Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

From Lager To Ale And Back Again


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Kimberlee Koval



Welcome to the delightful world of beer! An ancient beverage with a rich heritage, beer has been enjoyed by civilizations around the globe for centuries. It’s not just a drink, but a cultural experience that brings people together to celebrate, relax, and enjoy the flavors of the world.


When it comes to beer, there are endless varieties to explore, each with its own unique character and history. From light and refreshing lagers to complex and full-bodied ales, the choices are as diverse as the countries and regions they originate from.


In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of beer, specifically focusing on two popular styles: lager and ale. We’ll explore their origins, brewing techniques, flavor profiles, and even provide some tips on how to pair them with food.


So, whether you’re a seasoned beer enthusiast or just curious about expanding your palate, join us on this journey as we explore the history, traditions, and flavors of lagers and ales!


The History of Beer

Beer has a long and storied history dating back thousands of years. It is believed to be one of the oldest fermented beverages known to humankind. The origins of beer can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, where evidence of beer production dates as far back as 7000 to 6000 BCE.


Initially, beer brewing was a domestic task carried out by women, who would use basic techniques to produce small batches of beer. It wasn’t until the rise of agriculture that beer production became more refined and organized. The cultivation of grains such as barley and wheat allowed for greater control over the brewing process.


One of the earliest recorded civilizations to have a profound influence on beer brewing was the Sumerians in Mesopotamia. They developed intricate brewing techniques and even had a goddess dedicated to beer, Ninkasi. The Sumerians also had a strong beer culture, with beer being consumed as a daily staple and used in religious ceremonies.


As civilizations evolved, so did beer brewing techniques. The ancient Egyptians, for instance, had a deep reverence for beer and considered it a vital part of their daily lives. They brewed various types of beer, including a wheat-based beer called “zythum” and a barley-based beer known as “kash.” Beer was so highly regarded that it was even used as a form of currency.


In medieval Europe, beer brewing took on a new dimension as monasteries and breweries played a crucial role in its development. Monks brewed beer within the monastery walls, perfecting recipes and incorporating new ingredients. They also introduced hops, which added bitterness, flavor, and acted as a natural preservative.


Over time, beer production expanded from small-scale breweries to large-scale industrial operations. Technological advancements, such as the invention of the steam engine and refrigeration, revolutionized the brewing process, allowing for mass production and distribution of beer.


Today, beer brewing continues to be a global phenomenon, with countless breweries and styles to choose from. It has become an art form, bridging tradition with innovation. Whether you prefer a classic lager or a bold and hoppy IPA, the history of beer is a testament to the enduring love and appreciation for this ancient and beloved beverage.


Lager: A Modern Classic

Lager, the most widely consumed beer style in the world, is characterized by its clean, crisp taste and smooth finish. It originated in the 19th century in Germany, when brewers began experimenting with new fermentation techniques that involved using cold temperatures.


One of the key characteristics of lager is its bottom fermentation process. This means that the yeast used to ferment the beer settles at the bottom of the fermentation vessel, resulting in a cleaner, lighter-bodied beer. The use of cold temperatures during fermentation also contributes to the style’s smoothness and clarity.


Perhaps the most iconic style of lager is the pale lager, which is light in color, highly carbonated, and typically has a mild hop bitterness. Examples of pale lagers include popular brands like Pilsner and American-style lagers.


Another variant of lager is the amber or Vienna lager, which has a slightly deeper color and a more malt-forward flavor profile. This style originated in Austria and has gained popularity worldwide.


Lagers are known for their crisp and refreshing qualities, making them a popular choice for social gatherings and hot summer days. Their clean flavors and balanced profiles also make them versatile for food pairing, complementing a wide variety of dishes such as seafood, grilled meats, and salads.


In recent years, craft breweries have been creating innovative versions of lagers, experimenting with different hops, malts, and yeasts to add unique flavors and aromas. This has breathed new life into the lager category, attracting beer enthusiasts who appreciate the nuances and complexities that can be found in modern lagers.


