This article is intended to give you a good overview of the process of how to lager your home brewed beer. There are many detailed processes involving adjusting temperatures specific amounts for specific amounts of time, holding the temperatures there and after a specific period of time dropping the temperature additional “Steps” until another specific temperature is reached and held. For your benefit, we’re going to keep this simple.
Lagers are relatively cold fermented (45-58F) and the yeast tends to ferment on the bottom of the brew. Hence, some refer to lager yeast as “Bottom Fermenting” yeast. Lagers tend to ferment slower than ales and take longer to complete the full lagering process. Lagers have a characteristic clean aroma and a clean, crisp finish. Classic lagers range from nearly clear, with a slight golden hue to a deep amber as with Vienna Lagers (example: Sam Adams Boston Lager). Traditional Oktoberfest is a lager that is normally brewed in March and lagered until the 3rdweek of September in time for the Oktoberfest. The good news is that not all of the beers that we lager need to go through such a long lagering period. Having the facilities to lager for several months is pretty nice!
There are three steps to the lagering process.
First, you need to use a good lager yeast. Wyeast and White Labs offer a great variety to select from. Wyeast Lager yeasts are in the Wyeast 2xxx series and White Labs in the WLP8xx series. Our staff at Barley and Vine is well-versed in brewing and can point you in the right direction of you have any questions about selecting the best yeast for the type of lager you plan to brew. While we’re on the subject of yeast, you’ll need to pitch at least 2 times as much yeast as with ales. This is for lagers with a Starting Gravity (SG) around 1.050. If you plan to increase the SG, you’ll need to pitch more lager yeast or make a yeast starter. To get your lagering started, start off simple and master that level of lager before moving to more advanced lagering techniques. Begin with a 1.050 SG and use two Wyeast packs or two White Labs tubes. Click here for the Yeast Pitch Rate Calculator…
According to Wyeast, it is a good idea to pitch your yeast at a warmer temperature at first and after there is active fermentation, to lower the temperature slowly to your desired fermentation temperature. As with pitching any yeast, be sure that the yeast temperature is within 10F of the unfermented brew to prevent “shocking” the yeast. Pulling the yeast out of a 38F fridge and immediately pitching it into 75F wort will “shock” the yeast and reduce the chances of a good fermentation, if the yeast ferments at all. Yeast is a living organism that can be killed if mishandled.
- According to Wyeast Labs, it is best to pitch your yeast between 65F and 72F. Maintain temperature until fermentation is evident by CO2 bubble formation, bubbling airlock or foaming on top of wort. For high gravity or low temperature fermentations additional yeast may be required.
- Adjust to desired fermentation temperature.
Visit the manufacturer’s website for the best temperature range for the yeast you have selected.
For the Wyeast Oktoberfest Lager strain:
You can comfortably ferment with Wyeast 2633 between 48-58F.
1 – In the cooler months, that could be your garage or cellar.
2 – If you have a spare fridge, you can equip it with either a Digital Fridge Temperature Controller, or the Analog (dial) Fridge Temperature Controller. (By searching on “Thermostat” I found these items on two different sections of our web site. Please ensure they are both together on both of the two places)
3 – Another handy option is the “Cool-Brewing Fermentation Cooler” Your 5-6 gallon fermenter fits nicely into this handy and economical item, where it is insulated from the outside temperatures. By placing 3-4 frozen 2 Liter bottles in along with your fermenter, the temperature stays where you want it and stays there.
If you want to ease into lagering, you can brew one of the styles listed below using the Kolsch Yeast #2565 at room temperature and when your brew has fermented and been bottled, simply place several bottles in the back of the fridge for a few weeks. As a test, after 2-3 weeks, take out one from the fridge and one that remained at room temperature and compare the two. You’ll be impressed at the difference!
As with anything new that you venture into, remember to “Relax, Don’t Worry, and Have a Home Brew!” Will it be perfect the very first time? I most certainly hope it will! But if your technique or equipment needs a little more attention, you can rest assured that by practice, you WILL Master the Art of Lagering. And remember, your friends at Barley and Vine want you to enjoy your brewing adventures and to be super successful in your brewing endeavors.
In case of doubt, give us a call at 707-507-5998. Better yet! When it comes out AWESOME! Bring a bottle for a little Show ‘n Tell!