Brewing a Lager Without All the Hassle

 

Ales and homebrewing have always been peas in a pod, going together like spaghetti and tuna fish, or maybe you prefer spaghetti and meatball, whatever. Brewing a lager is not on the radar of most homebrewers for a variety of reasons. Some believe lagers are boring and flavorless, the bane of beer if it were. Others think the special fermentation requirements most lagers need is beyond their skill set. Both of these couldn’t be further from the truth. While approximately two out of every three beers drank today is a flavorless and adjunct riddled lager, craft brewers and homebrewers especially have revived and even invented flavorful and thought provoking lagers.

It is true that a lager beer requires a bit more finesse than ale. But with a smart choice of yeast strain, and fermenting during the colder months of the year, you can match or even exceed the quality of lager beer brewed by even the most seasoned brewer. Before we start whetting our appetites with different beers we can brew, let’s talk yeast and fermentation, as this is going to apply to every batch of lager you brew.

While there are many strains of lager yeast, two in particular are the friends of homebrewers who do not have the luxury of a dedicated refrigerator to ferment their lagers in. Wyeast 2112 California Lager and Wyeast 810 San Francisco Lager are very special strains of lager yeast. They ferment at higher than normal temperatures (58-68 F) while still holding onto their crisp lager flavor. If we used a more traditional lager yeast at this temperature, we would be left with a fruity and possibly buttery beer. Bluk! Ideally, you will want to keep these beers fermenting on the lower end of their temperature scale, somewhere between 58-65 F. Hence we come back to brewing these beers during the winter months. Most people have no problem finding a room or basement that can hold these temperatures. But remember; treat this like any other beer. Don’t put it outside or in any room where there are wild swings in temperature. Love your lager, and keep it comfortable.

You can also help your beer post fermentation. Handled appropriately, the character of a lager beer will improve after fermentation is complete. Putting your beer into a cold-conditioning vessel, or “lagering”, will let the remaining yeast in suspension drop, while also giving them a chance to clean up any off flavors they may have produced. Chances are you have not acquired a dedicated fridge since brew day. If that is in fact the case, I would recommend an alternate method of “lagering” that requires less fridge space, but will yield much of the benefits of the traditional method. We’re going to bottle the beer straight out of fermentation. Then let it carbonate in the bottle as usual. After you have confirmed carbonating is complete (this may require you to open and drink a beer, so be prepared for that hardship), pile as many of the bottles as you can in your fridge. Let them sit there for 3+ weeks, then take them out and put them back from whence they came. Repeat as necessary until your whole batch has been given this added step. Viola! Time to drink the fruits of your labor and patience!

So now we have our yeast and techniques, let’s talk beer! Below are three of my favorite lager beers to brew. But remember, these steps will apply to any lager beer you want to brew, from Pilsners to Doppelbocks.

 

An Oktoberfest or Marzen beer is a favorite of homebrewers. Big and malty, with flavors of baked bread with a kiss of noble hop flavor. If you want to brew lagers like the Germans (and who wouldn’t I suppose), brew this guy in March for enjoyment in September. Yeah yeah, I know, you want it now. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Or maybe it was, I don’t know. I wasn’t there. The point is patience with lager beers. You will be rewarded.

Mr. Oktoberfest

6.6 lb Briess Munich LME
1 lb Munton’s Light DME
½ lb Weyermann Caramunich I malt
½ Melanoiden malt
¼ Cara-Red Malt

1 oz Perle Hops
2 oz Hallertau Hops

Wyeast 2112 or White Labs 810

60 minute boil

Fill kettle with 1-2 gallons of water, heat to 160 F. Remove from heat then add the crushed malt (in a muslin bag, no more than a ½ lb per bag). Steep (just like a tea bag) for 30 minutes. Remove the grain bags, and then bring to a boil.

Once at a boil, add ONE can of the Munich LME and 1 lb of Light DME. Stir until completely dissolved. Bring back to a boil.

