glass of amber beer next to newspaper

All beers fall into two main categories: lagers and ales. However, that is still too broad a classification for such a diverse drink as beer. More specifically, lagers and ales can be divided further, and amber is one of the subtypes of ale. How does amber differ from lager? Find out here, starting with this quick answer.

Lagers and amber ales differ fundamentally in their brewing process. While the former uses bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures, amber ales use top-fermenting yeast at higher temperatures. Lagers also have a stronger flavor, taste, and aroma.

Above is the simple answer to the topic question, but there’s more to it. This article will review the origin of both beers, their respective properties, brewing processes, ingredients, and common examples. Read on!


Ales are much older than lagers, being the first style of beer to have been produced. However, not all ales are older than lagers, and amber ales fall into this category. Let’s examine first the history of lagers.

For much of the early years of beers, ales were the predominant style. That changed in the early 1400s when lager beer was first brewed in Bavaria, Germany. The production of lagers was actually unintended. Apparently, a special yeast strain, Saccharomyces eubayanus, had found its way into the fermentation tanks containing the traditional ale yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

The combination of the two strains led to an unlikely and rare hybrid strain, Saccharomyces pastorianus. This hybrid strain produced beers of different quality, known as lagers, albeit at a slower rate. Beer fans fell in love with lagers, which soon became the most-produced beer style.

The term amber ale was first used after the manufacture of pale ales in the early 1700s. Pale ales debuted in England, specifically Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire. The introduction of pale ales into the beer market resulted from an industrial revolution in the 1600s in England. Then, many industries moved from using wood as fuel to coke. The beer industry followed this trend as well.

Instead of roasting malt with wood in kilns, breweries started using coke-roasted malt. This resulted in ales being clearer and amber-colored. This, of course, is the root of the term “amber ale.” However, the term was used synonymously with pale ales until the 20th century, when amber was recognized as a separate class of ale.

Lagers have been the most popular style of beer for ages, and there is no indication of the beer style relinquishing that title anytime soon – quite the opposite, in fact. Studies suggest that if the current trends continue, 95% of beers produced in a few years will be lager beers. Notwithstanding, amber ale has made quite a name for itself. Although not the most popular style of ale, amber has a strong fanbase. Over the years, many breweries have started producing amber lagers, which are brighter in color than traditional lagers.


Lagers are generally lighter in flavor than ales. However, this is not the case with lagers and amber ales. Weird as it may seem, lagers are stronger in taste than amber ales. The ale yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae produces more esters and phenols during fermentation. This plays a significant role in the flavor of ales. On the other hand, lagers derive their flavor from the hops and malt used.

Amber ales have similar production to pale ales, using hard water and native hops during brewing. The implication of this is a lighter flavor than traditional ales and even lagers. Generally, amber ales have a toasted, toffee flavor.

Although, it is worth noting that there are exceptions to the rule. Some lagers, like amber lagers and light lagers, have an even lighter flavor than amber ales.

Which of the two beer styles has a better flavor profile? Well, that depends on you. Both beer styles are lighter in flavor than traditional ales, so you would enjoy either if you are not a fan of overly strongly-flavored beer.


Ales generally have a full body, but since amber ales are lighter, they have a medium body. Carbonation ranges from medium to high. Further, amber ales have a smooth finish and no strong bitter aftertaste. These beers also tend to have a malty character.

Lagers are similar to amber ales in that they also have a medium body with moderate to high carbonation. The finish is smooth, and the beer is crisp and clean. Light lagers have even higher carbonation and are refreshing.


Similar to their flavor profiles, lagers have a stronger aroma than amber ales. Usually, with ales, the yeast used plays a significant role in the eventual aroma. However, considering amber ales use native hops and pale malt, the smell is quite different and lighter than other ales. Amber ales have a moderate malt and caramel character in their aroma. The exact hops used in brewing the beer also contribute to the eventual aroma of the beer.

The aroma of lagers is usually driven by the malt and the hops in the specific beer style. Generally, though, lagers don’t have that strong an aroma. Many light beers have no detectable aromas at all, in fact.

Brewing Process

The brewing process of lagers and amber ales constitutes the fundamental difference between the two beer styles. Amber ales are a type of ale, and all ales are brewed using the top-fermentation technique. Here, top-fermenting yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is used at warm temperatures of 60˚ to 70˚F.

Lagers use the bottom-fermentation technique. This involves the use of the bottom-fermenting hybrid yeast, Saccharomyces pastorianus, at low temperatures of 35˚ to 50˚F. The yeast is so named because it never rises to the top during fermentation, unlike top-fermenting yeast, which rises to the top before sinking.

Since amber ales are brewed at a warmer temperature than lager beers, they are less stressful to brew. Additionally, fermentation occurs quicker when brewing ales because of the higher temperature than in brewing lagers. While the consequence of faster fermentation is cloudiness in the brew, amber ales avoid this issue because of the pale malt used in brewing.


Both lagers and amber ales have the same basic four ingredients: yeast, malt, hops, and water. Below, we will consider each of these four ingredients and how they differ in both beers.

For starters, yeast. This is the most significant ingredient difference between lagers and amber ales. Lagers use bottom-fermenting yeast, while amber ales use top-fermenting yeast. The strain used affects the flavor, aroma, and overall style of the beer.

The second basic ingredient on our list is malt. Beer production started with barley malt and has persisted to date, although some brewmasters prefer to use wheat as malt. A difference between lagers and amber ales is the impact of malt on the flavor and aroma of the beer.

Generally, ales do not derive much of their flavor from malt, as opposed to lagers. However, amber ales are different as they use a specific type of malt – pale malt – which contributes to their eventual flavor, aroma, and appearance. Pale malt has to be roasted with coke as fuel rather than wood or peat. In addition to pale malt, amber malts usually have caramel and crystal malts, which contribute to their amber color.

Further, the hops used in beer affect their bitterness. Lagers use a wide variety of hops, depending on the beer style. Amber ales often use citrusy hops, which confer a sweeter taste on beers than in lagers and other traditional ale beers.

The last basic ingredient is water. Lagers typically just use plain water for fermentation. However, some lager types involve the use of specific types of water to obtain a particular flavor and taste profile. For example, some lager beers use water from springs in certain locations because of their mineral composition. Amber ales often use hard water with a high sulfate concentration.

Aside from these four basic ingredients, some brewers add adjunct grains to their beers. This is particularly common with lager beers, with the hope of adding additional sugar to their beers. Adjunct grains can also impart a special flavor and aroma profile to a beer.

Alcohol Content

Although there are a few exceptions to the rule, ales are generally stronger than lager beers. This is the same trend observed with amber ales. The average alcohol by volume (ABV) of amber ales is between 4 and 7%. Conversely, lager beers have between 4 and 6% ABV.


Amber ales are, well, amber! These ale beers can also be described as coppery brown with a reddish tint. Lager beers, meanwhile, have a more golden color. Although, because there are just so many different lager styles, the color varies a lot. There are even amber-colored lagers.

Lager beers are known to be clear and less complex than ales. But that’s not the case with amber ales, which are transparent compared to lager beers.

Popular Examples Of Each Beer Style

Below are some of the popular examples of lagers and amber ales.


  • Maibock
  • Asahi Super Dry
  • Corona Extra
  • Heineken
  • Michelob Ultra

Amber ales

  • Fat Tire Amber Ale
  • Hop Head Red
  • Bell’s Amber Ale
  • Tröegs Hopback Amber Ale
  • Saint Arnold Amber Ale