Difference Between a Lager and Ale

All beers are either an ale or a lager. There are so many different beer styles and varieties for ales and lagers that it's hard to tell them apart by mere color, flavor, or fragrance. The difference between a lager and an ale isn't as apparent or obvious as you'd expect.


The difference in these beers comes down to just two factors:

  • Yeast

  • Fermentation

That’s it.

PRIMARY DIFFERENCES

​ALE

LAGER

​YEAST

TOP FERMENTING

BOTTOM FERMENTING

FERMENTATION

WARMER TEMPS

(55-77 F)

COOLER TEMPS

(40-52 F)

HOPS CONTENT

HIGHER HOP VOLUME

LOWER HOP VOLUME

FLAVOR & TASTE

​STRONGER, FRUITIER

CRISP, CLEAN, SMOOTH

ABV %

​HIGHER ABV % — AVG. 5 %

​LOWER ABV % — AVG 3-6%

Ale vs. Lager Fermentation Processes

Lagers: Bottom-fermenting.

Lager undergoes a bottom-fermenting process. Beer ferments between 42-55 degrees. The liquid that’s being fermented needs to be cool and still for a longer time.

It's a slow process. Fermentation often takes 3 weeks.

Yet, the long, slow, and cold brewing process allows the subtler and more nuanced flavors of the beer to emerge. It's why lagers don't rely on a lot of finishing hops to add flavor to the beer.


Lagers undergo additional cold storage.

Unlike an ale, lagers go through a final cold storage process. It's a conditioning stage that allows proteins and hops to settle out of the beer, resulting in a more refined, clearer brew.

Lager does, after all, come from the German word “lagern,” meaning to store.

Ales: Top-fermenting.

Ales are brewed using top-fermenting yeast. The more scientific (Latin) term for this yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisia; it's used for baking bread and making wine. It’s fermented at around 60-78 degrees.

The reason it's called "top-fermenting" yeast is that it rises to the top during fermentation. It sinks to the bottom when it's over. Unlike lager, fermentation doesn't take long: around 2-5 days.

Ales are brewed with a lot of hops. The bitterness of hops work to counteract the sweetness in a beer. The warmer fermentation process lends to a more bitter flavor.

The alcohol volume in a beer is largely a direct result of the yeast. Ales have more alcohol than lagers due to the yeast fermenting at a higher temperature. The high temps impact the sugar content, and that impacts the alcohol volume.

Ale Yeast vs. Lager Yeast

Yeast wasn't discovered until the 1800s and lager yeast wasn't isolated until 1883. Ale yeast predates lager yeast. Long ago, an ale yeast strain and a wine yeast (Saccharomyces eubayanus) met up and produced lager yeast.

Lager Yeast.

Lager yeast is more complex in its structure. It holds 50 percent more genetic information than ale yeast; it mostly comes from Patagonian species — which gives it tolerance to the cold.

According to a Popular Science article, lager yeast is made up of genomes from two different species and has four copies of its genome.

Ale Yeast.

There are numerous strains of ale yeast. But characteristically, it ferments far quicker than lager yeast, requires a warmer temperature level, tolerates higher alcohol volumes, and survives in anaerobic conditions of fermentation.

Is Ale or Lager More Popular?

Lager beer has longer storage requirements. Because of this, you won't find them being widely produced by microbreweries. Ales are far easier and quicker to produce in mass.

Despite this, lagers are the most widely drunk beer in the world, by casual drinkers and craft beer connoisseurs alike.

Best-selling beers like Corona, Michelob-Ultra, Coors Light, Budweiser and Bud Light are all lagers.

Ale vs Lager Taste

Because ale yeasts are fermented in warmer temps, they release more esters and phenols — spicy and fruity compounds, giving a wide variety of flavors:

  • Mango

  • Pineapple

  • Banana

  • Vanilla

Lager yeasts create cool, clean, crisp flavors that focus on grains and hops, giving it a smoother and more earthy flavor profile.

Yeast eats up sugar slowly, resulting in a slower fermentation rate. It can ferment mebliose (a type of sugar not found in the yeast used to make ales), allowing more sugar to stay in the beer. That's why lager beers can often be smoother and sweeter than ales.

Types of Warm-Brewed and Cold-Brewed Beers

Warm-brewed ales tend to be beers like:
  • Pale Ale

  • Porter

  • Stout

  • Wheat

  • Brown

Cold-brewed lagers tend to involve beers like:
  • Pilsner

  • Bock

  • Oktoberfest

Is the Difference in the Lager and Ale Beer Based on the Color or Aroma?

Neither ale nor lager yeast impacts the color of beer. Ales and lagers can either be dark or light beers. The color comes about due to the levels of malting or toasting on the grains. Aroma is decided by the types of hops and hopping methods used, not the yeast.

Grab Delicious Ales & Lagers at Lost Signal Brewing

Now that you know a little more about the differences between a lager and ale, try one out. If you're in the mood for an ale, there's no shortage of options on our drink menu.

Order one of our IPAs or our signature Smoked Pecan Porter, a robust porter that offers a well-rounded roasted malt flavor with every sultry sip.

If you're looking for a lager, you can find that here too. Try our Lost Signal Lager for a medium-bodied, malty-sweet beer with a low hop aroma and mature, malty bitter finish.

Drop By Lost Signal Brewing Co. in Springfield, Missouri

Come by our barbecue restaurant and craft brewery in downtown Springfield, Missouri. Get refreshing drinks and delicious foods from Tuesday to Saturday.

Shop at our online store for canned beers or enjoy a great atmosphere on the patio or indoors while sipping on great-tasting beer and eating delicious bbq.

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