Once at a boil, start timer for 60 minutes and add 1 oz of Perle hops

After 45 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Hallertau hops (in a muslin bag)

After 55 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Hallertau hops (in a muslin bag)

After 60 minutes of boiling, turn off heat and add the second can of Munich LME. Stir until dissolved and then put the lid on your pot, and start to cool the wort (the stuff in your pot) down to room temperature.

Ferment at 58-65 F. Fermentation may take longer than usual, as long as three weeks. This is normal. Then follow the above procedures to finish the beer out.

 

This is a basic Czech Pilsner recipe, with lots of spicy Saaz hops on the back end. Picture it as a Pilsner Urquell on hop steroids.

Czech Yourself Before You Riggity Riggity Wreck Yourself

6.6 lb Munton’s Extra Light LME
½ lb Cara-Foam malt

6 oz Czech Saaz Hops

Wyeast 2112 or White Labs 810

60 minute boil

Fill kettle with 1-2 gallons of water, heat to 160 F. Remove from heat then add the crushed malt (in a muslin bag) Steep (just like a tea bag) for 30 minutes. Remove the grain bag, and then bring to a boil.

Take the pot off the heat and add ONE can of malt extract. Save the second can for a later addition. Dissolve extract completely, and then bring back to a boil.

Once at a boil, start timer for 60 minutes and add 1.5 oz of Saaz hops

After 45 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Saaz hops (in a muslin bag)

After 50 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Saaz hops (in a muslin bag)

After 55 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Saaz hops (in a muslin bag)

After 58 minutes of boiling, add 1.5 oz of Saaz hops (in a muslin bag)

After 60 minutes of boiling, turn off heat and add the second can of Extra Light LME. Stir until dissolved and then put the lid on your pot, and start to cool the wort (the stuff in your pot) down to room temperature.

Ferment at 58-65 F. Fermentation may take longer than usual, as long as three weeks. This is normal. Then follow the above procedures to finish the beer out.

 

Most hopheads dismiss lagers since virtually most of the ones on the market have much hop presence. Enter the IPL, or India Pale Lager. This beer is hopped up just like your favorite IPA, but is missing one component. The fruity aroma and flavor from an ale yeast. What you gain using a lager strain is a dryness and crispness you couldn’t get any other way. Instead of tasting flavors from the ale yeast doing it’s thing, you get a pure punch of clean hop flavor and aroma. There’s nothing quite like it out there.

Arctic Circle IPL (India Pale Lager)

6.6 lb Briess Light LME
1 lb Briess Light DME
1 lb Rice Syrup or Rice Syrup Solids
¾ lb Honey Malt
½ lb Crystal 10 L Malt
½ lb Aromatic Malt

1 oz Brewer’s Gold Hops
2 oz Columbus Hops
2 oz Nugget Hops
2 oz Cluster Hops

Wyeast 2112 or White Labs 810

60 minute boil

Fill kettle with 1-2 gallons of water, heat to 160 F. Remove from heat then add the crushed malt (in a muslin bag, no more than a ½ lb per bag) Steep (just like a tea bag) for 30 minutes. Remove the grain bags, and then bring to a boil.

Once at a boil, add ONE can of the Light LME and 1 lb of Light DME and 1 lb of Rice Syrup. Stir until completely dissolved. Bring back to a boil.

Once at a boil, start timer for 60 minutes and add 1 oz of Brewer’s Gold hops (in a muslin bag)

After 45 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Nugget hops (in a muslin bag)

After 50 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Columbus hops (in a muslin bag)

After 55 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Cluster hops (in a muslin bag)

After 57 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Nugget hops (in a muslin bag)

After 58 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Cluster hops (in a muslin bag)

After 59 minutes of boiling, add 1 oz of Columbus hops (in a muslin bag)

After 60 minutes of boiling, turn off heat and add the second can of Light LME. Stir until dissolved and then put the lid on your pot, and start to cool the wort (the stuff in your pot) down to room temperature.

Ferment at 58-65 F. Fermentation may take longer than usual, as long as three weeks. This is normal. Then follow the above procedures to finish the beer out.