Ales vs. Lagers
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Seasoned beer drinkers can often tell the difference between ales and lagers. Ales are usually described as "robust, hearty and fruity." Lagers are characteristically "smooth, elegant, crisp, fruity and clean". The fermentation process is also different for lagers and ales.
Ales are brewed with top-fermenting (actually ferments throughout the wort) yeast, which allows for rapid fermentation at warmer temperatures. Lagers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast, which ferments more slowly and at colder temperatures.
Lager beer is made with bottom-fermenting yeast, so called because it works at the bottom of the vat. Traditionally, lager yeasts will ferment at cold temperatures less than 50 deg F. This cold or deep fermentation allows the malt and hops to assert their fine flavors.
On the other hand, ales are fermented at temperatures from 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Ales are matured for shorter periods and at warmer temperatures.
Ales are usually described as "robust, hearty and fruity".
Lagers are characteristically "smooth, elegant, crisp and clean".
Ales include everything with ale in the name (pale ale, amber ale, etc.): porters, stouts, Belgian specialty beers, wheat beers and many German specialty beers. They generally have a more robust taste, are more complex and are best consumed cool (45 degrees Fahrenheit or a bit warmer) rather than cold.
Lagers include pilsners; bocks and dopplebocks; Maerzens/Oktoberfests; Dortmunders; and a few other styles found mostly in Germany. They are best consumed at a cooler temperature than ales, although anything served at less than 38 degrees Fahrenheit will lose most of its flavor.
Are top-fermented using ale yeast strains
Brewed at warmer temperatures (62 - 72°Fahrenheit)
Typically need a shorter brewing period
Have shorter fermentation time (7-10 days)
Depending on style, ales will yield a lingering fruity and/ or hoppy flavor and range in color from golden to black
Are bottom-fermented using lager yeast strains
Brewed at cooler temperatures (50 – 60° Fahrenheit)
Typically more delicate to brew
Have longer fermentation time (up to several weeks)
Depending on style, lagers will yield a cleaner, crisper taste and can range in color from straw to dark brown