Ale vs. Lager
Ales and lagers are the main categories of beer, with ales usually being “robusty, hearty and fruity” whereas lagers tend to be described as “smooth, elegant, crisp, and clean”. There are three main differences between the two, which include the type of yeast, the temperature and time of fermentation, and the additional ingredients as well as subtle color differences.
Ales are brewed using top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) versus lagers which are made with bottom-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces uvarum), but they are both fermented from grain. However, some brewers use bottom-fermenting yeast to male ales, though this is rare. As the names suggest, S. cerevisiae is yeast that ferments at the top of the fermentation tank and S. uvarum sinks to the bottom to ferment.
Also, yeast used for ales ferment better at warmer temperatures and thus at a faster rate than lagers. Lagers, on the other hand, ferment at lower temperatures (at a slower rate) which contributes to the mild, crisp taste that we tend to associate with lagers. Ales tend to often include more hops, malts, and roasted malts as well which contribute to its maltier flavor and bitterness in comparison to lagers. As ales tend to have a more complex and robust taste, they are best consumed at a cool temperature of 45°F or warmer, not cold. Lagers are best served at cooler temperatures than ales, but you will not be able to taste most of the flavor at any temperature lower than 38°F.
Ale yeast has a greater tolerance to alcohol and thus we are able to produce stronger beers with higher alcohol contents from S. cerevisiae. On the other hand, lager yeast is more fragile and has a lower alcohol tolerance.
Summary Chart of Differences
Pale Ales and India Pale Ales (IPAs) – Some of the hoppiest beers. Usually light color. Are considered amber beers.
· Pale Ales – two main sub-styles (English vs. American). American Pale Ales tend to have higher hop bitterness, flavor and aroma compared to its English counterpart, which have medium to high hop bitterness, low to medium maltiness, and some caramel, buttery and fruity flavor profiles. Example: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
· Indian Pale Ales (IPAs) – American-style IPAs tend to be known for being some of the strongest and/or hoppiest beers. Example: Samuel Adams IPA
· American Double IPA (a.k.a. Imperial IPA) – Originated from the West Coast brewers. Often ranges from 7 to 14% ABV. Very complex hop profile, ranging with characteristics of resin, skunky, pine to VERY citric and floral. Pairs well with cheese, such as sharp blue cheese, aged cheddar, Gorgonzola, or pepperjack. Can also pair with spicy barbecue, dry-rubbed and grilled meat, or smoked salmon. Examples: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Bear Republic Brewing Hop Rod Rye, Stone Ruination IPA
Stouts and Porters – Very dark beers (not necessarily heavy).
· Stouts – Tend to have a roasted or caramel flavor. Several varieties, including:
o Dry Stout: purest form of stout with dry, bitter, coffee flavor. Example: Guinness
o Milk Stout or Sweet Stout: lower alcohol content than dry stout. Brewed with lactose, which is unfermentable thus settling down as sugar to attribute to its sweet taste. Usually between 6 to 8% ABV. Oatmeals may be added to get smoother mouthfeel and body. Examples: Samuel Adams Cream Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout
o Export Stout: stronger variation of dry or sweet stout. More bitter with higher alcohol content. Example: Stone Imperial Russian Stout
o Oatmeal Stout: sweeter and smoother than milk stout, as it is brewed with oatmeal. Most around 5% ABV but can be higher. Easy to pair with food, including chocolate or dark fruit, hearty stews, and grilled meat. Try braising a porterhouse with an Oatmeal Stout. Example: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
o Russian Imperial Stout: a specific and stronger type of export stout.
o Dry Irish Stout: 3.5 to 5.5% ABV with moderate body. Lower carbonation and usually served on nitro system for creamy effect. Example: Guinness
o American Stout
· Porters – Roasted coffee, chocolate and bitter flavors. Dark brown color. Smoky/roasted brown malts. Precedes Stouts.
· Schwarzbier (German black beer) – Smooth with mildly astringent hop flavors. Refreshing and crisp with tight carbonation and a nice bite. Background lemon/lime hops and some rind. Earthy and grain malt flavors as beer warms. Low malt sweetness but high complexity. Hint of raw molasses. Dry finish. In contrast to stouts and porters, not overly bitter with burnt and roasted malt characteristics and instead has hops contributing to the bitterness. Refreshing.
Wheat Beers (Weizen, a.k.a. “white beer”) – Commonly from German brewers. Light-colored. Heavy on palate. Includes naturally flavors such as fruits or vanilla.
· Berliner Weissbier – made with warm-fermenting yeast and lactobacillus culture. Pale golden straw-colored. Head rapidly vanishes. Refreshing, tart, sour and acidic. Lemony-citric fruit sharpness. Very little to no hop bitterness. Some have added syrups to make sourness easier to drink.
