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Ales Vs. Lagers

The Difference Between Ales and Lagers

There are two basic categories of beer; ales and lagers.  The difference between these two types has nothing to do with color or alcohol by volume (ABV). The difference comes down to the type of yeast used to ferment the beer – either ale yeast or lager yeast.

Ales and Ale Yeast Characteristics

Ale yeast ferments quickly (3-5 days), at relatively warm temperatures (65-75°F) and produces many fruity flavor byproducts (known as esters) in the finished beer. There are many esters; and each ale yeast strain favors some more than others, creating the characteristic complex ale flavor profiles.

Ale yeast has traditionally been referred to as “top-fermenting”. This moniker comes from its use in open-top fermenters, where the yeast that rose to the top after fermentation was then skimmed off by the brewers and re-pitched to the next brew.

Lagers and Lager Yeast Characteristics

Lager yeast (aka “bottom-fermenting”) ferments slower (7-10 days), at cooler temperatures (45-55°F), and produces far fewer esters than ale yeast. The combination of a more modest ester content and a long, cool maturation time (“lager” means “to store” in German) results in a flavor profile that showcases the natural raw materials, the hallmark of the classic lager.

Highland Lager

                    Highland Lager

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