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Lager vs IPA: Battle of Beer Styles

Lager vs IPA

One time, I was sitting at my favorite bar, looking at the menu, and pondering whether to pick a crisp, refreshing lager or a bold, hoppy IPA. It’s a challenging pick as I want to make the most out of my drink.

After that time, I’ve spent time exploring the different styles of beer, and I’m here to share what I’ve learned about the intriguing battle between lager vs IPA.

So, if you’re torn between these two styles, this comparison will surely help you decide. Read on!

Beer Style Battle: Lager vs IPA

Bottle of Beer Pouring on a Glass

To truly appreciate the differences between lagers and IPAs, start with a basic understanding of each style.

Lager is a beer style with origins in Central Europe, with a clean, refreshing, and crisp taste. It uses the bottom-fermenting yeast at cooler temperatures and typically features a lighter color.

Lagers tend to be more well-balanced and often lean towards a malt-forward profile with lower alcohol content, making them approachable to a wide range of beer enthusiasts.

Mind you – there are several lager sub-styles, including Helles, Pilsners, and Bock, each with its own flavor profile and character.

“In the world of beer, lager refreshes, while IPA excites—each a unique journey for the palate.” – Liquor Laboratory

Conversely, IPA or India Pale Ale is a product of the craft beer revolution, which originates in England but is perfected by American craft brewers. Indian Pale Ales pack a punch with bold hop flavors and aromas.

IPAs use top-fermenting yeast and contain higher alcohol content with a complex hop character and a wide range of flavor profiles, from citrusy and piney to tropical and floral.

Additionally, there are several sub-categories of IPA, including West Coast IPA, New England IPA, and Double IPA, which has different characteristic and flavor profile.

Lager vs IPA Beer Cheat Sheet (TABLE)

AspectLagerIPA
FermentationBottom-fermentedTop-fermented
IngredientsWater, barley malt, yeast, and hopsWater, barley malt, yeast, and hops
CharacterCrisp, cleanBold, hoppy
AromaSubtle, maltyIntense, hoppy
Alcohol Content Lower Alcohol Content (typically around 5% ABV)Higher Alcohol Content (typically around 10-15% ABV)
Food PairingVersatile (e.g., pizza, seafood)Complements spicy, flavorful dishes
Popular RegionsGermany, Czech RepublicUSA (especially West Coast)
Craft Beer CultureTraditionalInnovating and evolving
TrendsConsistencyExperimentation

Key Differences

Beer Bottles

As a beer fanatic, I’ve had the privilege of exploring both lagers and IPAs extensively. Here are the key differences that set these lager beers and India Pale Ales apart:

History & Origin

Lagers have a rich history dating back to the 15th century in Germany. They were traditionally brewed and stored in cool cellars at a lower temperature, allowing for a clean and refreshing taste.

IPAs, on the other hand, trace their roots to England but gained popularity and innovation in the United States during the craft beer revolution.

Read: Lager vs Stout

Style

Lagers are simple and consistent, which emphasize a clean and malt-forward flavor. If you want some sweet, choco-coffee notes, dark lagers are here to serve.

IPAs, in contrast, provide more flavor. Indian Pale Ale is a hoppy beer showcasing the versatility of hops while offering a broad spectrum of floral and fruity flavors.

Alcohol Content

Lagers typically have a lower ABV than pale ales – typically around 5% ABV. Actually, lager beers are often sessionable, which I find suitable for extended drinking sessions.

IPAs can have significantly higher alcohol content – typically around 10-15% ABV, providing a more robust punch.

So, if you want a hoppy beer with a kick, opting for an Indian Pale Ale will surely satisfy your palate.

Read: What Are Session Beers?

Hops

The use of hops in the fermenting process plays a crucial role in differentiating these popular beer styles [2].

Lagers use hops in the brewing process for balance and subtle aroma.

IPAs, particularly Double IPA, added hops during the brewing process for the explosion of flavors and aromas, ranging from piney and resinous to citrusy and fruity.

Color

Person Holding Glass of Beer

Lagers display a pale, straw-like color, like a pilsner, reflecting their clean and crisp taste. But there are dark lagers and amber lagers, which exhibit a darker color.

IPAs, however, can vary in color from pale gold to amber and even deep copper, depending on the malt and hop combinations used during the brewing process.

Read: Pilsner & IPA Compared

Carbonation

Brewed lagers typically boast higher carbonation levels [1], ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 volumes, compared to IPAs, which usually fall between 2.2 to 2.8 volumes.

This variation arises primarily from temperature disparities during brewing. Higher temperatures facilitate quicker CO2 dissolution, leading to greater carbonation in Lagers.

Brewed IPAs may have varying levels of carbonation, with some leaning towards effervescent and other beers (like Stouts and Pale Ales) being more restrained.

Another factor influencing carbonation is settling time. As seen in Lagers, beers with elevated carbonation levels tend to feel lighter on the palate.

Conversely, low-carbonation beers like IPAs offer a weightier mouthfeel.

This disparity in carbonation contributes to lagers’ fruity undertones and watery texture, while IPAs emphasize hop bitterness and aromatic qualities.

Popular Brands

Prominent lager brands include Germany’s Beck’s and Czech Republic’s Pilsner Urquell.

In the IPA realm, including American IPAs (or West Coast IPA), the iconic names include Sierra Nevada and Stone Brewing Company from the United States.

