Three-week Lager...Don't be intimidated

Discussion in 'General Brewing Discussions' started by J A, Feb 1, 2020.

  1. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

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    I thought I'd offer up some encouragement to less experienced brewers who are mystified by the "lager" brewing process. For all the hype and legend surrounding lager beers at the homebrew level, it just isn't as difficult as a lot of folks make it out to be. I will add a caveat that it's easier for small faults to jump out during tasting when a beer has few elements to cover up any off flavors in the profile but reasonable care and attention paid to details of mashing and sanitation can yield a very, very good traditional lager-style beer in short order.

    I brewed a 10 gallon batch to be split into two fermenters to use as yeast incubators for big batches of lager I need to do later in the month. I timed it so that the "starter" beer would be available for a party 3 weeks from brew day. I used my typical starter batch recipe: 2-row, a pound of Wheat malt, enough Acidulated malt to achieve proper PH, Mittelfruh hops at 60 and 15 for IBUs of less than 20 in a 1.045 beer. Mashing was 148 for 45 minutes and 158 for 15 before mash-out. Yeast was Fermentis, one re-hydrated packet in each carboy, one S-23 and one 34/70. I don't remember my boil time on this one but I wasn't concerned with doing a 90 based on the malt. I did a sparge that was quicker than my usual and preferred slow-sparge and efficiency suffered a little as a result.

    I cooled to low 60s for pitch. I'd been counting on relatively cool weather because I knew I'd have to let the carboys sit in the garage with no temp control. As it turned out, the first night and next day stayed in the low 60's or lower so I didn't worry too much when the temp jumped quite a bit a couple of days into the process. Bottom line is that temps were up and down much more than is preferred and stipulated for lager yeasts to behave themselves but all that really mattered was yeast production with a side benefit of a couple of passable kegs for a party.

    At one week, krausen was gone and yeast dropping. I took a gravity just to confirm that it didn't stall for some reason. All was well at 1.008. At 2 weeks I kegged the beer and put the yeast slurry in jars to hold a few days before I could start another batch to build the yeast once more stage. A day or so after kegging, I added Bio Fine to each keg and let it sit for another week or so.

    On day 19, I cleared a pint of sediment and poured a nice clear glass of clean, malty lager. Any brewer would be quite proud to serve this beer to guests. It didn't require any angst or drama, no obsessing over minutia, no months of storage at freezing temperatures. I will say that the 2-row I use is particularly good for this, being a Czech malt that's very rich and Pilsner-like with a crackery, grainy finish. And, yes, these lager yeast strains tend to be very forgiving when it comes to temperature range. Still, I'll happily put it up against any number of "craft" lagers that I've had on tap and in cans locally and in various parts of the country.

    Moral of the story: Brew on, lager lovers! Brew on!!! :D:D
    Don't let them tell you that you have to have exact temperature control or a stir plate before you can venture into lager-style beers. Use a nice malt and a simple recipe. Don't obsess over yeast count with a low-gravity beer fermented at the high end of the range. Keep everything squeaky clean. Keg 'em if you got 'em.
    Enjoy!! :)
     
  2. Bubba Wade

    Bubba Wade Well-Known Member

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    I had a batch where I got sick during the brewing process. I managed to finish and get the temperature control set to 65 degrees. I retreated to bed and asked my wife to pitch the yeast when the temperature got down to 75. I asked her to use the Bavarian ale yeast. She went to the storage fridge and grabbed the Bavarian LAGER yeast.

    Long story short, the beer turned out fine with the wrong yeast and the wrong temperature. Brewing is sometimes more forgiving than we make it out to be.
     
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  3. Trialben

    Trialben Well-Known Member

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    Great write up JA.
    I see you used S-23 And 34/70 in your two beers which of then two did you prefer or what was the differences you noticed between the two if any?

    I've had a run of beers of late all consecutive pitches of S-23 first time using this yeast and to me the beers come across a clean and finish pretty dry compared to 34/70.

