Learning how to brew lager beer at home is nothing more than learning about cold storage. Confused? Well, most breweries ‘lager’ their beverages to obtain a clearer final brew. This brew could be a pilsner or a pale ale, but when you’re storing them at cold temperatures, you are, in fact, lager-ing.
Lager yeasts aren’t very different from ale yeasts. This is mostly because of the type of yeast that will need to be used and the temperature at which they will be required to ferment. While your typical ale will go dormant at such temperatures (45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit), lager yeasts will ferment slowly.
Fermenting lager beer is also a little different because they require a little more attention to detail as compared to their ale counterparts. Firstly, yeast starters are necessary for the process and adding oxygen and additional yeast nutrients could also help determine your brewing style above and beyond your basic lager beer brew.
What You’ll Need:
- OG for 5 gallons
- BG for 3 gallons
- 5 lbs. of powdered dry rice solids
- 5 lbs. of pale DME
- 2 oz. of Tettnanger (5%)
- 1 oz. of Tettnanger (5%) for when you boil your brew
- American Lager Yeast
1. Making a Starter
Starters are supposed to consist of dry malt extract benign boiled in water and then cooled in a small fermenter or a lab flask. Your starter is more like your mini-beer that will be used to react with the yeast to get it healthy and populated enough to ferment a whole batch of beer. Typically, this mini-beer should be made a day or two before you start brewing lager.
Starters are mandatory for lagers. You see, since lagers will be fermented at lower temperatures, the yeast will not grow as fast as it does while brewing ale. For this reason, you should start out with a huge quantity of yeast to speed up the process. Of course, too much yeast could be problematic too as the yeast-specific flavors in your lager will be lost.
We will try to keep this particular step very brief because you can just repeat anything you may come across in another beer recipe to make a lager. All you need to change is the part where you add lager yeast and the time required to brew.
Go ahead and throw all the ingredients into your boiling pot and do exactly as is required by the recipe. You can choose to stick to traditional forms of lager, which include pilsners, marzens, mailbox and the likes, or you could go a little crazier and try an Indian Pale Lager or perhaps even lager a stout!
Rest assured – most beer styles can be lager-ed while marking up tremendous results.
3. First Fermentation
Days 1 through 20 will be the time when you chill your wort and your starter to the same temperatures and then pitch the lager yeast. Lagers are supposed to be fermented cold and your beverage is going to be safe around 48 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the variety of strain you are using. You can refer to your yeast manufacturer’s website for more information.
Once they have reached the same temperatures, add your whole starter into the wort and finally, seal your fermenter.
Pro Tip: Temperature Control
If commercial beers consist of secret ingredients that separate them from most of the homebrews out there, then temperature control may be it. According to several beer fermentation experts, among the greatest things a brewer can work to improve is how to manage temperature during the fermentation process.
This is not only true, but is also considered far more effective than using all-grain brewing hacks or fancy fermenters to up your game. You’ll find that temperature control is a sentiment that all professional brewers, in every corner of the world, will have in common.
In a nutshell, if you wish for your homebrew to taste like commercial beer, then you will be responsible for practicing temperature control.
4. Diacetyl Rest
During days 20 through 23, your wort will have, finally, fermented itself into a beer. Typically, lager yeasts tend to take 3 weeks to ferment sugars into alcohol and while this happens, they also create a byproduct known as Diacetyl. This substance has a very noticeable butterscotch candy-like flavor and it is produced by yeast during the initial stages of fermentation.
If left alone, the primary fermentation process will clean up this additional flavor in about 3 weeks. However, you can also choose to speed up this process by increasing the temperature to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. In doing so, this process will be completed within just 3 days (warmer temperatures equal faster yeast).
It is safe for your lager beer to be around warmer temperatures because its flavor compounds have already been created and it isn’t at a risk of allowing weird fermentation flavors to sneak in. However, we would recommend tasting your lager every day until you stop tasting butterscotch.
5. A True Lager
During days 24 through 50, you can lower the temperature for your homebrew to around the low 40s and keep it there for the following weeks. However, you need to make sure that you transition this temperature slowly and you should, ideally, allow a 1 to 2 degree temperature change per day. This will allow the yeasts to ease into a scrumptious lager and will also keep them healthy for secondary fermentation.
Once this process has been completed, you can finally transfer your handiwork into a bottle or a keg, where you can choose to condition your lager for a few more days, or not.
Our Final Thoughts
While we may have focused a lot of your attention on fermentation temperature control, another very basic difference between commercial and homebrew beers is basic sanitation. For this reason, you should never forget about sanitizing all transferring and serving vessels. This step could mean the difference between an undrinkable mess or a mouth-watering bottle of lager beer.
And with that, you have learned all the basics steps on how to brew lager beer at home. All that is left to say is, “Here’s to that long straight piece in Tetris!”