How to brew an acceptable lager?

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JamesF
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How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by JamesF » Fri Oct 16, 2020 9:00 pm

I've been brewing my own beers for more than twenty-five years and been very happy with the British styles I've made. It's rare for me to do anything other than all-grain recipes these days, fermented in an insulated fermentation cabinet, and my preference is to bottle once the main fermentation is complete as it means I can have a number of different beers to choose from at the same time and I can keep track of how much I've drunk more easily, though perhaps that's not necessarily a good thing :) As a rule the brews I make are pretty well received by friends who are fussy about their beer, so I'd probably class myself as moderately competent.

However, I have never managed to brew a lager that I've been happy with. In fact I've never managed to brew a lager I actually thought was even just "ok", to the point where I've just stopped trying. Usually they have too much of a "yeasty" flavour and/or other odd flavours that I'm not really happy about. It's probably not an unreasonable criticism to suggest that they end up tasting like something a student has hurriedly knocked up in a couple of weeks in his bedroom rather than a proper beer.

I hate giving up on anything though and I'm determined to have another crack at it this winter. So, does anyone have any hints/recommendations/recipes they'd care to share that I might give a go at to try to regain some of my lager karma? It doesn't need to be anything special. In fact something simple that's hard to get wrong might be better. To be honest if it is as good as something you can buy in a can in the supermarket then right now that's probably a massive step forward as far as I'm concerned.

Thanks,
James

killer
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Re: How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by killer » Fri Oct 16, 2020 9:53 pm

Hi James,

Good lager can be tricky enough to brew. There isn’t a huge margin for error. In a real ale or stout you can to some extent hide small errors behind darker malts, bitterness, yeast esters, or late hops. With lager you are stripping the beer back to its bare bones. The yeasts should be clean so any mistakes are quickly apparent – diacetyl, sulfury odours etc.

For me, a good lager needs a couple of things. Good water control – the pH needs to be right, and mineralisation should be where you like it - I like a bit of Chloride to push malt flavours and balance reasonable bitterness. Yeast – you need to pitch a decent amount of yeast – maybe twice as much as for an ale if you ferment at 12°C even more if you ferment at 8°C. I’ve also had better results with liquid yeasts such as WLP830 than with some dry ones. Oxidation – this can be an issue with lagers. When I switched to keg purging and transfers using CO2 I found my both my hoppy IPAs and lagers got quite a bit better. That’s not to say they were bad before – but the beers moved up a level. Finally, a decent lagering period will really clean up the beers. I’ve lagered for up to a couple of months at low temps.

One beer I’ve brewed a few times has Floor malted Pils Malt 85%. Vienna malt 15%. 30 IBUs with Perle hops, then 2g/L Saaz at flameout. I have 100 ppm Chloride and 30 ppm Sulfate in the water. Alkalinity is about 20 ppm. I’ll sometimes make it from Distilled water because we have a machine at work. Pitch a decent amount of WLP830 from a starter (or even two sachets of W34/70) at 12°C. Ferment to 60% of expected attenuation then allow the temp to rise of its own accord to 18°C for a diacetyl rest – not always necessary with a good pitch of healthy yeast. At this point I transfer to a purged corny keg and lager under a couple of psi CO2 pressure for as long as I can wait. If I bottle I tend to do it with a counter-pressure filler to eliminate as much CO2 as possible.

I’ll admit it’s a fair bit of hassle and one of the reasons I don’t brew them so much is that good lager is relatively cheap to buy in a supermarket whereas good IPAs are not !

Cillian

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Re: How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by f00b4r » Fri Oct 16, 2020 10:38 pm

Cillian, what temperatures are you lagering at?

killer
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Re: How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by killer » Sat Oct 17, 2020 9:12 am

f00b4r wrote:
Fri Oct 16, 2020 10:38 pm
Cillian, what temperatures are you lagering at?
As low as my fridge will allow me to go... which depends on the weather outside (fridge is on a small balcony). Usually between 1 and 5 degrees.

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Good Ed
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Re: How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by Good Ed » Sat Oct 17, 2020 7:31 pm

As above but also noting the importance of temperature and yeast. I follow the advice from Jamil Zainasheff - pitch big, pitch cold and ferments cool, put the lid on and forget about for 3 weeks.

I like to use WLP830 or WLP833 and like brewing Helles the best. I would use 1 vial in a 2L starter, split in 2 and save 1, and then step up the other with 2L and then this with a 4.5L starter in a demijohn (all decanted and using fresh DME wort 1:10). Using the above I would pitch at 8/9C and ferment at 10C, fermentation is usually over in 2 weeks or less. I don't do a diacetyl rest or lager, but bottle and condition in a cellar (12C ambient in the winter) and store about 8 weeks before drinking.

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Bad 'Ed
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Re: How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by Bad 'Ed » Sun Oct 18, 2020 9:07 am

The only time I brewed a lager I followed Ed's advice and it turned out pretty well. It was a helles and it was a bit more flavourful than I was after (could be recipe error) and it wasn't quite as crisp as I wanted (surely user error) but it was pretty good. I did side by side tests with Augustiner and, whilst I could tell which was mine, it wasn't too far off.
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Re: How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by McMullan » Sun Oct 18, 2020 5:33 pm

For me, lager or not, getting the beer crystal clear is key, especially in something as subtle as a lager. Yeast tastes awful to me. Lager yeasts generally don't clear as easily as some ale yeasts. I'm sure this is a factor in the extended lagering stage often recommended. Basically a filtering stage primarily. You can 'cheat' with something like gelatine. To be honest, I've only done a handful of lagers. One following the conventional procedure involving low temperatures and time and the rest fermented under pressure at 16-18℃. I stepped up starters from 10ml to 100ml, 500ml then 3L, letting each step culture for 48-72 hours. Probably had more cells per ml than a 5L starter prepped using commonly recommended online home-brew protocols, to be honest. The idea lager yeast starters must be so much bigger than ale yeast starters is based on assumptions that colder temperatures reduce reaction rates, which, although true, it completely ignores the fact that larger yeast enzymes are actually adapted to work at lower temperatures. I found fermentation times were almost comparable to ale fermentations. Just took a few days more, not weeks. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised with all of them and plan to brew more lagers.

JamesF
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Re: How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by JamesF » Sun Oct 18, 2020 5:37 pm

Thanks for all the feedback so far. Gives me plenty to think about. I don't have a suitable cooled cabinet for fermentation, so I'll probably wait until we get into winter when air temperatures are below those required and then use my fermentation cabinet as normal (but set to the lower temperature).

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Hanglow
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Re: How to brew an acceptable lager?

Post by Hanglow » Sun Oct 18, 2020 9:21 pm

Lots of good info there allready, I'll just add that my favourite lagers tend to have an fg of around 1.007/1.008, meaning an apparent attenuation of about 84% or thereabouts. So consider a step mash at appropriate temperatures for your malt to get good attenuation. I always brew ales though and tend to visit lager brewing countries to get my lager fix, although not been for a while now obviously!
Planned: Green Hop ale
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Bottled: Home grown Halletau Mittelfruh golden ale, centennial golden ale, Brown Kolsch, Strong Burton with Brett C

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