Lagers: crisp, clean, refined. The perfect balance of malt and hop. By definition, a lager is a beer made with bottom-fermenting yeast that prefer to work at a cooler, slower pace. Think: Pilsner, Oktoberfest, the coveted Bocks brewed by German monks for centuries. Mmmm.
Of course, most homebrewers begin with ales. Ales are safety nets for the new brewer: they mask off-flavors better than lagers, and don't require lagering's scrupulous temperature control.
Unfortunately, this norm creates the myth that only expert brewers can lager. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone can lager. As long as you follow a few basic principles, you'll be good to go.
Read on for our guidelines to lagering.
Speaking of which...
Your yeast has a big job ahead. Give it the support it needs.
If your packaged yeast doesn't have sufficient cell count to lager, you'll need a starter. Think of a starter as protein powder for your yeast; it feeds the cells, letting them multiply & bulk up until they can better handle the sugar in your wort. The more cells at work, the more sugar they can ferment.
In terms of quantities, follow this general rule: take the amount you use for an ale and double it. Read more about yeast starters here.
The good news? Making a yeast starter is now easier than ever. As easy as popping a tab and pouring, in fact. Click here to get Fast Pitch®, our groundbreaking starter-in-a-can.
Chilling your wort is always important. But because lager yeast is so temperature-sensitive, it's absolutely imperative here. Your brew must be at or below 60ºF (15ºC) before you pitch your yeast starter. No fudging.
Then, locate your temp-stable chamber and start the 3 stages of fermentation.
Unlike ales, lagers ferment in 3 steps: Primary Fermentation, Diacetyl Rest, and Lagering (cold storage). Let's walk through them one at a time.
Where sugar becomes CO2 and alcohol. We recommend pitching your yeast at a low temperature, which slows down fermentation but eliminates time spent in diacetyl rest. Your final brew is sure to be clean & clear.
The stage where yeast mops itself up. During Primary Fermentation, the yeast works its ass off, and, as one does, it gets a little sweaty along the way. This sweat takes the form of (among other off-flavors) diacetyl, which produces a buttery/butterscotch flavor. Sounds yummy in theory, but ultimately fights the lager's crisp, clean bill.
During Diacetyl Rest (also known as maturation), the yeast breaks down these off-flavors, ensuring a more pure flavor. Think of it as spring cleaning in your beer.
During this stage, the proteins and polyphenols in your brew collect on the bottom of the fermentor. In terms of temperature, this is the most important step. Your beer should never get hotter than 40ºF, but ideally it stays even colder. Commercial breweries tend to lager at just above freezing (32ºF, 0ºC).
Sad, but true. Because lager fermentation has more stages than ale fermentation, the time frame expands. Ain't nothin' you can do. The good news?
It's worth it.
Check out our brand-new Danube Driftin' Vienna Lager beer recipe kit. It's a rare lager kit release that includes all the ingredients you need to brew with cold-lovin' yeast for the first time.