Read: What Kind of Beer is Stella Artois?

Flavor Profile

The flavor profile of lager beers has clean, biscuity, and slightly sweet flavors with a mild bitter hop presence.

IPAs, on the other hand, exhibit a wide array of flavors, ranging from floral and tropical to resinous and dank, all accented by pronounced hop bitter notes.

Brewing Methods

In the brewing process, lager beers typically undergo a cold fermentation process (basically brewed at a lower temperature, typically 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit), resulting in cleaner, crisper beers.

In the beer-making of IPA beers, mainly Double IPA, they use a warmer fermentation (basically brewed in warmer temperatures, around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

This higher temperature allows for the development of complex hop flavors.

Fermentation Method

A lager beer is bottom-fermented, with yeast settling at the bottom, while an IPA is top-fermented, with the yeast rises on the surface during the brewing process.

IBU (International Bitterness Unit)

IPAs tend to boast higher IBU levels, primarily attributed to their generous use of hops during brewing. The IBU quantifies the bitterness within a brewed alcoholic beverage.

IPAs typically fall within the 40 to 60 IBU range, whereas lagers typically range from 20 to 40 IBU.

Consequently, this difference in IBU levels means that IPAs generally deliver a more pronounced bitter taste than Lagers.

How To Choose Between The Two Beer Styles

Pouring Beer on a Glass

When it comes to choosing between these popular beer styles: lagers and IPAs, it ultimately depends on your personal preferences and the occasion.

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” – Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the United States

If you’re looking for a refreshing, easy-drinking beer [3], a lager beer may be your best bet.

On the other hand, if you crave bold and hoppy flavors that challenge your taste buds, an IPA will be more up your alley.

When I’m deciding between lager and West Coast IPA, I always consider the following factors:

  • Flavor Preference: Do I prefer a clean and malty taste (lager) or a bitter, hoppy explosion of flavors (IPA)?
  • Alcohol Content: Am I in for a long session or seeking a higher ABV experience?
  • Food Pairing: I’m thinking about what I’ll be eating. Lager is versatile with a wide range of foods, while an IPA pairs exceptionally well with spicy dishes and flavorful cuisines.

Is Lager Similar To IPAs?

No, lagers are not similar to IPAs [4]. Actually, they represent two distinct ends of the beer spectrum.

While they both share the core ingredients of water, barley malt, yeast, and hops, the way these ingredients are used and the resulting flavor profile are vastly different.

Remember – a lager brew focuses on balance and subtlety, whereas IPAs are about hops and flavor boldness.

FAQs

Is IPA bitter or lager?

IPA is bitter due to the abundant use of hops, whereas lagers typically have a milder, balanced flavor profile with less bitterness due to the fewer hops used.

Is Corona a lager or IPA?

Corona is a lager. It’s a Mexican pale lager drink famous for its light flavor and refreshing qualities.

Which is smoother, Lager or IPA?

Lagers are generally smoother due to their clean and crisp flavor profile. IPAs, with their bold hops character, can be more intense and less smooth in comparison.

How are lagers and IPAs brewed differently?

Lagers are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast strains that work best at cooler temperatures, typically around 45-55°F (7-13°C). The fermentation process is longer and slower compared to ales, resulting in a cleaner fermentation character. IPAs, on the other hand, are brewed with top-fermenting yeast strains at warmer temperatures, usually around 60-70°F (15-21°C). This leads to a quicker fermentation process and allows for the development of more complex flavors from the hops.

What are some popular examples of lagers and IPAs?

Popular lager styles include Pilsner (e.g., Pilsner Urquell), Helles (e.g., Weihenstephaner Original), and Vienna Lager (e.g., Samuel Adams Boston Lager). Popular IPA styles include American IPA (e.g., Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), New England IPA (e.g., The Alchemist Heady Topper), and Double IPA (e.g., Stone Brewing Enjoy By IPA).

Are lagers or IPAs better for beginners in craft beer?

This ultimately depends on personal preference. Some beginners may prefer the milder, smoother taste of lagers, while others may be drawn to the bold flavors and aromas of IPAs. It’s recommended to try a variety of styles to discover what you enjoy most.

Do lagers or IPAs pair better with certain foods?

Both lagers and IPAs can pair well with a variety of foods, but their flavor profiles lend themselves to different types of cuisine. Lagers, with their clean and crisp profile, often complement lighter fare such as seafood, salads, and grilled meats. IPAs, with their hoppy bitterness and robust flavors, can stand up to spicy foods, rich cheeses, and hearty dishes like burgers and barbecue.

In Summary

Lager and IPA have their strengths and unique characteristics. However, I prefer IPAs as they push the boundaries of flavor with bold hops and diverse profiles, perfect for those seeking a taste adventure.

Besides, I like the higher alcohol content of IPAs compared to the lower alcohol content of a lager brew.

But for beer enthusiasts, after simplicity, cleanliness, and easy drinkability, go for lagers, which I find great for various occasions.

The winner in this showdown really depends on your personal taste and the experience you’re seeking. Remember- both lagers and IPAs have their rightful place in the beer world, and exploring both styles leads to a deeper appreciation of the craft.

References:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/carbonation
  2. https://time.com/5218581/types-of-beer-guide/
  3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/beer
  4. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/food-dining/2022/08/05/beer-types-explained-ale-lager-ipa/10236815002/
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