· Southern German Weissbier (a.k.a. Weizen / Hefeweizen) – Unfiltered wheat beer with malted wheat and malted barley. Usually high carbonation. Very crisp and refreshing. When poured, ranges from cloudy pale gold to amber shades. Rinse your glass in cold water before pouring to minimize or prevent an overflowing head. Hardly any hops. Examples: Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier, Weihenstephaner Hefe-Weissbier
o Kristal Weizer / Kristal Weissbier: filtered
o Dunkel Weizezn: darker and unfiltered
· American Wheat Bier – More malty than German Hefeweizen with cleaner flavor. Mashed with American malts and has less wheat by percentage than German Hefeweizens. Filtered. Resembles pale version of Americangolden ale. Example: Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen
· Belgian Witbier (White Ale) – Similar to unfiltered wheat beers, but has added unmalted grains (e.g. wheat, barley, oats) and spices. Not actually white in color, but was called Witbier to distinguish itself from darker beers over 400 years ago. Traditionally are cloudy and pale, unfiltered and bottle-conditioned. Made with malted barley and/or raw, un-malted wheat with added spices and herbs including orange peel and coriander. Today, hops may also be added. Examples: Blue Moon (Belgian) White Ale, Sam Adams Summer Ale
· Gose – unfiltered wheat beer. Cloudy yellow color. Crisp and refreshing with a twang. Low hop bitterness, dry, with spice from ground coriander seeds and sharp from added salt. Often laced with various flavored and colored syrups.
Belgian Specialty Beers – several variations and varieties, each with an associated glass style designed for the particular beer. Main styles include:
· (Oud Bruin) Flemish Old Browns – light to medium-bodied with deep copper to brown color. Highly varied characteristics. Oaklike or woody characters. Little to no hop. Fruity-estery.
· Red Beers – Light-bodied with reddish-brown color. Has a distinct sharp, fruity, sour, and tart flavor. Very complex. Aged in oak cast with a blending of young and old beers.
· Wit (White) Beers – Can be spiced with coriander and orange peel. Very pale. Typically cloudy. Low to medium bitterness and hop profile. Dry beer with low to medium body.
· Saisons – Brewed in winter to drink in the summer.
· Lambics – Tart and complex. Can endure months to years of aging.
· Gueze (pronounced “gur-ze”) – An unflavored blend of young and old Lambics, aged 2-3 years after bottling. Young lambics tend to have lactic characteristics whereas old lambics contribute aroma and depth. After blending, a dork and wire are used to secure the heavy carbonation, much like champagne. Can be stored for up to 24 months or longer at low temperatures of 10 – 15°C. Typically light-bodied, light hoppiness, and no malt sweetness. Often crisp and dry with fruity, sour, acidic or tart flavors.
· Faros & Mars – Blend of ale and Lambic. Spiced with peppers, orange peel and coriander. May have added candi sugar to make the beer lighter and more drinkable.
· Kriek & Framboise (Fruit Lambics) – Lambic with fruit added. Kriek has cherries; Framboise has raspberries. Other fruit lambics also are made. Aged while sitting on fruit.
· Ales / Speciales – Unclassified styles. Often specific to region.
· Golden Ales & Strong Golden Ales – Like Pilsner. High alcohol content (average of 8% ABV). Complex and strong. Delicate and rounded flavors. Examples: Duvel, Delirium Tremens
· Pils – Similar to Bohemian Pilsner (bottom-fermented). Light golden, crisp, and refreshing. Example: Stella Artois
· Trappist Beers – Monastic brewers (only 7 Trabbey abbeys exist in the world). Includes Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle and Achel in Belgium and Koningshoeven (La Trappe) in the Netherlands.
· Abbey Beers – Produced by a secular brewer in Belgium or the Netherlands on behalf of an abbey or priory.
· Tripels – Associated with Trappist monasteries, but can also have Abbey Style or American Tripels. Light pale color (bright to golden). Big, dense and creamy head. Complex, spicy phenolic, powdery yeast, fruity/estery aromas and flavors with a sweet finish. 7 – 10% ABV.
Real Ale (aka Cask Ale) – Has a continuous fermentation process. Not filtered or pasteurized. High in vitamin B (from the yeast). No artificial additives or preservatives. Best served around 55°F (at “cellar temperature”). Very low carbonation. Once tapped, must be consumed within 2 – 3 days.
Golden, Blonde & Kölsch Ales – Lighter beers, perfect for the summer or warmer weather.
· Golden & Blonde Ales – Have many lager-like characteristics, including clean crisp flavor, light color, and balance between hops and malt. Ranges from 4-5% ABV but can be more. Pale straw to gold colored, bright and clear, with pure white head. Bitterness usually is balanced or will have spicy and/or citric bite. Dry finish.
