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The Difference Between Lagers and Ales - A Quick Guide

28th Nov 2012

As the craft beer revolution continues to gain more traction in Australia and more and more beers continue to hit the shelves it’s easy to get lost among all the beer styles and names. As a result we thought we’d go back to basics and highlight the difference between two core types of beer. 

Generally speaking there are two main types of beers with “sub styles” in each. These two types are lagers and ales. The table below highlights the difference between each and names a few popular “sub styles” in each.

Lagers Ales
Fermentation Brewed at lower temperatures (approx 8 to 12°C) for a longer period of time. Brewed at warmer temperatures (approx 18 -22°C) for a shorter period of time.
Yeast Bottom fermenting, meaning they sink to the bottom of the fermentation tank and ferment there.
Top fermenting, meaning they ferment at the top of the tank.
General Characteristics Smooth, sweet, crisp and dry.
Full bodied and flavoursome, can be malt or hop driven or a mixture of both.
Sub Styles Pilsner, Bocks, Pale Lager, Vienna Lager, Black Lager, Imperial Pilsner, Marzen
Pale Ale, English, Bitter, Brown Ale, IPA, Stout, Porter, Saison, Wheat, Lambic, Gueze

 The reason we said “generally speaking” previously is that there are always exceptions to the rules! For example, some beers are brewed intentionally mixing lager and ale techniques. The best example of this is the California Common (A.K.A Steam Ale) which uses lager yeast fermented at higher ale temperatures.

 Feel free to use this information at the next pub trivia or BBQ catch-up!