    I've made some bloody lovely beer with it but am going to try some S-189 swiss lager yeast for a change new to me two.

    Cheers
     
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  4. Bulin's Milker Bucket Brews

    Bulin's Milker Bucket Brews Well-Known Member

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    Kegged 2 Czech lagers today after 31 and 28 days in the primaries respectively. Got almost 83% attenuation on the first batch, 78% on the second...got too bad for just pouring a little wort into the empty starter bottle and letting it work for 3 days.

    That's a lot of work out of 1 pack of Diamond Lager yeast, I'm going to decant the yeast from the stainless fermeneter tonight for future use.
     
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  5. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

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    The S-23 is clean but just slightly more "fruity" when used at higher temps. The 34/70 is a little more malt-forward, it seems. I get a more "generic" beer from the S-23 and a little more traditional German-lager flavor from the 34-70. Both are good, though. I'm right there with you on the S-189. I've got several packets waiting once I get done with a big brew for an upcoming wedding. I'm using yeast that I've very familiar with to pull off the wedding beer because I know what I can expect. I'm excited to try the S-189 but I don't want to use it when the stakes are high, being unfamiliar with it's potential strengths or quirks. I hope to put up a batch or two with it before the weather gets too hot around here.
     
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  6. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

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  7. Trialben

    Trialben Well-Known Member

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    • Z
    One thing I did forget to mention with S-23 I've noticed some sulphur early on in the kegged beer. I fermented all warm @18c. But all were in closed fermentation under pressure.
    So could be my new fermentation method I guess I'll find out with this current batch of S-189 which has yet to kick off fermentation currently +24hours.
     
  8. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

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    Every lager I've done has needed purging several times early in kegging. I haven't found one yeast to be better than the other in that regard. I canned up some of the S-23 to take to a party and while it's nice and clean, it still has a little sulfur note in the nose. Nothing overpowering or off-putting but noticeable when you're looking for it. It'll benefit from a little more time in the keg and a few more purges periodically.
     
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  9. HighVoltageMan!

    HighVoltageMan! Well-Known Member

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    I guess I'm almost opposite of you, JA, and that's totally fine. In brewing, what works for some doesn't always fit everybody.

    I worry about my pitch rates, they are massive. I watch the mash and boil pH like a hawk. I pitch cold, 44F. I ferment 46-48F under 7 PSI of pressure to avoid esters and I'm in the glass in @3-1/2 to 4 weeks. I did a German Pils like this recently and it was absolutely fantastic. I won a silver in a big competition and one comment from a judge was "Wow!".

    My point is to start somewhere and your advice is solid, in fact that's exactly how I got into lagers. If you want, you can always go further (or go a little nuts like me). If not, you will still get a great beer.

    Brew on!
     
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  10. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

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    You may have missed the point of my post.
    The batch described was the first stage of a yeast build for a much bigger batch. The main batch will be handled in much the way you describe: massive cell count; specific pitch temp; very well controlled temperature throughout fermentation; many weeks of lagering at very low temp. That's how experienced brewers with proper equipment handle lagers.
    The fact that the much more casually handled beer can turn out not just acceptable but really quite good is reason for less experienced brewers to take heart. The trepidation about brewing lagers comes from thinking that the process you describe is the only way it should be done. If I can brew a starter batch using lowest common denominator methodology and come up with a beer that I know would hold up to BJCP judging, others should feel confident enough to tackle the process.
     
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  11. HighVoltageMan!

    HighVoltageMan! Well-Known Member

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    I didn't mean that at all, lagers can be brewed many different ways. I think my way is on the extreme end of lager brewing, but it's a challenge to me and it's something I enjoy. I don't necessary want anyone to believe this is the only way it can be done.

    My apologies for the misunderstanding.
     
  12. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

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    No apologies necessary. All in the good spirit of the discussion. :)
     
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