A little Bit About Ales and Lagers

January 27, 2021

Ales & Lagers

About the Style

In modern brewing terms, the word Ale typically refers to a beer that is brewed with “ale” yeast as opposed to lager yeast. Ale yeast are a species of yeast that does its job just a little bit differently than lager yeast.

The Ale yeast species is known scientifically as Saccharomyces cerevisiae while the species that produces lagers is known as Saccharomyces pastorianus. It is only in the last few decades that scientists have recognized Saccharomyces pastorianus as a distinct species, but the two species are very closely related.

Ale yeast tends to produce more complex flavors than lager yeast, often helping to provide a fruity, sweet and full bodied flavor when compared to lagers.

The term “ale” ale has been used differently throughout the ages. When hops were first introduced to beer in the 15th century, “ale” referred to beers that didn’t contain hops. Today, some states use the term “ale” in a legal sense to mean a strong version of beer.

Sub Styles:

India Pale Ale (IPA) | Fruit Beers | Pale Ale | Amber Ale | Brown Ale | Porter | Stout | Strong Ale | Wheat Beer | Sour Ale | Specialty Beer

About the Style

The yeast species that produces Lagers is known today as Saccharomyces pastorianus, a species of yeast that was only recognized in recent years. It was previously known as Saccharomyces carlsbergiensis and that name is sometimes still used in place of the more scientifically accepted Saccharomyces pastorianus.

Prior to around 1500 AD all beers were ales. The yeast available to brewers was almost entirely ale yeast and the cool temperatures needed for lager brewing was unavailable most of the year as refrigeration had not yet been invented. However, sometime after 1500 lager migrated to Europe from South America, likely by infecting wooden trading ships traveling between the continents. Over several centuries, lager yeast made its way naturally around much of Europe but it wasn’t until the 1840’s that brewers were able to successfully (and somewhat accidentally) isolate lager yeast and produce the first true lagers.

Sub Styles:
Pale Lager | Pilsner |Amber Lager | Dark Lager Bock


Next month: Porters & Stouts