Ale vs. Lager Beer — What’s the Difference?

Ben Turkle, production and lab manager at Boomtown brewery located in the arts district of LA is going to look at the difference between ales and lagers. Some of the style points as well as various production methods. The taste profile between an ale and lager can vary. Ales are a bit more fruity, bitter, have deeper and richer flavors. You could almost think of ale as a Jackson Pollock. The painter used to put tons of layers of paint on his canvas.

If you are ready to impart on the homebrewing journey start with our How to brew your first Homemade Beer

Often we taste a lager we want something clean, crisp, perhaps even more easy drinking. Although of course between these two there are many similarities and many exceptions.

Popular Lagers and Ales

American lager beers

Some of the most familiar lagers that you’re going to find here in America are classic macro brews. Budweiser, Coors, Miller. Lagers we typically drank before the craft beer revolution.

Lagers that we might be more familiar with on the craft level are Trumer Pils, Yuengling and Brooklyn Lager.

There’s a ton of different types of ales. Ale has been bringing craft beer into the American limelight which is today. Some of the most familiar ales we might know would be Allagash, a Belgian style white ale, Sierra Nevada pale ale, a hoppy version of the pale ale.

American ales bottles

Lagers vs Ales

One of the largest differences between ales and lagers is how they keep producing them. Lagers are produced at lower fermentation temperatures. By fermenting colder we help slow down the metabolic pace of the yeast. At this colder temperature, they produce fewer flavor profiles giving us a clean and crisp style beer.

Ales on the other hand are fermented at higher temperatures. This speeds up the metabolic pace of the yeast. Allowing us to produce a greater variety of flavor profiles that we’ve come to love in many different styles of ales.

Yeast is the key

Two wooden spoons of different yeast

There are many different types of yeast that we use in the brewing industry. We are looking at two main branches. One used for ales and one used for lagers.

So what is the difference between a beer that is perfectly clear and beer that might be hazy, really hazy, or completely opaque? One big reason is the yeast’s ability to flocculate. That is to combine and fall down.

Traditionally lagers were stored for long extended periods of time. That’s called lagering. It allowed the yeast to fall out of suspension and give you a nice clear liquid.

Where ale, not only drank faster and quicker than lagers. The specific type of yeast sometimes would have trouble flocculating out.

Hops have a role to play too

Hops and a glass of beer

Hops are incredibly versatile. Each time you are adding hops in the brewing process. Timing helps us to get different flavors out of the same hops. Bittering and bitterness of hops come from the long boil of the hops. Sometimes we add hops through the end of the boil. Very rarely perhaps once the boil is over, we will be able to extract more flavors and acids.

Modern trends like hazy IPAs are adding hops when the beer is actually finished boiling. That helps alleviate any of the bitterness that we might perceive. And adds more of the fruitiness of grapefruit, tangerine, lychee, and strawberry.


I fell into this job, but I absolutely love it. In many ways, it’s a practice of alchemy. I’m able to take raw resources, grain, water, hops, and yeast. And at the very end produce a very interesting pint of beer. Such things bring people happiness and excitement. There is nothing more amazing than sitting at a bar and watching someone drink that beer. And I and my team have created it. It’s a very special feeling.

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