You're staring at a beer list with over 40 choices. Words like pale ale, lager, IPA, stout, and gose are everywhere. You thought beer was just water, malt, yeast and some hops.
While you're not wrong, those four ingredients can create a plethora of combinations. With the popularity of home brewing, microbreweries and craft beers the industry is expanding faster than ever before.
Before getting overwhelmed by the number of choices on that beer list, we want to explain the difference between the two most popular beers, IPA vs. Lager.
Once you are able to tell the difference, you can begin ordering a beer confidently.
Let's start with the most popular beer. Lagers were developed in the early nineteenth century in Bavaria. The word lager itself comes from the German word "lagern" which means to store.
Lagers were created after brewers began experimenting with new techniques that involved colder temperatures and longer fermentation periods. At the time, the beer was stored in caves during the winter and left to ferment.
During this time, the yeast and other ingredients began to sink to the bottom leaving behind a soft golden color and crisper taste.
Not only was it the first of its kind to use this method of fermentation, but it was also one of the first beers to be served cold! This especially became true once refrigeration was invented.
Over time there were three main types of lager produced:
Light to golden beer with a light malty flavor. Its alcohol content ranges between 3.5-5 percent. Rice and corn are sometimes used while brewing. Examples of this are Stella Artois, Heineken or Miller. Both the Pale Lager and Pilsner are the two most common beers in America.
Medium to golden beer that has a mellow hop flavor. They generally have an alcohol content between 5-6 percent. Common examples are PBR, Samuel Adams or Budweiser.
A bock is a darker beer with a richer and fuller flavor. Its alcohol content ranges between 6-8 percent. Many of these are specifically German, though Yuengling and other companies create their own versions.
The difference between lagers and other types of beer is that it is continued to be brewed and fermented in cooler temperatures-- somewhere between 35-55 degrees.
The yeast used in lagers sinks to the bottom during a fermentation process that takes weeks, sometimes months. This can make lagers harder to make than an IPA or Ale.
Lager type beers are different from their ale counterparts because they do not have a strong malt, hop, or bitter taste. They tend to be light and crisp making them easier to drink.
You will notice lagers are made by the most recognizable name brands in America today. Unlike India Pale Ales, lagers are mass produced and commonly available at supermarkets, restaurants and bar settings.
It wasn't until recently, with the boom of craft beers, that lagers began having fruit and other flavoring added. Take Budlight Lime for example. If you take a walk through the beer aisle you'll begin to notice the options are becoming more abundant because of that boom.
Lagers are typically enjoyed with smoked meat dishes, cheese or heartier meals.
An IPA or 'India Pale Ale' is a beer that only recently gained popularity. Local breweries and home-brewers are known for producing most IPA beers.
Created for British Soldiers as a way to keep the beer from spoiling on their way to India-- the IPA uses larger amounts of hops and is made with a higher alcohol content than other beers.
Used in warmer climates, the IPA is brewed and fermented at 68-72 degrees. This type of beer uses top-fermenting yeast, unlike the lager. This creates a stronger, more bitter flavor.
Like the lager, there are three main categories of an IPA:
A golden beer, the Double IPA is an American style beer aptly named because it uses extra or double the hops. It carries an alcohol content ranging from 7-10 percent.
Usually a light-red or amber beer the alcohol content lies between 5-7 percent. These tend to be more herbal and very bitter. They differ from a Double IPA because of their balance between malt and hops.
These are considered the "original" IPA. It is lighter and not as heavy as it's American counterparts. It has an alcoholic content between 4-6 percent. While stronger than a lager it will have a more subtle bitterness.
Unlike lagers, you will notice an IPA will generally have fruit, herbs, and spices added in. It has become very common for brewers to continue experimenting with recipes for IPA beers-- making them stronger and more flavorful.
Almost all of the IPA beers we have today are made by micro or regional breweries who specialize in craft beers. Some of the more well-known breweries making IPAs are Lagunitas, Bells, Sierra Nevada, Stone, and Dogfish Head.
IPA beers are best paired with seafood, spicy, or fried dishes.
Once you know the main differences between an IPA vs. Lager you can begin deciding which is right for you. If you like a light, crisp tasting beer, a lager is for you. For the more poignant and flavorful pallets, try an IPA.
Now, when you look at a beer menu with over 40 options, you won't have to guess which type of beer you'll enjoy.
For homebrewers, you'll be able to start making better decisions about the ratio between water, hop, malt and yeast based on the type of beer you're looking for.
If you are new to brewing beer and want to make your own take a look at our home-brewing starter kit!