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Ale vs. Lager understanding the basics

WRITTEN ON 27 June, 2021

When it comes to beer, two primary types steal the spotlight: Ale and Lager. These categories are defined by the yeast used during fermentation, which influences the beer’s characteristics and flavours.

Yeast, a microscopic organism, plays a crucial role in the fermentation process. It consumes sugar from the wort, transforming it into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and other compounds like esters and phenols.

The brewing world recognises two distinct yeast species: ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and lager yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus).

Distinguishing between ale yeast and lager yeast involves considering several factors:

  • Yeast Species: Saccharomyces cerevisiae is used for brewing ales, while Saccharomyces pastorianus is employed for crafting lagers.
  • Fermentation Temperature: Ales ferment at higher temperatures, typically between 60–75 ºF (15-24 °C), while lagers prefer cooler temperatures, around 42-55 ºF
    (5-13 °C).
  • Fermentation Location: Ale yeast conducts fermentation on top of the beer in a fermentation tank (top-fermenting yeast), whereas lager yeast settles at the bottom (bottom-fermenting yeast).

These distinctions greatly impact the flavour profiles of ale and lager:

Ales, thanks to their warmer fermentation temperatures, produce fruity and spicy compounds like mango, pineapple, banana, clove, and vanilla. This array of flavours adds complexity to ales.

Conversely, lagers, fermented at cooler temperatures, offer a clean and crisp taste. With fewer aromatic compounds, the malt and hops take centre stage, allowing their characters to shine.

Let’s consider two notable Barahsinghe beers to illustrate these differences: Barahsinghe Pilsner Bier, a refreshing lager that showcases the malt and hops with its clean and crisp profile, and Barahsinghe Hazy IPA, an ale that entices with juicy and fruity flavours, achieved through a meticulous interplay of yeast, fermentation, and carefully selected hops.

Understanding the contrast between ale and lager opens up a world of flavours and appreciation for the diverse beer styles available.