Lager vs IPA: Considered to be two of the best-selling beer styles worldwide, it is surprising how significantly different they actually are from each other. IPAs are known for being hoppy, bitter, and flavorful while Lagers are smooth, crisp, and refreshing.
Due to being an easy-drinking beer Lagers are the most popular and best-selling commercial beer style worldwide and are enjoyed by people looking for a refreshing beer; whereas IPAs have developed an almost cult-like following in recent years due to their hoppy, bitter, and strong flavors and are singularly responsible for the explosion in popularity of the craft beer movement.
To help you understand the differences between these two beers we are going first to outline the top 5 elements that make these beers different from each other, we will then quickly provide an overview of these beer styles, as well as provide you with some common misconceptions held regarding them, and lastly, we will then answer some of the more frequently asked questions we get on their differences.
Table of Contents
Lager vs IPA
When it comes to Lager vs an IPA the following are the five primary elements that make these two beers so vastly different from each other.
The Strain of Yeast
When it comes down to it every beer you have ever consumed fits into one of two categories, they are either a lager or an ale. An IPA or India Pale Ale is as the name implies a type of Ale.
The main difference between these two categories of beer is the yeast that is used to ferment them. The strain of yeast used when making beer has a significant impact on the flavor of the beer itself. Lager yeast uses a bottom-fermenting yeast whereas an IPA (all ales in fact) uses a top-fermenting yeast. This has a significant impact on the final product and is a major differentiator between these two beers.
The bottom-fermenting yeast that is used to make a lager also requires colder temperatures to ferment, typically within a range of 42 – 55 ℉ whereas the top-fermenting yeast used to brew an IPA requires warmer fermentation temperatures, typically between 60 – 75℉. As a result of the colder temperatures that the larger yeast requires it takes them much longer to ferment. Where an IPA can be finished fermenting in 3-4 days, a Lager takes at least 3 weeks to ferment.
Another significant difference as a result of the yeast strains is that due to the warmer temperature that IPAs are fermented at flavor-altering esters are produced in larger quantities than with Lagers. Esters are fruit-like flavors and aromas that are very common in most ales, especially IPAs.
The Fermentation Process
Another difference during the fermentation process between the two is that Lagers go through what is referred to as a lagering stage. Lagers were given their name from the German word “lagern” which means “to store”. This is because lagering a beer is a method of storing beer at near-freezing temperatures for long periods of time, typically for several weeks if not months.
During this stage, the lager goes through flavor-altering processes that are responsible for its clean, crisp, and refreshing flavor. IPAs on the other hand are only put through a cold conditioning process for 48 hours and it is referred to as cold crashing instead of lagering.
The Number of Hops
IPAs are notorious for their hop characteristics. They are highly hopped beers where large quantities of hops are used at different stages of the brewing process as compared to lagers.
As a result, IPAs are significantly more bitter tasting than lagers and have a strong hoppy flavor and aroma. A beer’s bitterness is measured in IBU’s or International Bittering Units, a IPA will have an IBU of 40 plus, whereas it is very rare to ever see a lager with an IBU over 40, and typically they are more around 20.
Alcohol by Volume (ABV)
Although lagers can be brewed at any strength typically IPAs do have a higher alcohol content than lagers. Lagers will typically range from 4- 5% ABV whereas IPA’s typically range from 5.5 – 7% ABV.
What is a Lager
Lagers are the best-selling beer worldwide, if you drop into any bar, pub or restaurant pretty much anywhere in the world and they will have at least one lager on tap. They are enjoyed for their clean, clear, crisp, and refreshing taste, especially on a hot summer day.
Lagers originate in the Bavaria region of Germany and were first brewed in the 15th century. Their history of brewing these beers runs deep and they pride themselves in brewing only top-quality lagers. To control the quality of their beers they enacted a quality control law called the German purity law which governs how a lager is brewed.
Many European lagers such as the Pilsner follow close to the guidelines of this law and the quality of their lagers shows it. Whereas many of the North American lagers are of a much lower quality, being mass produced and brewed using cheaper ingredients such as rice and are now more synonymous with chugging and keg parties versus the high quality of their forebears.
Many craft breweries in North America are now brewing higher-quality lagers that are more in line with what a true representation of this style should be.
What is an IPA
The history of the IPA is perhaps based on more lore than fact but the story goes that in the 1700’s a stronger more heavily hopped pale ale was invented by the English in order to survive the long sea voyage from England to their colonies in India.
