What’s the Difference Between an Ale and a Lager?

If you’re here to up your beer knowledge, we like you already. 

As a craft brewery, it’s no shocker that we LOVE beer — talking about it, drinking it, and sometimes, even dreaming about it. So if you like to geek out on all things beer too, you’re in good company. For this beer lesson, we’re focusing on lagers and ales, because we get a lot of questions about the two. 

Have you ever grabbed a beer menu, seen a few ales and lagers on the list, and wondered what the heck the difference is between the two? When it comes to beer types, these are probably the two names that get tossed around the most. So beer lovers, gather round! We’ll walk you through how to decipher between them. 

Hint: it’s not just flavor that tells them apart! 

The Real Difference Between Ale and Lager

Your senses might lead you to believe that it’s color or flavor that create the main distinction between these two types of beer. And while yes, those are differentiators, the biggest difference actually comes down to the brewing process. 

Ales are fermented with a yeast species, called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, more widely known as “top fermenting” yeast. As the yeast munches up malt-derived sugars, it rises to the top, creating a layer of foam. And there you have it — top fermenting yeast!

Ales are brewed at warm temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of their warm environment, ales generally ferment and age in a shorter period of time — just 3 to 5 weeks. 

Lagers, on the other hand, require an opposite brewing process. They’re bottom-fermenting and made with a yeast called Saccharomyces pastorianus. Lager yeast prefers colder temperatures between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Brewing a lager is a slower process, and they take much longer to ferment — roughly 6 to 8 weeks.

Ale vs. Lager Taste

Now, flavor is something we all care about. In our opinion, tasting a beer is magical — an experience that lights up the taste buds. A beer’s flavor profile tells us everything we need to know about it and immediately lets us know either yes, we love it or no, it’s not our jam. 

When it comes to lagers and ales, there’s a huge variety, whether it’s macro-produced beers like Bud Light and Budweiser, or specialty craft beers like the ones you’ll find from us here at Hi-Wire Brewing. Each lager and ale is unique in flavor, aroma, and subtle nuances. 

When you sip on a lager, you can expect a clean, crisp and more mild tasting beer. Lagers tend to be lighter and clearer to the eye and are usually lower in alcohol. You’ll also notice a smoother and more refreshing drinking experience with this type of beer. 

Now, let’s switch to ales. 

Ales have a fruity flavor profile and are more full-bodied than lagers. Their appearance is darker and cloudier with a higher alcohol content, more bitterness, and a stronger hop flavor. 

Delicious Types of Ales to Try at Hi-Wire Brewing

Whether you’re an ale aficionado or you’ve never ventured to taste one, here are four of our favorites to try. 

#1. Mountain Water Citrus Splash

This is the light ale you want to share with your friends who are seltzer fans! There’s some big lemon-lime “slushy in the sunshine” energy going on in this spritzy and refreshingly dry beverage. Bright citrus and key-lime notes shine in a refreshing ale built for hiking, hanging, and getting outdoors.

#2. Bed of Nails

This tasty brew is crafted as an American ode to a traditional English brown. A light hop addition balances the natural sweetness present in the specialty malt. This ale is great for sipping, and you can even use it to make some yummy beer cheese too (link to beer cheese blog).

#3. Gingerbread Hot Cocoa 10W-40 Imperial Stout (seasonal)

For this very special and seasonally appropriate version of our 10W-40 Imperial Stout Series, we partnered with Asheville-based Spicewalla to bring all of the depth and complexity of their Gingerbread spice blend to our sweet and creamy stout. Notes of chewy ginger candy, chocolate cream soda, and fresh-baked cookies elevate this holiday-inspired stout brewed with chocolate, vanilla, and lactose.

#4. RAD Kolsch (specialty)

We bring you a new small batch offering, donning the namesake of our new location in Asheville NC’s River Arts District. This classic and clean stand-by is a light ale you can sit down and enjoy multiple pints with friends. Brewed for community tables and relaxing after long weeks, this pale golden-colored crusher lends pleasing notes of toasted biscuits with a slight bite and crisp finish. If you find yourself out exploring in the River Arts District, come by and give this refreshing ale a try!

Our Favorite Types of Lagers to Sip On at Hi-Wire Brewing

If you like your beers on the lighter side, these lagers will hit the spot. Here’s a roundup of four of our go-to’s. 

#1. Leisure Time Lager

This crisp and refreshing American craft lager is brewed patiently with 100% barley. Mellow and smooth, this Hi-Wire lager is simply delicious. 

#2. Hi-Wire Lager 

​​This true American lager is as approachable as it is delicious, a perfect balance of light Pilsen malt and German hops.

#3. Dunkel (seasonal)

“Dunkel” is German for “dark”. And in this traditionally brewed German-style dunkel lager, we used Carolina malted barley from both Riverbend & Epiphany to create the cocoa powder and crusty bread character that makes this style one of our favorites. In addition to the toasty bread notes, our Dunkel is balanced by flavors of dried dark fruits and caramel.

#4. Zirkusfest Oktoberfest (seasonal)

This traditional Märzen boasts all the flavors one wants in a rich Oktoberfest lager without the heavy finish. The use of Munich malt provides upfront biscuity and honey flavors that fade into a dry finish. 

Ready to Grab A Brew?

If this blog has you itching to try a new ale or lager, come see us at one of our taprooms to enjoy a fresh pour! Want to grab some beer to enjoy at home? We’ve got you covered. Check out our beer finder to see what Hi-Wire brews are available near you.