Easiest Guide On How To Lager Homebrew

Spring is in full swing and you might want something other than an ale to drink, maybe a lager?  If you have had your doubts on your abilities to make a lager this is the guide you want to read. It’s time to make a lager and get your line wet.

(Fishing + Beer = Good Time)

I wanted to come up with a comprehensive yet an easy guide on how to lager your own beer – this is the product.  I will be  completely honest with you though, I make way more ales than I do to lagers in the year. The ones that I do make turn out damn good though.  However I do have friends and know some homebrewers that make lagers and that’s all they make. They would be able to run in circles around me when it comes to making lagers in consideration to the knowledge and skills they have.  With that said, I will do my best to explain the world of lagering.

My hopes are that at by the end of this post you will have the competence as well as the confidence to come up with some really amazing lagers that will surely impress your friends, and you will once again hear them say, “YOU MADE THIS?!”

(I HAVE NEVER TASTED ANYTHING THIS GOOD!) 

Quick 101

For those that are just getting into homebrewing, there is a difference between lagers and ales.  Lagers are bottom fermenting that ferment in cooler temps while ales ferment at room temp.  Ales tend to be fruitier and lagers tend to be more crisp in flavor.

Most likely you’ll hear that lagers are harder but they really aren’t, I wouldn’t typically recommend someone who is just getting into homebrewing though.  The only reason is that there is a process to the fermenting that is a bit more engaging.

There are a few reasons also that I might not recommend lagers for beginners and 3 off the top of my head are this: 1) You need temp control 2) Can’t judge them as well with the air lock 3) Take longer then an ale.

With all that said, if you want to do lagers – this is the last post that you will need to read on how to do them.  We’ll go step by step then break it down a bit more so you can really understand what is going on.

Lets Get Started:

To be able to do a lager you need cold storage.  When you are doing a cold storage for your beer you are lagering. Lager yeast does ferment differently than ale yeast does.  When ales ferment at low temps they normally lag out but when you use lager yeast they just keep fermenting at a low temp.  Also the cold temperatures will make the yeast settle at the bottom of your fermenter which is why it is referenced to as bottom fermenting.

(So Cold…)

The Steps For Lagering Look Like This

1) Make your yeast starter (or not).

2) Pitch your yeast at 65 degrees, when you see the first signs of fermentation bring down your ferementation to 45 degrees.

3) Typically about 10-14 days after lagering, you will bring back your fermentation temperature to 62-65 degrees. This is called a Diacetyl rest.  I’ll have more on this.  You will keep your fermentation here for 2-3 days.

4) Rack your beer into a secondary fermenter, and start bringing down your fermentation 5 degrees a day until it gets to 45 degrees.  Lager for about 6 weeks. Start your, “I’m Lagering Calender” once you have brought it down to 45 degrees.  I suggest continuing to bring down your temperature all the way down to 35 degrees if you can, continue with the 5 degrees a day lowering.

* In some recipes you will see that they will tell you to ferment your lager at 50 degrees for a period of time.  The only problem I have found with this is that sometimes it is hazy and also you will get some non lager flavors out of it.  If you do the method that is described above it should help you out a bit getting a crisp and clear lager.

More On Step 1

So the reason why people will tell you that need to make a starter for a lager is, the yeast is going to be working extra hard and you want to do what you can to ensure that the beer ferments.  If you have ever come into the shop and you ask me anything about what I do for starters I usually will tell you one thing, “I don’t make starters.”.  I don’t have a big reason why I don’t other than laziness and yep, laziness that’s all.

So do my lagers turn out fine without a starter?  Yea, they are fine.   I can understand why in theory you would make them but I just don’t and my beers have yet to suffer from them.  Moving on though.

More On Step 2

One thing that you want to take into consideration is that you want your yeast to be at the same temp as your wort when you are pitching, or pretty close to the same temp (try for less than 10 degrees difference).  If you don’t do that, your yeast will go into shock essentially and lag out.  There isn’t too much more to elaborate on that other than just be considerate of the temp that you are pitching, you don’t want frozen yeast and don’t want crazy warm yeast.

Once you start to see your fermentation pick up, start dropping down the temp to 45-50 degrees (or what the yeast strand prefers).  You are lagering now.  You don’t want to do it to fast or again the yeast will freak out and you might get into some problems.  Leave it at this temp for 2 weeks.

(Crisp And Clear)

More On Step 3

After 2 weeks you are going to raise the temp up (62ish).  This is called a diacetyl rest.  Typically you end up doing this when the fermentation is about 75% done, which for me has been around 10-14 days.  The way to check is take a gravity reading or just take my word for it, 10-14 days.

You you end up raising the temp up this is called a Diacetyl Rest.  What you are doing is you allowing the yeast to produce more CO2 to blow off any off flavors/smells and it will take out a notorious buttery flavor that homemade lagers tend to pick up.  You only keep it at this temp for 2-3 days.   I view this as a critical point because after my 2-3 days I will transfer my beer into a carboy for the next stage of fermentation.  The next step we are going to really start lagering the beer like crazy.

More On Step 4

Rack your beer into a secondary and it is time to start lagering your beer again.  Start bringing it down 5 degrees a day until you hit 45 and then lager it for 6 weeks.  If you can, try to get the lagering down to 35 degrees. With the last 3 days lower it to 33 degrees and it will clear up the beer. Then you are done.