Most of the traditional English ales of the time such as Stouts and Pale Ales would spoil on the journey but it was discovered that by raising the alcohol and adding large amounts of hops which are a natural preservative the IPA or India Pale Ale would survive the journey.
Fast forward to the 1970s when the craft brewing movement started to take off in North America, the IPA became the beer that captured the imagination of the brewers more than any other. Brewers from across the continent started modifying IPA recipes by adding different varieties of hops at varying stages of the brewing process and creating their own unique versions of an IPA; in fact, at our last count, there are now over 24 types of IPAs.
The flavor and aroma characteristics of the different styles of IPA can range from citrus to pine, to passion fruit to just about any fruit flavor you can think of. Some are bitter, some are now sweet, and some have a perfect balance between their malty sweetness and hop bitterness. All of them are known for their higher-than-average ABV.
Taste wise you can now find some that resemble the original English IPA, however many prefer the newer recipes like the West Coast IPA recipe that has a higher bitterness level, as well as the White IPA recipe which is basically a cross between a Belgian Wit beer and an IPA and of course the always popular NEIPA recipes that were made famous by east coast brewers and known for their sweet citrus and passion fruit flavors, and lastly, for those looking for a stronger beer the Double IPA with ABV’s of 7-9% is a fan favorite.
Misconceptions Lager vs IPA
Like any topic, the internet is filled with misleading and false information regarding the differences between these two beers. The following are some of the more blatant misconceptions that we have noticed floating around the internet.
Misconception #1 – IPAs are darker in color because the hops when mixed with the malt (grains) provide for a darker shade.
This is simply not true. Although the presence of hop debris left over in the final product as a result of dry hopping techniques can make for a cloudier beer, the actual shade or color of the beer is determined by the degree of roast of the grains that are used to brew it. Any IPA or Lager can and are both light and dark in color and it is all dependent on the grains used to make it, not the hops.
Misconception #2 – The fermenting process also determines the color. Bottom-fermenting yeasts used to make Lagers give them a slightly hazy color and top-fermenting yeasts used to make IPAs give them a deeper amber hue.
Again this is false. To begin with, Lagers are not hazy in color, they are crisp and clear looking, IPAs on the other hand can be brewed to intentionally have a hazy look.
The fermenting process does not change the color, bottom-fermenting yeasts do not give lagers a hazy color and top-fermenting yeasts do not give the IPA an amber hue. As stated earlier the grains determine the color of the beer. Haziness can also be a result of proteins left in suspension as well as hop debris, some yeast strains both ale or lager can provide for a cloudy-looking beer as well.
Misconception #3 – Lagers ferment faster than IPAs.
This is so blatantly wrong that we wonder if perhaps the authors stating it simply have made a mistake. The opposite is indeed the truth. Lagers take much longer to ferment than IPAs.
Misconception #4 – IPAs ferment with bacteria where Lagers ferment with yeast.
IPAs, Ales, and Lagers are all fermented with yeast, not bacteria. It is Sour beer, unlike other beers that do use wild bacteria and yeast to produce their tart sour-like flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is lager stronger than IPA?
No on average an IPA is stronger than a Lager. Although some Lagers can reach higher levels of ABV on average they range between 4 – 5%, whereas IPAs on average are much stronger with an ABV range of 5.5 – 7%. It is also not uncommon to find Double and Triple IPAs with much higher alcohol percentages.
Can an IPA be a Lager?
No, an IPA is an Ale, not a Lager. However, in recent years, brewers have started experimenting with making beers with what would typically be considered IPA ingredients but using Lager yeast and fermentation processes. These beers are called IPLs or India Pale Lagers.
Which is healthier IPA or lager?
Neither could be considered any more healthy than the other. Excessive drinking is not considered healthy for you regardless of the style of beer. Moderate alcohol use typically means one 12 fluid ounce beer per day for women and two for men.
Do IPA beers get you drunk faster?
Considering that on average an IPA has a higher alcohol content than a Lager then yes an IPA will get you drunk faster. However, it is not the IPA perse but rather the ABV of the beer. There are many Lagers that do have a higher ABV than some IPAs and as a result, they would get you drunk faster.
The Last Call
To sum up the comparison of Lager vs IPA; lagers are typically crisper and lighter more refreshing beers, whereas IPAs typically have a higher alcohol content and are a stronger more flavorful tasting beer.
Both in their traditional sense are high-quality beers that each have a storied history and deserve the titles they hold as being two of the most popular styles of beer worldwide.
P.S. If you brew your own beer be sure to check out our gift to you on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your smart device; Big Robb’s top 5 favorite recipes from his brewpub. Cheers!