For those who are new to the craft brew community, a common question is often raised. How are lagers and ales different? What makes each one unique?
The answer to this is found in the brewing process itself. You could say, one gets a “rise” faster. That is to say, they use different types of yeast! Ale yeast creates a foam that rises to the top and looks a lot like lemon meringue. This is due to the higher heat used in the fermentation tanks, as the bubbling of the yeast is a bit more violent than that of its cool cousin.
In effect, you could say that Ales are the “hot-heads” of the group, with their violent fermentation bubbles and hot temperatures. Depending on the strain of the yeast, they can also be fermented at a somewhat lower temperature, though not nearly as low as a Lager.
Lagers, on the other hand, are a very chilled group. They are fermented at a cool temperature and the yeast creates a rain of bubbles that offer a much less noticeable head than Ale fermenting. Although, like an Ale, Lagers are pretty flexible as well depending on the strain of yeast used. These chilled out brews can certainly get warmed up and still retain their distinct flavor while sharing a few features of their cousins.
Therefore, the answer to our question comes down to the brewing process itself, as well as the yeast used. Although these are not the only two factors that make each brew unique, they are certainly the biggest.
While the actual brewing processes of these two delicious drinks are traditionally distinct and separate, there are several new craft breweries experimenting with yeast and temperature to see how each type holds up and to create some very unique brews!
Don’t be surprised if you come across an Ale in your travels through south Florida that seems more like a Lager, as the brewmaster likely turned down the heat a bit to bring you something new!