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Ale VS Lager

Ale vs Lager

As a beer lover, it’s a very happy time to live with local breweries everywhere and with so many great craft beers to choose from. But it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with such a wealth of options: Pearson, IPA, Box, Brown, Stout, Porter, and more. Although there are many different types of beer, these are broadly divided into two types: Ale and Lager.

For the average beer drinker, the difference between Ale and Lager comes down to how the beer looks, smells, and tastes. Ales tend to be fruity, while lagers are clean and often described as “crisp”. But for brewers, the difference is much more than that. Not just color, taste, aroma, hop/grain/malt variety, and even water hardness, can’t tell the difference between ale and lager. Because Lager beer uses a completely different type of yeast in the fermentation process, the chain reaction (from different flavors and aromas to lower fermentation temperatures) stems from this difference.

 You can hear some brewing apprentices describe the difference between beer as “top-fermented beer” (Ale) and “bottom-fermented beer” (Lager). This description is usually accurate but is useless to those who have no experience with brewing. Both of these beers are delicious, so let’s take a look at the difference between Ales and Lager.

Ale VS Lager

Ale and Lager


First, let’s take a look at the definitions of Ales and Lager beers.

What is ale?

Brewing an ale requires a yeast species named Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly called “top-fermenting” because as the yeast eats up malt-derived sugars, it rises to the top of the vessel in a layer of foam. Those vessels might be fully closed to the air, there are also “open fermenters”.

There are many kinds of ale thanks to different strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. From IPAs to wheat beers and Belgian styles, craft brewers can select the ideal yeast for their recipes.

Clove and banana aromas are examples of “esters,” a fermentation byproduct that appears in both ales and lagers, but ales tend to produce more. One reason is that ale yeast typically ferments at a higher temperature than lager yeast, between 60–75 ºF. This range keeps ale yeast happy and productive, fostering more of those fruity aromas that can include pear, apple, and even rose.

Common types of ale beers include:

  • Brown Ale
  • Pale Ale
  • India Pale Ale
  • Golden Ale
  • Scotch Ales
  • Barley Wine
  • Mild Ale
  • Buton Ale
  • Belgian Ales
  • Cask Ales

What is a lager?

Lager turns ale on its head, lager is “bottom-fermenting”, and uses a yeast called Saccharomyces pastorianus. Lager yeast thrives at lower temperatures than ale, generally between 42–55 ºF. It’s a slower and calmer process, so lager yeast sinks to the bottom of the vessel; ale yeast, with its warmer fermentation, is more vigorous and shoots to the top.

And while ale yeast can be found in nature (e.g., on ripe fruits), lager yeast has more colorful origins.

Like ales, there’s a bounty of distinct lagers including Czech- and German-style Pilsners, malty Dunkels, and modern creations like India Pale Lager (IPL). Each year we brew a seasonal Oktoberfest lager to celebrate the world’s biggest beer party, and there’s no better way to welcome spring than with our golden lager Pale Bock.

Common types of lager beers are:

  • Pale Lagers
  • Vienna Lager
  • Dark Lagers


If you ask beer lovers what’s the difference between ale and lager, you’ll get a simple answer: yeast. While this claim is ostensibly true, the actual brewing process is a bit more complicated than that. A common belief among many beer lovers is that ale uses top-fermenting yeast while lager uses bottom-fermenting yeast. But in the actual brewing process, both varieties are actually dispersed throughout the fermentation tank, but at certain stages of the fermentation process, the reaction at the top or bottom will be more pronounced.

Top-fermenting yeast

Top-fermenting yeast is used to brew ale beer. This type of yeast, also known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, has many common applications, from winemaking to making bread. This harder yeast variety is called top fermentation because it rises to the top during fermentation and sinks to the bottom of the brewing vessel at the end of the fermentation process.

This fast-acting yeast can complete the fermentation process in as little as a week, and the yeast particles will float to the top due to the increased movement of the yeast in the fermentation vessel.

Bottom-fermenting yeast

The bottom-fermenting yeast used to brew lager beer is also known as Saccharomyces uvarum. This yeast doesn’t necessarily ferment at the bottom, but it doesn’t rise during fermentation like top-fermenting yeast. Since the yeast is not visible during fermentation, it is called bottom-fermenting yeast.

This type of yeast is more refined than top-fermenting yeast and requires specific conditions to thrive, which means it can produce more results than top-fermenting yeast. This yeast is hardy, which means it can be active in low temperatures.

Bottom-fermenting yeasts are also slower to consume sugar, and therefore slower to ferment. Additionally, it is less tolerant to alcohol and can ferment me lose, a sugar that is not fermented by top-fermenting yeast. This property of the yeast allows more sugar to remain in the finished beer, creating a smoother, sweeter beer.

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Alcohol content

The alcohol content is as important as the taste of beer. Yeasts play a very important role in the alcohol content of beer, as their ability to thrive in high- and low-alcohol environments determine the alcohol content of beer. So no matter what type of beer it is, yeast can affect the overall alcohol content.

