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An Overview Of Ales vs. Lagers

Beers not only come in all shapes and sizes, but they also come in different styles, too. Sure, there are ales and lagers, but which is which? There are plenty of options to pick from. Or, if you're curious about that porter you had last night, maybe you'll want to go out and try the closely-related stout. Let’s take a closer look at the different kinds of beer and what you can expect from each of them. Beers fall into two major categories, ales and lagers, and what distinguishes each is their fermenting processes.


Ales are fermented at relatively warm temperatures for short periods of time. They are sweet, tasty beers and vary in color based on the grains used in the brewing process.
  • Brown Ale: Boasting a dark color, brown ales have a high level of malt, making them less bitter than stouts and porters. While some popular ones contain a nutty malt flavor or a caramel aroma, brown ale flavor can vary. Some are sweet, some are slightly hoppy, and some are earthy and malty.
  • Pale Ale: Made with the use of pale malt, pale ales are one of the most popular beers around. While amber ales fall under this category, most are blonde in color. Pale ales can have a noticeable hoppy flavor, and some even contain a fruity aroma.
  • India Pale Ale (IPA): Known for their strong hoppy flavor, IPAs have a higher bitterness when compared to pale ales. They are typically brewed with a big herbal or citrus character. Some feature a stronger malt presence than others, balancing out the intensity of the hops.
  • Porter: These dark beers consist of roasted malts or barley. They have notes of roasted grains, chocolate, and toffee. Porters usually have malts present, making them taste sweet. Although similar to the stout, porters don’t contain any harsh notes.
  • Stout: Stouts live up to their name. Traditionally, they were the term used for the strongest porters, with a noticeably higher alcohol content averaging 7%-8%). Stouts have a heavily roasted flavor with hints of coffee, chocolate, licorice, or molasses. Although noted for their malt flavors, some stouts contain bitterness.
  • Belgian Style: Belgian style beers can be complex. They usually balance malt sweetness and hop bitterness with fruity, spicy, floral, and herbal aromas. Ranging from light to full bodies, it shouldn’t be surprising for these beers to contain a higher-than-average alcohol content.
  • Wheat Beer: A mixture of barley and wheat grains, wheat beers are light in flavor. Hops are not too noticeable in them. Some will have a fruity flavor, such as apples or bananas, to them. Their all-around lightness makes them a great summer beer.


Lagers are fermented at cold temperatures for longer periods of time in comparison to ales. They are generally crisp, smooth, and have a balanced taste and aroma.
  • Pale Lager: They are light in color, flavor, and alcohol content. Some popular varieties can contain a strong hop flavor, slight notes of maltiness, or floral aromas. Pilsners are a prime example of a pale lager.
  • Dark Lager: Malty flavors are common in dark lagers. They have a fuller body than pale lagers. These beers can have a crisp or smooth taste varying in level of "hoppiness." Some even have a slight sweetness with hints of coffee or chocolate.
  • Bock: Bock beer has a powerful malt presence that makes them generally stronger than your typical lager. Ranging in color from copper to gold, most bocks are only lightly hopped. If hops are present, they are balanced with the malt flavor.
Aside from our list above, there are even more subcategories of beer you can get your tastebuds on. Visit Wachusett Wine & Spirits to see our impressive and ever-expanding variety of beers. Still not tempted? We've got a beer cave! With a vast selection of stouts, IPAs, wheat beers and more, you're bound to find your favorite ale or lager. You might even discover something new!
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