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There are several beers that blur the lines between ale and lager. Here's a few I'm aware of:

Styles

  • California Common is fermented at ale temperatures with a lager yeast, most often Wyeast 2112 California Lager. These are also called steam beers, though the provenance of the name is not clear.

  • Kölsch: fermented at low ale temp (60°) with an ale yeast and traditionally given a long, slow age at low temp, similar to lagering.

Beers

  • Rogue's Dead Guy Ale claims a German maibock style, but the recipes I've seen for this beer use Rogue's PacMan yeast, ferment at 60°F, and have no lagering period indicated. I don't know how Dead Guy stacks against, say, Hofbräu Maibock, but using a top-fermenting yeast and eliminating lagering (cold aging) would seem to disqualify it from claiming a maibock-style, but maybe that's too rigid.

I'm not sure there needs to be a definite line here.

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The distinction comes from the beer's tradition and history.

Strictly speaking, lagers are fermented with lager yeast (S. carlsbergensis) and ales with ale yeast (S. cerevisiae). Traditionally, ales ferment quickly near room temperature and are served fresh. Lagers ferment slowly, coolly and are stored near freezing for a period of months.

The BJCP lists seven "hybrid" styles in their guidelines. The HomebrewTalk wiki describes a number of hybrids.

Personally, I use duck-typing when placing a beer in a style. "When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck." For example, St Arnold brewery makes an Oktoberfest (a lager) but they ferment it as an ale with ale yeast. It looks, smells and tastes like an Oktoberfest, so that's what I call it.

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Extra points for using a programming term in a brewing context. –  Rich Armstrong Feb 18 '10 at 17:38
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There is only confusion if you mix the definitions. The BJCP style guide sorts this all out.

Essentially there are three definitions of "lager".

  1. A type of yeast.

  2. A temperature dependent beer making process.

  3. A beer style, known for its clean taste.

Steam beers use an odd lager yeast but don't use the lagering process nor are they categorized as a lager. They are categorized as California Common Beer by the BJCP.

Kolsch beers use a cold period similar to lagering, but they use ale yeasts and are categorized as a Light Hybrid Beer, Kolsch by the BJCP.

Rogue can claim anything they want. They use an ale yeast and don't lager the beer. That's marketing by Rogue, not definitions. The BJCP has a comprehensive listing of beer styles.

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