Overall, lagers continue to be a beloved beer style that appeals to a wide range of palates. From the classic pale lager to the experimental craft lagers, there’s a lager out there for everyone to enjoy. So grab a glass, sit back, and savor the timeless elegance of a well-crafted lager.


Ale: A Traditional Brew

Ales, on the other hand, are known for their rich, complex flavors and more robust profiles. Unlike lagers, which undergo bottom fermentation, ales are brewed using a top-fermenting yeast that ferments at warmer temperatures.


Ale brewing has a long-standing history, with roots that can be traced back to ancient civilizations. In fact, ales predate lagers and were the dominant beer style for centuries. They were brewed in monasteries, homes, and even small village breweries, each with their own unique recipes and techniques passed down through generations.


One of the defining characteristics of ales is their fermentation process. The top-fermenting yeast used in brewing ales ferments at higher temperatures, resulting in fruity esters and spicy phenolics that contribute to the beer’s flavor profile. This creates a wide range of ale styles, from light and crisp golden ales to dark and robust stouts.


One of the most popular ale styles is the pale ale, which features a balance of malt sweetness and hop bitterness. It can range from light and refreshing to full-bodied and hop-forward, showcasing a variety of hop flavors and aromas.


Porters and stouts are another category of ales that are known for their dark colors and rich, roasted flavors. These styles often feature notes of chocolate, coffee, and caramel, providing a comforting and indulgent drinking experience.


Ales have been the experimentation playground for brewers, giving rise to unique and innovative variations. Craft breweries have pushed the boundaries of ale brewing, using different types of yeast strains, high-hop additions, barrel aging, and adding adjuncts like fruits and spices to create bold and complex flavors.


Ales are incredibly versatile when it comes to food pairing. The diversity of flavors and intensities allows for great pairing possibilities. Lighter ales, such as blondes or wheat beers, complement salads and seafood, while stronger ales, like IPAs or stouts, pair well with bold flavors like grilled meats, spicy dishes, and rich desserts.


From the traditional English ales to the boundary-pushing American craft brews, ales offer a diverse and captivating range of flavors. So raise a glass and savor the heritage and complexity of a well-crafted ale.


The Rise of Craft Beer

In recent years, there has been a notable rise in the popularity of craft beer. Craft breweries, known for their small-scale production and emphasis on quality and creativity, have revolutionized the beer industry worldwide.


The craft beer movement began in the United States in the 1970s and gained momentum throughout the following decades. It was a response to the dominance of large commercial breweries that were producing standardized, mass-market beers.


Craft breweries focus on producing unique and artisanal beers that showcase the skills and creativity of the brewers. They experiment with different ingredients, brewing techniques, and flavor profiles to create beers that are distinct and often push the boundaries of traditional styles.


One of the defining aspects of the craft beer industry is the emphasis on local and community involvement. Craft breweries often source their ingredients locally, supporting local farmers and contributing to the local economy. They also prioritize building relationships with their customers, fostering a sense of community and loyalty.


The craft beer movement has sparked a renewed appreciation for traditional beer styles, such as lagers and ales, as well as the development of new and innovative styles. From juicy IPAs to barrel-aged stouts and fruity sour beers, craft breweries have introduced a plethora of flavors and experiences for beer enthusiasts to explore.


In addition to the emphasis on quality and creativity, craft beer has also brought attention to the importance of sustainability in the brewing industry. Many craft breweries prioritize environmentally friendly practices, such as implementing energy-efficient brewing equipment, utilizing local ingredients, and minimizing waste.


The rise of craft beer has not only reshaped the beer landscape, but it has also created a culture of beer appreciation and education. Craft beer festivals, tasting events, and brewery tours have become popular ways for beer enthusiasts to engage with the brewing process and learn about different beer styles and flavors.


