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Craft Beer

Beer Q&A: Ales and lagers? What’s the difference?

ales and lagers

What’s the difference between an ale and a lager?

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Q: “Ales and lagers? What’s the difference?”

A: In the kingdom of beer, there are two large classes: ales and lagers. The former use top-fermenting yeast and require as little as two weeks to make; the latter, bottom-fermenting yeast and require weeks or months to produce.

Lagers tend to be smoother, with narrowly-defined flavors. Examples: pilsner, dunkel, Helles, schwarzbier. Most of the larger industrial beers — Budweiser, Miller, Coors and their light versions — are lagers. Ditto, most German imports.

Ales tend to be fruitier, with flavors that are more vivid and layered. Examples: India pale ale, pale ale, brown ale, barley wine. Craft breweries produce far more ales than lagers, although there are exceptions: Gordon Biersch, for one, focuses on lagers.

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