Lager vs Ale: What’s the Difference

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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The difference of lager vs ale are discussed in beer halls across the world, and there are some key differences that separate these two types of alcohol.

Lager vs Ale

Lager and ale are both categories of beer, the broad term for any alcoholic beverage made from fermented grains.

Taste

  • Lager: Lager is usually crisp and slightly fizzy with light, mild flavors that are widely enjoyed across the world.
  • Ale: There is a broad range of ales, but they tend to be richer and stronger than lagers, with flavors from both the fruit and hops.
Two glasses filled with lager beer

Lager Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Ingredients

Both lager and ale are made from water, grain (usually malted barley), hops, and yeast. However, the type of yeast used in their fermentation is clearly different in both the beverages.

  • Lager: Lager beer needs a ‘bottom-fermenting’ yeast, which ferments at temperatures of 7-15°C.
  • Ale: Ale production uses ‘top-fermenting’ yeast that ferments at temperatures from 10-25°C.

The ratio of these ingredients vary. Other ingredients, such as herbs and fruit, are sometimes added to produce different flavors.

Alcohol Content

  • Lager: Lagers tend to have an ABV of 3-6%.
  • Ale: The average alcohol range of ale is greater, at 3-15% ABV.

Fermentation

In addition to the type of yeast used, the key difference between lager and ale lies in the fermentation process.

  • Lager: Lager is fermented in cold conditions, in which the yeast sits at the bottom of the barrel. This makes for a longer fermentation time, resulting in the clean and mellow taste.
  • Ale: Ale is produced through a warm ferment, which allows the esters responsible for fruity aromas to emerge.

Storage

Lager is best stored and drunk chilled, whereas ale is usually happy at a room temperature.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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