and spicy foods. Ales pair best with things like burgers and pizzas.
Yeast Use in Beer Making
Yeast is used in the production of beer, in much the same way as it is used in the production of the loaf of bread on your kitchen counter. Lager uses a bottom-fermenting yeast and ale is made by using a top-fermenting yeast while brewing is happening. Ale is created using Saccharomyces cerevisia, which is a common yeast variety which is commonly used in bread making too. It is a resilient type of yeast which handles varying environments effectively. This type of ale yeast can cope with a wider range of temperature fluctuations, handle a greater alcohol content and can adapt to other changes quicker.
It has been used for thousands of years and evidence of its use has been found in civilizations across the whole world. It is called a top-fermenting yeast as it sinks from the top during brewing when fermentation has finished. This means that it is easier to harvest the yeast when the brewing of the ale has finished without disturbing the beer. Ale is then different to lager as the yeast used brews the beer in a really short time. Ales are fairly popular among home brewers as this ale yeast can create beer so quickly, sometimes in as little as a week.
What is a Lager
So, the original beer is an ale, but lager was invented when it was left to ferment for longer and using a different type of yeast to brew your beer allows you to do this. Lager is in general fermented using a type of yeast known as Saccharomyces uvarum. This yeast does not usually rise to the top during the fermentation process as the yeast does when brewing an ale.
Contrasted to ale yeast, beer yeast is a more fragile and so needs more particular conditions to thrive which is why it took so long to discover how to make it. Nevertheless, this means that lager brewing will generate different results than an ale yeast would do at cold temperatures.
Lager yeast can stay active at low temperatures under 39°F but it also has a smaller tolerance to alcohol which all means that during the brewing process, more sugar will be left in the brew which means that it creates a smoother, purer beer over ale. The arrival of refrigeration and the carbonated thirst-quenching feature of lagers have possibly given them the edge over ales and made them the leading global type of beer to be drunk across the world today.
So, it can be said that all beers are in fact either ales or lagers; and that although they have their differences, they are both closely related branches of the beer family. Ales can be said to be the older, more traditional brews which have been made for hundreds of years across the world, whereas lagers are a comparatively modern concept, less than a few hundred years old. As with any drink, it is going to be down to your personal preference on how to enjoy the beer that you are drinking. There are so many ales and lagers to try out, why not try sampling as many as you can for a true flavor experience and you can even try making your own at home.