Ale vs Lager: What is the general difference?

What is the primary contrast between styles of beer? Well, this question has bothered quite a few newbies in the beer world.

However, the definite answer lies in some commonly found explanations. Various contrasting variables are involved in beer making.

Those variables, combined with the process of fermentation, make them different. In this article, we’ve broken down the contradictions into four main points. Along with that, we’ve also busted a few myths surrounding Lager vs Ale. Read on and find out!

Top Or Bottom Fermenting Yeast

People believe that Lager is formulated with the help of bottom-fermenting yeast, while Ale consists of top-fermenting yeast. However, it’s untrue as yeast activity is rarely stable enough to qualify as top or bottom-fermenting. Also, if you observe closely, yeast activity is disbursed through the entire liquid and doesn’t stay put in one place.

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During fermentation, yeast cells multiply to feed on the sugar molecules, making the concoction cloudy. You’ll also notice aggressive churning and a stream of bubbles on top. Furthermore, once the process is over, the yeast cells start dropping, giving you your clear solution back.

Thus, you can’t actually categorize these styles of beer based on the position of fermenting. Moreover, as yeast cells flocculate, they always settle at the bottom, even in small amounts. Based on this, you may conclude that this misleading observation emerges from the formulation of kräusen.

Kräusen in Ale is fluffy and substantially large, as compared to that in Lager. They’re also highly vigorous in Ale, making them more prominent and easily visible on top. The contrast in fermentation doesn’t stem from its position; instead, we base it on the size of kräusen.

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Moreover, yeast is highly proactive in warm solutions. As a result, warm fermentations such as Ale are more vigorous, whereas cold ones like Lager are typically subtle and understated. That, in turn, affects the formation and size of kräusen. The following section will offer you a deeper insight into their temperatures.

Read more about How to brew Lager at home.

Cold vs. Warm- The Debate

As we mentioned before, Lager features a cold fermentation process, whereas, Ale is fermented warm. However, the temperature distinction is not as straightforward as it seems. While Ales generally begin fermenting in the range of 16-24-degree C (60-75-degree F), some Saison strains require up to 35-38-degree C (95-100-degree F).

Furthermore, the ideal temperature for Lager is 7-13-degree C (45-55-degree F). The twist here is, Lager can also ferment at warm temperatures or room temperature, just like Ale. Thus, it shatters this misconception regarding temperatures.

As a matter of fact, certain Ale yeasts like California Common Strains, White Labs WLP810, and Wyeast 2112, like cold temperatures. On the contrary, some Ale strains, particularly the German ones, work well at 13-16-degree C (55-60-degree F).

We prefer fermenting Lagers cold, owing to a host of reasons. The most common and highly plausible reasons are as follows.

  • Simply History: The practices we sometimes adopt continue for centuries without any plausible explanation. The same has happened with Lager. In 1553, Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria went on to prohibit warm brewing.

After which, brewers began using cold-tolerant yeast instinctively. This practice continues even now, and resultantly, beer yeast has evolved and thrives in the cold.

  • Taste Enhancement: The taste is the most crucial aspect, no doubts there! Additionally, colder brews allow for a hops-focused, malty beer, and the yeast by-products are not even detectable. As a result, you can enjoy a crisp, clean beer.

Read more about How to brew IPA.

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Cold Conditioning

The most distinctive feature between the two is their conditioning phase. Lagers is a lot likely to go through a conditioning phase as compared to Ale. Lagers has a rich history when it comes to brewing— one that dates all the way back to central Europe.

The fact that these places have a chilled temperature is what diversifies it as compared to Ale. Lagers requires a cold climate and long intervals to develop the way it does. Whereas, Ale essentially needs a lot warmer weather to become the best version of itself.

That is a crucial step and plays a massive role in deciding what the final beers would taste like. Legend has it that this step requiring conditioning was an incredible invention; it has now become an inevitable factor. The conditioning period ranges anywhere between five to ten weeks.

The common assumption among people is that Ales as a drink is utterly devoid of any sort of conditioning process. However, this is far from the truth. Cold conditioning and ales for two weeks acts as a miracle in terms of time.

Simply put, cold conditioning Ales results in the formation process taking a lot less time. Therefore, while going through the period of conditioning is a preference for most, it sure does bring about a better taste to both types of beer.

Usage Of Strains And Fermentation

If you’re looking for a significant contrast between the two, then it definitely could be the strains of yeast that we use for their fermentation. For instance, one uses a Saccharomyces Pastorianus strain. When it comes to another, the strain is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

Ales uses a top fermentation method, and thus the yeast is put at the top of the wort at a comparatively warmer temperature. Lagers apply a bottom fermentation method, and thus the yeast goes at the very bottom of the wart.

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As you saw above, this requires a lot colder environment. Another feature of the bottom fermentation method is that the beer becomes a lot crisper than one would usually expect.

What’s surprising is that the yeast used for Ales is also the same one that we seldom use in baking bread. Brewing and baking are not that contrasting when it comes to the processes and yeast used.

Not only that but the beer was also fermented in World War II using this yeast without any sort of equipment that is available today.

You can spot both of these yeasts, usually on several different kinds of grapes. Due to the strains, both of them also result in a unique flavor characteristic.

While some of these yeasts help significantly in the fermentation of beers some strains could also hugely spoil the process. That could, in turn, make the entire taste terrible.

There are also a lot of minutes and scientific contrasts between these two strains. For instance, one of them can metabolize extremely complex sugars, whereas the other simply cannot.

Read more about How to brew beer at home.

Summing Up

Now that you know all that there is to understand about beer's style, keep certain essential things in mind. You must know everything about the fermentation process and the yeast you need to use for each of them. Also, the quality and, ultimately, the taste stems from the right amount of fermentation.

Know the critical facets in terms of temperature, conditioning, and type. At the end of the day, both types of beers are delicious beers with their unique tastes. Moreover, the taste and these characteristics are what make them a massive hit amongst people. They’re perfect for quenching your thirst on a summer night, as well as any other time of the year.

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