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What's The Difference Between Ale and Lager?

Updated on May 16, 2012

Do you prefer ale or a lager? Do you know what the differences are in the two? Well the first thing that differs the two is the fact that ales have deeper rooted history, about a thousand years.

A Brief History of The Ale

The ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia (modern day southern Iraq) had migrated from India into this southern oasis. The biggest of their achievements was Babylon.

Beer was a center piece of the Sumerian religious culture and rituals.

The rich fertile lands of Mesopotamia, with the Tigris and Euphrates rivers made farming the land easy, and therefore made it optimal for brewing their ales.

The Sumerians finally succumbed to other cultures and the society changed, but beer would remain a staple in culinary arts from that point on.

A Brief History of The Lager

Lagers found their historic origins in the early nineteenth century. To lager means 'to store' coming from the German word 'lagern'. Lagers came about when Bavarian brewers began storing their beer in cold temperatures in cellars or caves.

The Alps made for a perfect spot for this process to take place. History tells us that the Bavarians would store their brews in the Alps for the summer months.

This long period of time would allow the yeast and other particles to fall to the bottom and making for a clean taste & light pale color. Other lagers of the region were dark brown in color because of the heavy particles in the water these are Dunkle or Dunkel lagers and are still widely brewed today.

Chemistry Between Us ( Not 'Chemicals Between' us. It's more complicated than that.)

Now that we know that these types of beer have a substantial age difference let’s move on to the chemistry. This is where most people really differentiate the two.

Ales are top fermenting beers that are brewed using Saccharomyces Cervisiae yeast. These yeast work best at temperatures between 60º & 77º F. This should only take about a week or so, and will produce full-bodied and hearty taste. Ales come in many different styles which include Pale Ale, Stout, Porter as well as others not named here.

Lagers are bottom fermenting beers that are brewed using Saccharomyces Uvarum yeast. These yeast work best at temperatures between 44º & 50ºF. This process will take several months, but you can produce just about the same outcome if you raise the temperature to around 55 to 65ºF. This will produce a clean and subtle taste. Lagers can be altered by using different types of grain, altering the temperature of roasting. Examples of lagers are Pilsner, Bock, and Dunkles to name a few.

Now that you have an idea of the differences this should make for a good dinner conversation piece. Also it may give you a better idea of what to order next time you're at the bar.

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    • Jeffrey Neal profile image

      Jeffrey Neal 

      8 years ago from Tennessee

      I'm normally drawn to lagers, but I enjoy most beers. Used to wait tables and bar back in a brewpub here. Boy, do I love beer, lol. Nice hub!

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