What is the huge difference?

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T-SULLI

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I was just wondering what the main differences are between an Ale, and a Lager... I know it has something to do with the yeast you use ( I think ). So what are the main differences, and even minor differences that make up the two? This truly is a NooB question I know haha. Thanks.
 

Danek

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The yeasts are different - lager needs a bottom-fermenting yeast and ales a top-fermenting yeast - but I think the biggest practical difference in terms of making them is that lagers need to ferment at much lower temperatures than ales, and generally require longer in the fermenter. I've never made a lager, but my impression is that they're much harder to make, partly because they're generally lighter in flavor and as a consequence mean any flaws in the brewing process are more likely to be noticed.
 

HP_Lovecraft

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There is always some overlap, but the term "Lager" means to ferment in the cold. Around 50-degrees for primary, and 35 degrees for conditioning. Ale yeasts do not like to go below 60-degrees, so special lager yeast designed for the cold is used.

The benefit is less flavor. Ale yeasts produce lots of esters (fruity flavors), as well as fusals, and other flavors. When using a lager yeast in the cold, you generally do not get any flavors, so you taste just the malt and hops (and sometimes sulfur).

Beyond that, there are stylistic differences. Lagers tend to use less hops then ales, and tend to use Germanic ones (ie Saaz). Likewise, they tend to use Lager malts, and tend to favor certain water salts, to enhance, or diminish certain flavors.

Lagers are tough because of the temp control requirements, but you can USUALLY make pretty good lagers by doing your primary ferment in the basement, then bottling without a secondary, so you can condition in your fridge with all your groceries. (if your wife allows).

nick
 

the_bird

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Depends. Do you want the simple answer, or the Ray McNeill answer? Ask Kaiser for the latter... :D

There is a slight difference in the sugars that ale yeasts can consume versus lager yeasts, but I don't remember the exact details. It's in Greg Noonan's book. There's a way that you can chemically determine if a beer is an ale or a lager, there's some compound that is only in one type.

For all practical purposes, what the others have said.
 

Kaiser

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the_bird said:
Depends. Do you want the simple answer, or the Ray McNeill answer? Ask Kaiser for the latter... :D
Yes, I was about to drop that here. McNeill got me with that one.

Ray said that one of the differences between Ale and Lager yeasts is the ability to ferment Melibiose, but to my knowledge (and I have to check on this, but it cannot be produced from amylose/amylopectin since it consists of a Glucose and Galactose), this sugar is not present in wort and thus its absence cannot be used to distinguished betwen an Ale or Lager beer. A Melibiose medium can however be used to distinguish between Ale and Lager yeast. The latter will ferment it.

Edit: I have to take that back. Wort does contains small amounts of Melibiose though I don't know how it gets in there.

Kai
 
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