What is the difference between an Ale and a Lager in regards to taste and brewing process and what culture prefers which?

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Answered by: Brandon, An Expert in the About Beer Tasting and Drinking Category
To begin with, the tastes of lagers and ales vary to a startling amount, so to compare and contrast what one would assume to be a general lager taste against a general Ale taste would be extremely difficult considering the varieties of the two distinct styles. There is, at once, little difference between an Ale and a Lager, and they can also be worlds apart. However, there are specific characteristics that each style possess that differ from one another such as the fermentation process, and therefore, the temperature need for such, as well as the time it takes to ferment. Because these are the two main styles of beer there is an extraordinary amount of variation, but there are some some unique differences that perhaps we would be able to discuss.

An Ale is brewed using malted barley in a warm fermentation process including the brewer's choice of yeast. Due to the generally high temperature of the process it will ferment quicker. Unlike a Lager, which uses bottom fermentation, an Ale will have upper fermentation as a direct cause of the ingredients used and the temperature applied. It is said, that generally, this is why Ales tend to be more flavorful than its Lager counterpart. Sweetness and fruitiness are also both characteristics of Ales, as well a range of bitterness that are a direct result of the types of hops that are also used in the process, although some Ales do not use hops, but most of them generally due. The flavor of an Ale will be stronger and bolder.

Conversely, a Lager will use a slower, colder and less complex fermentation process. Generally hops are not added, but instead the use of rice or maize will be applied, as well as different types of yeast to brew different types of Lager. Because of its slow and cold conditioning temperature, a Lager will ferment on the bottom as opposed to Ale's upper fermentation. Bottom fermentation and the Lager process in general is easier to conduct and, therefore, more popular in previous ages. Due to the blandness of the rice and yeast used, the taste of a Lager will not be as flavorful as that of an Ale, but would be cheaper to produce, and, therefore, purchase. As with an Ale, Lagers can come in many different colors and tastes. However, they do tend to be darker, thicker and contain more alcohol, but, again, this is merely a general statement as there is so much variety in both brewing styles.

In relation to cultures, or demographics, that consume a type of beer - in the 21st century, due to trade, mass shipment and overall connectivity, all beer would be available to all people and it would simply be a matter of personal taste and personal choice. Personally, I enjoy a darker, more bitter Ale, while others I know find pleasure in pale Ales, which are lighter and much sweeter. However, historically, different cultures may have preferred a certain type or sub division of a certain type of beer due to available resources and tradition. But here in the modern age there are a myriad of colors, flavors and reasons for drinking.

The difference between an Ale and a Lager comes down to taste.

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