With the success of craft beer in the United States, the movement has expanded globally, with craft breweries popping up in countries around the world. This has led to a thriving global beer community, with breweries collaborating, exchanging ideas, and pushing the boundaries of what beer can be.


As the craft beer industry continues to evolve, so does the passion and enthusiasm of beer lovers. The dedication to quality, innovation, and community has made craft beer a force to be reckoned with, and its influence will continue to shape the beer industry for years to come.


The Return of Lager

While ales and craft beers have dominated the beer scene in recent years, there has been a noticeable resurgence of interest in lagers. Once considered the beer of the masses, lagers are now being celebrated for their craftsmanship, simplicity, and refreshing qualities.


The return of lagers can be attributed to a few factors. First, beer drinkers are seeking a break from the bold and intense flavors found in many craft beers. Lagers offer a crisp and clean alternative that is perfect for those looking for a more balanced and approachable beer.


Second, craft breweries have recognized the potential of lagers and have begun to experiment with the style, leading to the development of unique and flavorful lagers. These craft lagers often incorporate different hop varieties, specialty malts, or aging techniques to create a more complex and interesting profile.


Furthermore, the rise of the “sessionable” beer trend has contributed to the renewed interest in lagers. Sessionable beers are lower in alcohol content, allowing for longer and more enjoyable drinking sessions. Lagers, with their typically lower ABV (alcohol by volume), are a perfect fit for this trend.


Another reason for the return of lagers is the growing appreciation for traditional beer styles and brewing techniques. Beer enthusiasts are rediscovering the history and heritage of lagers, steeped in time-honored brewing traditions and techniques that have been perfected over generations.


Lagers also offer a greater level of versatility when it comes to food pairing. Their lighter and cleaner profiles allow them to complement a wide range of dishes, from delicate seafood to hearty burgers. The subtle flavors of a well-crafted lager can enhance the flavors of the food without overpowering them.


Whether enjoyed on a hot summer day, paired with a delicious meal, or savored on its own, lagers have made a triumphant return to the beer landscape. With their refreshing qualities, drinkability, and newfound complexity, lagers are continuing to captivate the taste buds of beer lovers around the world.


Brewing Techniques: Lager vs Ale

Despite their similarities, lagers and ales undergo distinct brewing techniques that contribute to their unique characteristics and flavors.


Lager brewing involves a process known as bottom fermentation. The yeast used in lager fermentation, Saccharomyces pastorianus, ferments at lower temperatures, typically between 45 to 55°F (7 to 13°C). This results in a slower fermentation process that can take weeks or even months to complete. During fermentation, the yeast settles at the bottom of the fermentation vessel, allowing for a clearer and cleaner beer. The use of cold temperatures also helps to minimize the production of fruity esters, resulting in a more subdued flavor profile.


In contrast, ale brewing is characterized by top fermentation. Ale yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, ferments at higher temperatures, usually around 68 to 72°F (20 to 22°C). This warmer fermentation allows the yeast to work more quickly, usually taking a few days to complete. Unlike lagers, ale yeast rises to the top of the fermentation vessel, giving ales a slightly cloudier appearance. The higher fermentation temperatures also produce more fruity esters and other flavor compounds, resulting in a broader range of flavors and aromas.


Additionally, the malt bill used in brewing lagers and ales can differ. Lagers typically utilize lighter malts, such as Pilsner malt, to achieve a clean and crisp flavor profile. Ales, on the other hand, can incorporate a wider variety of malts, including pale malts, crystal malts, and roasted malts, which contribute to the complexity and color of the beer.


The fermentation and aging process also varies between lagers and ales. After fermentation, lagers require a period of cold conditioning known as lagering, where they are stored at near-freezing temperatures for an extended period, often several weeks or months. This cold maturation allows the flavors to further develop and mellow, resulting in a smoother and more refined taste. Ales, on the other hand, can be served more quickly after fermentation, without the need for extensive lagering.


