All Beer Is Ale

In fantasy fiction, whenever a character is drinking beer, the beer will always be an ale rather than a lager. You can read about the difference elsewhere.

There are a number of possible explanations for this. The difference between styles of beer isn't as immediately obvious or as much discussed as the difference between styles of wine. The word ale sounds old-fashioned, and many people assume it's simply an old-fashioned word for beer.note 

Medieval Europe (or something very much like it) is a common setting for fantasy stories, and the typical Medieval European beer would have been an ale. Lager wasn't even invented until the fifteenth or sixteenth century; the process was serendipitously discovered when some ale casks stored in cold caves in Germany tasted like something else, and the actual yeast required for making it might have been accidentally brought from South America (!). Most of it was probably "small beer," an unfiltered, low-alcohol beer that people drank instead of water because of the prevalence of waterborne disease.

Many fantasy tropes are taken from the very, very, British The Lord of the Rings, and the vast majority of British beers actually are ales—again, lager is a German invention, and it wasn't until relatively recently that lager spread outside Germany, broader Central Europe and the Americas (where German and other Central European brewers settled in the 19th century—why do you think all of the Americas from Argentina and Chile to Canada and Alaska drink lager?).

Compare Uncoffee where coffee goes under another name or actually is something else. See also The Need for Mead (where, despite the name, ale is more likely to be the drink of choice than actual mead.)


  • In Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, the favored alcoholic beverages for the upper classes are wine, wine punch, and brandy. When any one else is seen drinking beer, though, it is ale.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. There is frequent mention of ale, but never lager. Westeros is clearly based upon Europe in the Late Middle Ages, i.e. before lager was a thing.
  • In the novels of Deverry, at least some of the beer brewed in Deverry is small beer. During the siege of Cengarn, Rhodry remarks that once the beer runs out, they'll be forced to drink vinegar-sanitized water.
  • The Dresden Files: Although the series takes place in 21st century America— where most commercially available beer is lager— Harry actually prefers a craft ale brewed by the owner of MacAnally's.
  • Lampshaded in the Discworld novel The Last Continent, which notes that "Ankh-Morpork beer was technically ale, that is to say, gravy made from hops", in the context of explaining why Rincewind doesn't take the light, fizzy stuff they have in Fourecksnote  seriously... until he wakes up with little memory of the previous evening.
  • In Firekeeper Saga there are no bars or pubs, only alehouses - guess what is served there. Lager is never mentioned.

Tabletop Games
  • Nearly every mention of beer in Dungeons & Dragons lists it as "ale". Pretty much the only drinks available in most games are ale and wine.

Video Games
  • Subverted in Brütal Legend: upon arriving to the Age of Metal, Eddie automatically assumes that everyone there will be drinking ale and mead, but Ophelia is puzzled by these terms and says that they only have generic beer. Beer must be the most metal of beverages since it is produced by the land itself, specifically a sacred tree covered in breasts.
  • In The Sims Medieval the default brewing recipe you can make without ingredients is "Ale." A few other varieties of Ale become available if you have ingredients, but they're all still ale.
  • Notably averted by Wurm Online, a rare Medieval European Fantasy setting that's set in a sort-of Fantasy Counterpart Culture of southern Europe, which has wine instead.
  • Averted in The Witcher's various taverns. Naturally there's ale, but there's also everything from lager to stout.
  • Pillars of Eternity has both beer and ale as consumables that buff Constitution, but ale gives a stronger buff.

Web Comics
  • Averted in The Order of the Stick, Durkon drinks a lot of beer, not specifically ale. And at one point he complains that he hasn't had a decent lager since he left his home in the dwarf lands.

Real Life
  • Before the invention of the refrigeration, bottom fermentation (with which beers like lager or bock is made) was notoriously difficult to perform, and will succeed only in certain months during the autumn and winter when it is cold enough for Saccaromyces carlsbergi yeast to function, even in the caves in which the Germans traditionally produced the stuff. On the other hand, top fermentation (with which ales are made) will succeed at any temperature, using Saccaromyces cerevisiae yeast. Indeed, many German states had prohibitions on the production of lager—and in some cases, on the production of all beer—between March and September because attempts to make the stuff outside the season invariably produced an inferior product. Also, modern efficient methods of refrigeration were first developed in the 1870s by the engineer Carl von Linde for Gabriel Sedlmayr's Spaten Brewery, who was trying to find a way to make lager year-round.
  • Almost all really strong natural brews, such as stout, barley wine and porter, are technically ales. S. cerevisiae yeast can produce higher alcohol contents than S. carlsbergi. On the other hand, the quality and taste variations with S. cerevisiae are wider than with S. carlsbergi. That is the reason why lagers usually taste just the same, the only differences being the ethanol contents and use of hops.