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Ale vs. Lager

Beers are classified as either ales or lagers. But what does this mean ... and what is the difference between the two?

Technically, there are 3 differences...

First and foremost, it is the yeast that makes the beer an ale or a lager. Ale yeast (also called Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is a top-fermenting yeast strain that is used to make ales. This yeast rises to the top of the fermentation tank during fermentation. Lager yeast (also called Saccharomyces uvarum) is a bottom-fermenting yeast strain that is used to make lagers. This yeast sinks to the bottom of the fermentation tank during fermentation. Lager yeasts ferment more aggressively, leaving behind less residual sweetness and flavor than ales.

Secondly, fermentation temperatures differ between ales and lagers. This goes back to the yeast. Ale yeast thrives at relatively warm temperatures - between 59 and 77°F (15 and 25°C). Lager yeast thrives at relatively cold temperatures - between 41 and 50°F (5 and 10°C).

Thirdly, aging periods differ between ales and lagers. After fermentation, ales are usually aged no more than a few weeks. The aging process is usually done at 40 to 55°F. Lagers, on the other hand, are aged for months and at lower temperatures - usually at 32 to 45°F. This creates a cleaner, clearer beer.

What does all this mean for the beer?

The 3 differences defined above result in very different final products.

Lagers are clean, refreshing beers with typically light flavor and aroma. They are usually light in color (but can also be dark) and have a high amount of carbonation. Lagers deliver a smooth uniform taste and aroma of hops and malt. They taste best cold and go well with a wide variety of foods.

Ales are complex, flavorful beers. They are sweet, full-bodied, rich, fruity, and sometimes taste even butter-like. They often have a higher alcohol content and have a stronger hops taste than lagers. Ales taste best at room temperature and go well with a selective variety of foods.

Search our beer dictionary

To list all German beer styles in our beer dictionary that are ales and those that are lagers, select the appropriate link below.

German Ales

German Lagers

Photo: © Taffi -

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