Because malt yeast is tougher in a higher alcohol environment, it will survive higher concentrations of alcohol, resulting in higher alcohol content in the ale. The more fragile and slower lager yeast cannot survive high-alcohol environments, which makes the overall alcohol content of the lager lower.

Fermentation temperature

The fermentation temperature of these two yeast strains is very different, which can affect the body and taste of your beer when you drink it. Because of their subtle nature and sensitivity to higher temperatures, they cause differences in brewing temperatures, while also making beer harder to brew.

Top fermenting yeast – high temperature

Top-fermenting yeasts used for ale are typically brewed at 60-80°F, with some rare varieties able to withstand brewing at 95-100°F. The tendency for top-fermenting yeast to move from the top of the brewing vessel to the bottom during fermentation, causes yeast particles to become suspended in all beers. This rapid fermentation process produces a cloudy and stronger beer that is typical of many ales.

Bottom-fermenting yeast – low temperature

Due to the fragility of bottom-fermenting yeasts, they remain active at lower temperatures, and when brewed at lower temperatures, there is limited volatile movement, resulting in clearer wines.

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The lager beer also requires the manager an extra step that the ale beer does not have, namely being refrigerated for further clarification. In fact, the breed is named after the German single lagern, which means storage. Traditionally lager beer is brewed in caves throughout Central Europe, where the temperature of the beer is cooler compared to breweries in other parts of the world, so low temperatures mean the beer will be kept in cooler temperatures for longer. This will have a strong impact on the finished product, with lager beers having better clarity and flavor than ale beers of the same period.

Although this particular property is thought to have been discovered by chance, it is now actually an essential step in brewing lager, including four to ten weeks, when lager beer has been stored in brewing caves for a longer than expected cooling period.

This step allows more yeast, protein, and hops to settle out of the lager beer, significantly improves clarity, and reduces the cold mist that forms when the ale that has not gone through the cold treatment stage is first cooled, as well as the extra solids The ale starts to cause the haze effect.

Hops content

Hops are an essential addition to any beer, but the concentration of hops will vary depending on the style of beer brewed.

Because lager beers are brewed slower and cooler, nuances and more subtle flavors in the beer are brought out, lager beers generally don’t need to rely on heavy additions of hops to complete the brew.

By contrast, ale tends to have a much higher hop content, which provides a protective element to the beer, especially when the beer is fermented at higher temperatures. However, the faster, warmer beer brewing process also means that the finished beer may contain more bitterness. This can be a downside or a positive, depending on your taste and brewing style.

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For the most part, almost all beers contain a specific range of ingredients: water, grains, yeast, and hops.

But the Beer Purity Law passed in Germany in 1516, commonly known as the Reinheitsgebot, limited the ingredients to malt, water, and hops. While yeast is undoubtedly part of the process, it took centuries for science to sort out the specific organism responsible for the fermentation process.

For the most part, almost all beers contain a specific range of ingredients: water, grains, yeast, and hops.

Due to the popularity of lagers in the region, and the aforementioned ban on brewing, lagers are still traditionally associated with these ingredients, although brewers always experiment to some extent. Most of the remaining ingredients have remained largely the same, although there have been some changes in the grains used by the big U.S. breweries. With the advent of modern refrigeration, these lager beers can deliver the same clear, crisp, smooth beer that makes this beer.

On the other hand, ale beer did not develop under such constraints. This allows a wide variety of styles to be developed in different parts of the world, from IPAs to the entire range of stouts, from which various sub-styles and experimental batches branch off. Plus, many other ingredients are added, including fruit flavors and various grains including wheat, to create hundreds of different styles, limited only by the brewer’s imagination. Not only has craft beer caught on thanks to the wide selection and constant innovation of breweries, but the beer world is also filled with an almost endless array of unique flavors and aromas.


In general, there are many differences between ales and lagers. But, to keep it concise, here’s a quick summary.

  • Ales tend to be darker, have a cloudier appearance, higher alcohol content, and a stronger, fruitier, more robust flavor with stronger bitter tones from the hops due to the higher amount of hops, faster, more thorough fermentation.
  • Lagers tend towards a lighter, clear appearance, have a lower alcohol content and a sweeter, smoother, crisp flavor from the higher sugar content, slower fermentation, and cold treatment. These aspects are most strongly affected by the yeast and brewing practices, with the additional flavors and post-fermentation handling also playing an important role in the final product.

Though the differences between ale and lager are many, having a better idea of what facets of the brewing process and ingredients affect the final product allows you to have a better appreciation for the differences between the two varieties. These differences are not set in stone, with some lager yeasts surviving up into the 60-65°F range and some ales going through a cold conditioning stage, producing brews that transcend the differences between these two varieties. Though lagers have enjoyed a significant market share, the strong growth trend of ales in craft breweries and import beers provides an excellent alternative to those who prefer a beer with a bit more substance.
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