Overall, the brewing techniques used for lagers and ales contribute to their distinct characteristics. Lagers are known for their cleanness, lightness, and crispness, while ales showcase more complexity and a wider range of flavors. Whether you prefer the subtle nuances of a well-crafted lager or the bold flavors of an ale, both styles offer a delightful and satisfying drinking experience.


Flavor Profile: Lager vs Ale

When it comes to comparing the flavor profiles of lagers and ales, there are distinct differences that make each style unique and appealing to different palates.


Lagers are known for their clean and crisp taste, often with a subtle malt sweetness. They tend to have a lighter body and a smooth finish. The flavors in lagers are often delicate and restrained, allowing for a refreshing and easy-drinking experience. Classic lagers, such as Pilsners, have a mild hop bitterness and showcase a balance between malt and hop flavors. They can exhibit subtle notes of crackers, bread, and biscuit, with very minimal fruit esters or spice characteristics. The overall profile of lagers is characterized by its smoothness, lightness, and refreshing nature.


Ales, on the other hand, offer a wide range of flavors and complexities. The fermentation process at higher temperatures allows ale yeast to produce a greater variety of aromas, flavors, and esters. Ales can exhibit fruity, floral, and sometimes spicy characteristics, depending on the yeast strain and other ingredients used. They often have a more pronounced malt presence, with flavors of caramel, toffee, or even roasted notes in darker styles. Hops play a significant role in many ales, contributing bitterness, as well as citrus, floral, or herbal flavors and aromas. The flavor profiles of ales can range from light and crisp to full-bodied and robust, offering a broad spectrum of options for beer enthusiasts.


It’s important to note that while these general flavor profiles exist for lagers and ales, there is significant variation within each category. Craft breweries, in particular, have pushed the boundaries of flavor in both lagers and ales, creating innovative and experimental brews that defy traditional expectations.


Ultimately, the choice between a lager and an ale will depend on personal taste preferences. If you enjoy a beer that is clean, light, and easy-drinking, a lager might be your preferred choice. If you’re seeking bold and complex flavors with a wide range of aromas and characteristics, an ale might be more to your liking. Regardless of your preference, both lagers and ales offer a delightful journey into the world of beer flavors.


Pairing Lager and Ale with Food

Choosing the right beer to pair with your favorite dishes can greatly enhance your dining experience. Both lagers and ales offer unique characteristics that complement a wide range of flavors in various cuisines.


Lagers, with their clean and crisp profiles, are versatile when it comes to food pairing. Their lighter body and subtle malt sweetness make them an excellent choice for lighter fare such as salads, seafood, and grilled chicken. A pale lager, such as a Pilsner, can nicely accompany dishes like grilled shrimp or Caesar salad, as the beer’s subtle bitterness and effervescence help to cleanse the palate.


Ales, on the other hand, with their diverse flavor profiles and often more robust profiles, offer a wider range of pairing possibilities. For example, a hop-forward American IPA can complement spicy dishes, such as Indian curries or Mexican cuisine, as the hops can offset the heat and bring out the flavors of the food. Strong, malty ales, such as barleywines or Belgian quadrupels, pair well with rich and savory dishes like stews, roast meats, and aged cheeses.


When pairing beer with food, it’s important to consider the intensity and complexity of both the beer and the dish. Lighter-bodied lagers and ales are better suited for delicate and subtly flavored dishes, while stronger and more flavorful beers can stand up to bolder and more robust flavors.


Additionally, consider balancing or contrasting flavors when pairing beer and food. For example, a hoppy IPA can cut through the richness of a creamy cheese, creating a pleasant contrast. On the other hand, a malty amber ale can complement the caramelized flavors of grilled meats, enhancing the overall harmony of the pairing.


Experimentation is key when it comes to beer and food pairing. Don’t be afraid to try different combinations and discover your own preferences. Enjoy the experience of exploring how the flavors of each beer interact with the various ingredients and cooking techniques used in your favorite dishes.