Is Bottling A Lager Different?

Most of the time there is no difference between bottling a lager and an ale. The only time that I would really suggest that you might want to go about it differently is when beer has been lagering for more than 2.5 months.

Sometimes when it has been lagering for that long it’s hard to get any carbonation out of it in the bottles.  But that may be my own personal experience.  The way around that one is that you end up adding some slurry (1/4 cup)  to the bottling bucket and helps.  I must admit I usually just bottle as if it were an ale and I don’t have any issues.

I typically will condition my bottles at the same temp that I did my primary fermentation at for about 14-21 days.  I’ll raise them temp on them to that 62 degree range for about 2-3 days and then end up lowering the temp down to  33-35 degrees for a few weeks as well.  The reason I do this is because, the fermentation that occurs in the bottles with the corn sugar will end up leaving a hint of Diacetyl flavor again.  So I end up doing a rest then lager it again.   It produces a pretty clear/crisp lager.

Doing that insures a pretty crisp beer.  I don’t think you have to do that but it a habit that I have formed.

Conclusion:

Like I said, it’s not hard, just time-consuming.  Homemade lagers are a different animal but one that you should not be scared of – especially if you like lagers.  If you start doing lagers, I might advise doing an Amber at first because the lighter you go the more delicate they become. But if you follow the directions above, it shouldn’t matter too much, you should be able to come up with a pretty good lager no matter what.

If you primarily do lagers and have some tips, please leave it in the section below.  I know that it would be much appreciated by home brewers that are just starting to look at the world of lagers.  We have a post on some basic lager recipes as well.

 

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27 Replies to “Easiest Guide On How To Lager Homebrew”

  1. Once the beer is in the bottles and completely done lagering, do you have to keep the beer at lager temps forever? Or can you cellar the batch until it’s time to drink it?

  2. Hi Derek!

    OK… I started my first attempt at lagering with the ingredients that you sold me today (4/14)… I’m not yet set up for all grain brewing so I used DME in the boil.

    Everyting went according to plan… I boiled a 2 1/1 gal batch and then added cool water after bringing it down to about 80° to bring it up to 5 gals. This also has the added benefit of oxygenating the wort.

    I kep the yeast in my pocket prior to pitching it… I pitched it and gave the whole thing a stir and seals the bucket and applied the 3-piece air-lock.

    OK… So now I’m going to leave it out until I see the first bubbles to indicate that fermentation has begun and then I’ve got a fridge set at 52° standing by.

    I will probably keg the results and use a Blickmann Beer Gun to bottle it but reading your description of the bottling process and the possible problems getting the lager to carbonate I’m stuck on the term “slurry.”

    “The way around that one is that you end up adding some slurry (1/4 cup) to the bottling bucket and helps.”

    Forgive the dumb questions but… WASSAT?

  3. Slurry just refers to a product from a yeast starter. The idea behind using a more yeast when you bottle is that you have “fresh” yeast to help with natural carbonation. Most people don’t need to use it though unless you end up lagering for about 2 months.

    Beer gun though would solve any potential problems that you could have and if you keg it you will have zero problems.

  4. Hahaha, no worries! I also just talked to someone at the end of the day that said that they had the same problem with their IPA and let it settle down and they were impressed with the beers flavor change – so you should be in good positioning for that.

  5. First Lager….The hardest part of understanding how to brew a lager in the diacytle rest, and when to do it. In the past my initial gravity readings have been off from what the recommended reading is supposed to be on other styles. So, with that being said, what do you recommend? I was told, once it reaches 1.020 or so but if that is not the case I want to know what to do just in case. I know you said 10-14 days, but I want to get it right.

  6. If you add lager yeast to a Pilsner. Can you just let it ferment outside. Do you have to move it between 2 and 3 different fermenters. Can you let it ferment out the Regular Ale.

  7. Hello Jack, Thank you for your inquiry. You could let it ferment outside but lager yeast is very temperamental when it comes to temperature. This is why you move it between fermentors. The move between fermentors gives you the opportunity to check the temperature of your brew. Also lager yeast does ferment differently than ale yeast does. When ales ferment at low temps they normally lag out but when you use lager yeast they just keep fermenting at a low temp. This aspect is very important if you want your batch to be properly fermented.

  8. Hello Ryan, Thank you for your comment. We have found that with a lager the yeast will almost tell you when they’re done. That being said taste the beer and see if it has diacetyl. Even warm a sample as that will bring the diacetyl out. If you detect it, do a D-rest. Also if you find that your readings are off let your primary continue for another week and you should approach your final gravity reading.

  9. I have a California Common that lagered for 4 weeks at 34. I then moved it to the keg and have it on gas now. I was planning on leaving it in the fridge carbbing for an extended period of time (another 2 to 3 weeks). Did I rush it out of the secondary too fast? or does the time in the keg on gas allow the beer to lager further? Thanks for the great article.

  10. Hi Scott, at this point I should probably just ask you how your beer turned out.

    I think you’re probably fine. If there was an off flavor or something then maybe there is some additional troubleshooting that we could explore. At the end of the day you are the ultimate judge.

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