· Kölsch Ales – Similar to Golden / Blonde Ales, but made from German ingredients for hops. Hop bitterness has spicy bite, not citric flavor.
Many German Specialty Beers –
· Altbier – a style of beer that can be traced back thousands of years, preceding lagers. Tends to be full-bodied with a creamy head and moderate bitterness. Very difficult to get a German alt in America.
· Barleywine – another ancient beer that can be traced all the way back to the Vikings. A farmhouse ale in Britain. American barleywines tend to be extremely hoppy and more bitter in comparison to English barleywines which are better balanced and more rounded. Tends to have high alcohol content.
· Sahti – A farmhouse ale from Finland. Traditionally not hopped. Unfiltered and cloudy. Has resiny characteristic. Generally over 7% ABV and compared to German Hefeweizens or Belgian Lambics. Very rare. Very delicate beer with short shelf life.
· Irish Red Ale – Lightly hopped with tea-like flavor and a bit sweet. Well-rounded and balanced flavors with toasted malt characteristic. Commonly has a dry finish.
· Mild Ale – a young ale (not a “stale” aged beer). Mildly hopped. Most moden mild ales are dark colored with 3 – 3.6% ABV but can be higher.
o English Dark Mild Ale: Low hops. Low alcohol content. Low carbonation. May be grainy or have toasty malt characteristics. Popular in England.
o English Pale Mild Ale: Not as hoppy as an ordinary bitter. Delicate and malty. Generally mild hops with balancing bitterness. May be fruity or have sulfur or buttery characteristics. Low alcohol range.
· Brown Ale – Dark amber or brown color.
o English Brown Ale: Maltier and sweeter with fuller body than a Mild Ale. Some lean towards fruity esters, while others tend to be drier and nuttier. Low hop aroma and bitterness.
o American Brown Ale: Similar to English Brown Ale but uses American ingredients. May have addition of coffee or nuts. A “Dark Ale”. Wide range of bitterness and hop flavor.
Pilsners (e.g. Stella Artois) – Pale and medium-bodied. Crisp and slightly hoppy. Dense and rich head. 4-5% ABV. Includes Czech Pilsner (Bohemian Pilsner), Belgian Pils, German and American Pilsners. Traditionally 4 – 5% ABV. Light color and crystal clear, light straw to golden. Prevalent hops with spicy bitterness and/or spicy floral flavor and aroma. Smooth and crisp. Clean malty finish. Very refreshing and can be paired with almost any food. Example: Pilsner Urquell
Ambers – Darker and reddish color. Some maltiness. Generally has light fruit flavors. Can range from light to very hoppy.
Bock – Takes extra months of lagering (cold storage). Different styles of bock beer include
· Bock – Stronger than typical lager. Significant hop flavor.
· Double Bock (Doppelbock) - Have enough malt to be a meal and was often consumed by monks during fasting periods. Full-bodied and darker. 6.5-8.5% ABV. Names typically end with –ator suffix.
· Maibock (Helles Bock) – Lighter in color with significant hop. Usually served in the spring.
· Eisbock – Concentrated form of Bock of Double Bock to boost flavor and alcohol content by freezing off some of its water. Some can be >12% ABV.
Ice Beer – Cheap American-style lager. Slightly higher in alcohol than average American lager, ranging from 5 – 6.5% ABV, but can be as low as 4.5% ABV. Not much difference is evident between ice beers and regular beers. Low-to-moderate body. Slight residual sweetness. No fruitiness. Examples: Miller Light Ice, Natural Ice
Smoked Beers – An old German style of beer (Rauchbier). Typically dark colored and shares similarities to Oktoberfest beer. Smokiness can remindyou of spiced, smoked meat.
Light Beer – Light, malt flavor. Vast majority are watered down beers with slightly less alcohol but much less carbohydrates. Examples: Miller Lite, Corona Light, Coors Light, Bud Light
Malt Liquor – Most commonly sold in 40 oz sized bottles, though size may range from 12 to 64 oz. Straw to pale amber color with around 5.5 to 8.2% ABV. Hops barely used. Must be served ice cold (as close to 32°F as possible). Use a frozen glass if possible. Examples: Steel Reserve, Mickey’s
Mexican Beers – Examples: Corona, Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, Tecate, etc. Many are Lagers or Pilsners.
Oktoberfest Beers – Commonly Munich Oktoberfest beer with around 4.5% ABV. Dark/copper color. Mild hops. Typically a Bavarian Märzenbier / amber lager. Can also be an ale (some breweries may simply label an ale brewed in October as Octoberfest).
*Many different styles that are influenced or similar to more common styles are also widely available .