Remember, the most important aspect of beer and food pairing is personal enjoyment. Whether you prefer a classic lager with a light meal or a bold ale with a hearty dish, the pleasure of finding the perfect beer and food pairing lies in the exploration and discovery of flavors that make your taste buds dance and your dining experience memorable.


The Future of Beer Brewing

The world of beer brewing is constantly evolving, with new trends, technologies, and innovations shaping the future of the industry. As consumer preferences continue to change, breweries are adapting to meet the demands of a new generation of beer enthusiasts.


One key area of growth in the brewing industry is the continued rise of craft beer. Craft breweries have gained a significant market share and captured the attention of consumers who value quality, creativity, and unique flavor experiences. This trend is expected to continue, with craft breweries pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of ingredients, brewing techniques, and flavors.


As sustainability becomes a greater concern, breweries are also focusing more on eco-friendly practices. From reducing water and energy consumption to utilizing locally sourced ingredients and implementing recycling and waste management programs, breweries are taking steps to minimize their environmental impact. Some breweries are even experimenting with renewable energy sources, such as solar power, to power their operations.


Technology is also playing a role in the future of beer brewing. Advancements in brewing equipment and automation are helping breweries improve consistency, efficiency, and quality control. From automated brewing systems to sophisticated fermentation monitoring, breweries are utilizing technology to streamline production and ensure the best possible product.


The use of data and analytics is another area that is increasingly important in the brewing industry. Breweries are leveraging data to better understand consumer preferences, track trends, and optimize their brewing processes. This allows them to make more informed decisions about recipe development and beer styles, leading to a more targeted and successful product lineup.


An emerging trend in beer brewing is the exploration of non-traditional and alternative ingredients. Breweries are getting creative by incorporating fruits, spices, herbs, and even vegetables into their beers, creating unique flavor profiles and expanding the boundaries of what beer can be. This experimentation with ingredients opens up new possibilities for beer lovers to explore and discover flavors they might not have encountered before.


Additionally, the recent movement towards low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers is gaining traction. Consumers are becoming more health-conscious and seeking alternatives that offer the same beer experience without the high alcohol content. Brewers are responding by developing beers that are lower in alcohol but still deliver on taste and quality.


Overall, the future of beer brewing is exciting and full of possibilities. From the growth of craft beer and sustainability practices to technological advancements and experimental ingredient combinations, the industry is constantly evolving to meet the changing demands and preferences of beer enthusiasts. As beer lovers, we can look forward to a future where innovation and creativity continue to shape the diverse and ever-evolving world of beer.



Beer is more than just a beverage; it is a cultural symbol that brings people together to celebrate, unwind, and explore the rich flavors of the world. Whether it’s the clean and crisp taste of lagers or the bold and complex profiles of ales, beer offers a plethora of options to tantalize your taste buds.


Throughout history, the brewing industry has undergone significant transformations, from ancient civilizations brewing beer in their homes to the rise of craft breweries pushing the boundaries of flavor and innovation. Traditional brewing techniques have given way to modern advancements, allowing for greater consistency, quality, and sustainability.


The future of beer brewing looks promising, with craft breweries continuing to capture the attention of beer enthusiasts and experiment with unique ingredients and brewing methods. The integration of technology and data analytics is enabling breweries to optimize their production processes and cater to changing consumer preferences.


As beer drinkers, we have the opportunity to explore a world of flavors and pair our favorite brews with a variety of cuisines, enhancing our dining experiences. From light and refreshing lagers to robust and flavorful ales, there is a beer for every occasion and palate.


So whether you find yourself savoring a crisp lager on a warm summer day, delighting in the complexity of an ale, or discovering new and exciting craft brews, remember to appreciate the craftsmanship, creativity, and passion that goes into each pint.


Cheers to the past, present, and future of beer brewing, and to the joy that comes from raising a glass and sharing a moment with friends, old and new.