From the HBD Archive
From: (Tony Babinec)
Subject: arf asks about lagers and ales
Date: 1992-03-04 15:42:16 GMT

Here are some generalizations about lagers and ales.

A lager is a beer fermented with lager yeast at lager fermentation
temperatures and then cold-lagered.

A lager yeast, other things equal, ferments some of the larger
molecular sugars. The end result is a slightly more attenuated beer
that is less sweet and has a "cleaner" taste.

Lager fermentation temperatures are, say, 45 to 55 degrees. Other
things equal, fermenting at these colder temperatures, provided the
yeast is capable of it, minimizes production of esters which, if
present, would produce "fruity" flavors in the beer. Fermenting at
these temperatures takes longer, at least for homebrewers. If an ale
can ferment in 3 to 7 days, lagers can routinely take 3 weeks or more,
provided you've pitched with an adequate amount of starter.
Inadequate pitching, or fermenting at a colder temperature, will prolong
this process.

Cold lagering means quietly storing the beer at cold temperatures, say
33 to 40 degrees. This helps smooth and finish the beer, and helps
the yeast to drop out.

Another aspect of the "clean" lager flavor is historical. Before
yeasts and fermentation were fully understood, brewers would scoop the
foam from one batch of beer, throw it into another batch, and keep
fermentation going. As lager yeasts tended to be bottom fermenters,
they were less likely to combine with or be displaced by airborn yeasts
or other strange microorganisms.

An ale is a beer made with ale yeast at ale temperatures
which may or may not be cold-conditioned.

Ale yeasts tend not to process some of the higher-weight molecular
sugars, resulting in a relatively less attenuated and slightly sweeter

Ale yeast perform best in the range of 60 to 70 degrees, although some
can work well at slightly lower temperatures. Especially at the
higher end of the range, esters are produced. This also varies by
strain of yeast, with some yeasts (Wyeast "American" ale) fermenting
"cleaner" and others (Wyeast "British" ale) fermenting fruitier.
Homebrewers will sometimes make an ale and ferment with "American" ale
yeast in the mid-50s. On the other hand, many homebrewers have no
control over temperature, and the kitchen cupboard in the summer can
get into the high-70s or more.

Ales can be "lagered," that is, cold-conditioned. This can help drop
the yeast out. An example of a "yeasty" ale might be an unfiltered
English real ale, while an example of an "unyeasty" ale might be a
cold-conditioned and filtered German ale (Kolsch or Alt).

In addition to the above broad generalities, there are hybrid styles.
A "Steam," or California Common beer (as "Steam" is trademarked by
Anchor) is a hoppy, amber beer fermented with a lager yeast at ale
temperatures. Fred Eckhardt describes other hybrid styles, such as
Cream Ale.

Most American "industrial" beers are lagers. This in itself doesn't
make them bad. They do tend to generally lack flavor, whether the
flavor be from malt, hops, yeast, or anything else. One can make
intensely flavorful lagers. Without getting into the "Best American
Beer" debate, Sam Adams Doppelbock is a good commercial example.

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