If you’re a fan of beer, there’s a big chance you’ve drunk a lager before, even if you couldn’t pick a lager out of a crowd. 

This style of beer is one of the most popular globally. Many country countries produce lagers, including America. Their smooth, uncomplicated taste makes it perfect for casual drinking in any scenario, whether you’re at home kicking back on the porch, at a party with friends, or even eating Halloween candy.

This leads to the larger question: what are lager beers, what’s the difference with ales, what’s an IPA, and what are the best brands to buy? Read on to find more.

What makes a beer a lager?

Beer has four main ingredients: malt barley, hops, yeast, and water. Different types of beer require different production styles to achieve their unique flavors and colors. All beers are fermented and brewed, but those processes vary. 

Lager beers are bottom-fermented drinks, meaning the yeast sinks to the bottom of the brewing vat during the fermentation process instead of rising to the top. 

Lagers rose to prominence in 15th century Germany and were only brewed during the winter months to prevent spoiling. Fortunately, 19th-century refrigeration techniques made it possible to brew during the summer, too, and made the brew even more accessible.

In the modern era, most lager beer brands are made from fermented barley, which gives the lager its distinctive yellow-brown hue. After the fermentation process, lager beers are filtered, bottled, and sold to a domestic or international market; a few of the best imported beers are also lagers. 

Coors Light, Budweiser, and Bud Light are some of the most well-known lager-providing companies. With their unmistakable, bold aromas, lagers are favored by any breweries, even small ones, because they’re so drinkable.

Lager description: Common characteristics

  • Carbonation.

  • A clean, crisp taste.

  • A warm hue, ranging from pale amber to a dark golden brown. 

  • An alcoholic content (or ABV) usually ranges from 2% to 12%.

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Lager vs. ale

What’s the difference between a lager and an ale? The difference is it’s all in the way they’re fermented. 

Lagers use a type of yeast called saccharomyces pastorianus, which ferments at cooler temperatures and sinks to the bottom of the vat. This is considered bottom-fermenting, while the ale yeast, called sacchoramyces cerevisiae, forms a thick layer of foam at the top of the vat. Lager yeasts need to be kept cold throughout fermentation, but ales don’t.

Ales have many different forms, like the India Pale Ale (IPA), pale ales, red ales, blonde ales, and more. 

IPAs have become increasingly popular in recent years, they usually have higher alcohol concentrations and more hops, making them stronger than a regular ale. They fall under the “ale” category because they also use a top-fermentation process, and both should be fermented at room temperature.  ‍

More facts:

  • Lagers take longer than ales to ferment, on average. 

  • Ales were invented before lagers. 

  • “Craft” beers refer to an alcoholic product not produced by a large or established brewery. They’re usually made by independent companies that emphasize their down-to-earth, hands-on approach to beer.

  • IPA stands for India Pale Ale, which first appeared in 19th Century England. It’s known for its “hoppy” beer style, a term for a drink with a strong aroma and taste. 

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Different types of lagers

The critical thing to remember about lagers is that it’s not just one beer, but a family of them that share the same, lager-style fermentation process. Some of the most popular variations include:

  • The amber lager: This type of beer is known on sight. The amber lager is light in color with a sweet, crisp taste, and it usually has an alcohol content of 5%. Think Oktoberfest. 

  • Bright lagers: Bright lagers — known as Helles — appear golden. However, they share most of their characteristics with the pilsner instead. These lagers have a low alcohol content averaging 5%, and a soft malty taste. They’re not that bitter, making them a perfect drink to sip while watching the game or enjoying a backyard BBQ. You can find them as craft beers, too. 

  • Bocks: Bocks are another lager popular with American beer drinkers, ranging from the light, creamy maibock to domestic dark lagers. They have a strong malty taste with an ABV that generally starts at 6%. 

  • Pilsners: Want a fall beer? Try a pilsner. These lagers are trendy with a crisp, slightly bitter taste and a low ABV. Regional differences in flavor and color do exist, though. For example, German pilsners have a lighter and thinner texture than other variants. 

  • Mass market lager: As the name suggests, this is one of the most popular lager variants that you’ll see on the domestic market — a catch-all term to describe pilsners and other drinks that have been brewed to match the tastes of a specific audience. These are the brand-name beers you’ll be quick to recognize, as this category of lagers includes some of the biggest beer brand names globally, like Budweiser and Heineken. Expect a golden color without the “hoppy” flavor of a traditional pilsner for the drink itself. It’s the best of both worlds. ‍

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The best lager beers to buy

Want some recommendations on where you should shop? We have that too.

1. Spaten Premium Lager

A German beer with an ABV of 5.2%, the Spaten Premium Lager has a slightly honeyed taste. 

This pale lager was first designed in 1894 and has been a favorite of beer drinkers ever since.

2. Pilsner Urquell

This Czech creation is an exceptionally influential beer. It’s well-known for its spicy, herbal taste, its hint of bitterness, and its long history of excellent manufacturing, starting in 1842. Initially designed in the town of Pilsen (where it received its name), it currently holds a coveted spot as one of the most quintessential lagers done in the “pilsner” style. Its ABV is 4.4%.

3. Schneider Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock

Another German lager that we just have to include, the Weizen-Eisbock, is noted for its hints of clove and fruit, along with its higher alcohol content of 12%. This drink is designed for slow-sipping. Its aromatic taste makes it an excellent choice for alcohol around the holidays. 

4. Victory Prima Pils

The Victory Prima Pils is a home-brewed domestic lager crafted in Pennsylvania, with an ABV of 5.3%. With a spicy snap to its flavor and a hint of bitterness, it takes notes from German brewing tradition and adds its own American twist. 

5. Idyll Days Pilsner

Another domestic beer, this time hailing from New York, the Idyll Days Pilsner has a smooth floral taste and an ABV of 5%. This pilsner receives its perfect blend from Belgian-style brewing techniques, made with malted European barley. 

6. Coors Banquet

We’re all about domestic beer recommendations, so it should come as no surprise that we’re mentioning the Coors Banquet, a Colorado-based lager with an ABV of 5%. This quintessential American drink was invented by Adolph Coors in 1873 and has remained an essential drink ever since.

7. Miller Lite 

This last light lager option is another American staple and needs no introduction. Miller Lite is a Wisconsin-based beer with a smooth, malty taste and an ABV of 4.2%. Miller Lite first appeared on the market in 1975 and is currently a go-to drink.

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