Beer comes in a wide variety of styles, colors, and tastes. Some are full bodied and have strong hop flavors, while others come in a can with a wide mouth and vent to help it pour down your gullet faster. What is it that distinguishes one beer from another? At the highest level, differences in beer styles come from the strain of yeast that is used during fermentation
There are two kinds of yeast used in beer making: ale and lager. There are several differences between these yeast varieties that impact the brewing process and final product.
Lager yeast prefers a lower temperature while it ferments sugars to alcohol. If you’ve ever heard the slogan “Frost Brewed,” you’re drinking a beer made using lager yeast and are probably drinking out of a can with blue mountains.
The lower temperature of the fermentation process means it takes longer to complete. Where primary fermentation for an ale might be one week, a lager can take up to three. Lager needs a longer time to condition as the yeast produces more sulfur based compounds. These compounds can impart a bad smell and taste to the beer and need time to vent off and be broken down by the yeast.
Lagers are characterized by their clean, crisp taste. Some might call it “drinkability.” This is opposed to ales whose fruit flavors and full bodied feel are a result of warmer fermentation temperatures and increased bittering hop usage.
Top vs. Bottom Fermenting:
Lager yeast is bottom fermenting, meaning it sits at the bottom of a fermenter during the brewing process. Ales yeast do just the opposite, fermenting sugars at the top of the fermenter.
Lager is the America’s most popular style of beer. You are very familiar with American Lagers as they are produced of the most famous names in beer including Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. You have undoubtedly enjoyed a lager… or ten… while watching football on Sundays. Now you will able to impress your friends with an Alex Trebek like knowledge of beer!