The Definitive Guide to Ales and Lagers

Beer has been dubbed the nectar of the gods, and for good reason. With a history that dates back between 6000 to 8000 years ago, beer has played a significant role in our civilization. So how many types of beer are there, and how can you tell them apart?

Don’t be fooled by the fancy terms and seemingly endless varieties that you’ll find on a beer menu at a beer garden dc. At the most basic level, there are only two types of beer: ale and lager. Every beer enthusiast should know some basic facts about the two types of beer.

For a start, did you know that within the two major classifications of beer, there are 4 beer styles: pale ale and brown ale (within the ale family) and dark lager and pilsners (within the lager family)?

Let’s take a look at what distinguishes ales from lagers, so that you can tell the difference next time you’re at a restaurant or bar.


Ales are the “ancient” beer, having been popular for thousands of years. In contrast, lagers are believed to be only a few hundred years old. Ales are fermented at a warm temperature for short periods of time. It’s quite common to hear the term ‘top fermenting yeasts’ being used to describe how yeast behaves when fermenting on an ale. This is because ale yeast gathers and ferments at the top of the container. Common types of ale include pale ale, brown ale, porter, wheat beer, stout and, Hefeweisen.


Lager yeast sinks to the bottom of the container and ferments at colder temperatures which therefore makes the process a much slower one. At this cold temperature, the yeast produces fewer esters (nothing but flavor compounds) to create a mild and crisp beer. There are several types of lagers including American lager, adjuncts, pale lagers, amber lager, pilsner and, doppelbock.

In addition to the two major beer types – ale and lager – there are an endless variety of hybrid and specialty beers that borrow heavily from both beer types. For instance, a beer fermented at warm temperatures using lager yeast is a hybrid. Specialty beers are much harder to define, but as long as you know of the two major beers then you’ll be able to find something that you enjoy drinking at any bar.