Ales vs. Lagers? What's the difference?
In the most basic classification scheme, there are two main types of beer. No, its not “tastes great” / ”less filling”- they are ales and lagers. Ales, the oldest beers in the world, have been around thousands of years longer than lagers. Looking at the history of beer, civilizations as far back as the Sumerians and Egyptians have been brewing and drinking what would be considered ales. Lagers, on the other hand, may have only been around since the mid-nineteenth century. However, many have speculated that “lagering” may have been “discovered” as far back as the Dark Ages, when some European brewers may have stored their beer in ice caves for later consumption. What they found was that the beer that was stored and fermented cold had a much clearer and cleaner beer “free from turbidity”.

The main difference between ales and lagers is the type of yeast used in the brewing process, which in turn dictates what ingredients and techniques can be used.

Ales are fermented warm and made with a top-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces cervisiae), which is, just like it sounds, a yeast that rises to the top of the brew during fermentation. Ales are generally stronger and more forceful in taste than lagers because of their relatively fast and warm fermentation. Many countries, including England, serve their ales at room temperature.

Lagers, from the German word “lagern” meaning to store, are made with a bottom or cold-fermenting yeast (Saccharomyces Uvarum – see sidebar) that sinks to the bottom of the brew during the fermentation process. While ales can be brewed in as little as 7 days, lagers traditionally need to age before their brewing process is complete. This can increase their brewing time to more than a month or more. This longer, colder fermentation process inhibits the production of esters (which give beer a more fruity taste) and avoids other fermentation byproducts common in ales. The lager process creates beers with a generally cleaner, smoother, crisper, and more mellow taste. Unlike ales, lagers should always be served cold. The lager is also the most popular style of beer in the world, with some stating that it accounts for 90% of all beers consumed (a large portion of this is from the mass produced watered down lagers of the major US breweries).


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