Ales vs. Lagers

Ales vs. Lagers

When it comes to beer, there are two primary categories that dominate the market: ales and lagers. These two types of beers have distinct characteristics and flavors, making them unique in their own right. Understanding the differences between ales and lagers can enhance your appreciation and enjoyment of these beloved brews. So, let’s dive into the world of ales and lagers!

What are Ales?

Ales are among the oldest types of beer, dating back thousands of years. They are brewed with top-fermenting yeast strains, known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which ferment at higher temperatures, usually between 60-75°F (15-24°C). This warm fermentation process gives ales their distinctive flavors, ranging from fruity and estery to rich and complex.

Ales have a wide range of styles, including pale ales, India pale ales (IPAs), stouts, porters, and wheat beers. They often boast bold hop profiles and robust malt characters, making them a favorite choice for craft beer enthusiasts seeking intense flavors.

What are Lagers?

Lagers, on the other hand, are a relatively newer creation, originating in the 19th century. They are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast strains, scientifically known as Saccharomyces pastorianus, which ferment at cooler temperatures, typically around 45-55°F (7-13°C). This colder fermentation process results in a crisper and cleaner taste profile.

Lagers encompass styles such as pilsners, bocks, Vienna lagers, and Märzens (Oktoberfest beers), to name a few. They are often characterized by a smooth, light-to-medium body, with a balanced interplay between malt sweetness and hop bitterness. Lagers tend to be highly carbonated and showcase a more subtle array of flavors compared to ales.

Differences in Brewing Techniques

Apart from the yeast strains and fermentation temperatures, the brewing techniques for ales and lagers also differ. Ales typically have a shorter brewing time, ranging from just a few weeks to a couple of months. Lagers, on the other hand, require a longer maturation period, sometimes several months, to allow for the yeast to work at cooler temperatures and develop a clean, crisp taste.

Serving Temperatures and Food Pairings

When it comes to serving temperatures, ales are generally enjoyed at slightly warmer temperatures, typically ranging from 45-55°F (7-13°C). This allows the flavors to emerge more prominently. Lagers, on the other hand, are best served colder, around 38-45°F (3-7°C), to accentuate their refreshing qualities.

Both ales and lagers can be paired with a wide variety of foods. Ales, with their diverse range of flavors, complement hearty dishes such as burgers, grilled meats, and spicy foods. Lagers, on the other hand, pair exceptionally well with lighter fare, including seafood, salads, and sandwiches.

Preference and Personal Taste

Choosing between ales and lagers ultimately comes down to personal preference. Some individuals enjoy the complexity and robustness of ales, while others appreciate the crispness and smoothness of lagers. The incredible diversity within each category allows beer lovers to explore numerous styles and find the perfect brew that resonates with their taste buds.


In the vast world of beer, ales and lagers hold their place as the most popular categories. Ales offer an array of bold and complex flavors, while lagers provide a refreshing and crisp experience. Whether you prefer the hoppiness of an IPA or the smoothness of a pilsner, both ales and lagers have something to offer. So, next time you find yourself with a pint glass in hand, take a moment to appreciate the unique qualities of your chosen brew, be it an ale or a lager. Cheers!