You’re headed into your local brewery and see all the options on the menu and their flavor profile, but this time you’re wondering what exactly makes each beer unique. Yes, beer is beer and an ale tastes much different than a lager, but why? And how do the brewers create these different types of beers?
Let me start off by saying that any beer can be made into an ale or lager. The main difference while creating each of these types is the fermentation process. This is the magical time when the wort, the state of beer before the yeast is added, is ready to go and you add the yeast.
What Is An “Ale”?
One of the most popular drinks at Blue Wolf Brewing, an ale will ferment between 65-72°F, or at what’s commonly known as room temperature. Most breweries will have some form of refrigeration system on their fermenters to closely control the temperature in order to create a more consistent beer.
Ale yeast likes to ferment from the top and work its way through the beer all the way to the bottom. This type of beer can completely ferment in as little as 9 days, which is why many breweries like to make them. Ales offer a quick turnaround time which allows breweries to continually make fresh batches to satisfy all of the visitors’ sudsy desires.
Personally, I enjoy having a little ‘age’ time on the primary fermentation, so I typically aim to ferment my ales for 12 days. If you have your own brewing process and find yourself without the fancy equipment for yeast propagation, I have found that the extra age time helps to create consistency between batches.
What Is A “Lager”?
In contrast to the fast-to-ferment ale, creating a lager requires a much slower fermentation process. While the beer is brewed the same way as an ale would be, the lager yeast works very differently. Lager fermentation temps are usually a cooler temperature than ales, as they are around 50-58°F. Lager yeast is hyperactive at a warm temperature, so it’s important to cool the fermenter down in order to help slow down the yeast’s activity. Keep in mind that yeast is a living organism, and, just like us Minnesotans in the cold winter months, yeast doesn’t like to work quickly in the cold.
Again, in sharp contrast to how ale’s are brewed, the fermentation time of a lager is around 28 days for primary fermentation. However, in traditional breweries a lager could take up to 6 months to ferment, age, and be ready for consumption.
The Main Difference Between Ales & Lagers
“This is cool and all, but what does it really mean in my beer? What difference will I notice?”
When drinking an ale, you will typically notice that the flavor stays on your palate, and even build over time. While the bitterness from the hops will stay around between each sip when drinking an ale, a lager doesn’t like to linger at all. Most people will say that a lager is crisper because the flavor dissipates quickly after taking a sip.
Of course, there are variations on all of this, but this is the basic idea. What really matters is that you are enjoying a hand-crafted beer made by someone *hopefully me…* that is passionate about their job and the product they produce.
If you’re located in the greater Twin Cities, MN are and you’re wanting to taste the difference between an ale and a lager, there’s no better place to perform a taste test than at Blue Wolf Brewing in Brooklyn Park. Bring your family and friends to visit our local brewery today!