It’s hit 90 degrees and it is going to be a long road to get to the cooler temperatures of the fall. Right now, homebrewers across the south are battening down the brewery hatches and getting their summer beers ready for consumption which brings me to our topic for today, lagers! Many new homebrewers often come into my shop and are chopping at the bit to get a brew going. When I ask them what they want to brew for their first beer, I would bet more than half say they want to brew a lager since that is what they are most used to drinking or maybe would be the most pleasing to their friends and family. But this is where I have to be the bearer of bad news and inform these eager souls that lager beers can be some of the most difficult beers in the world to brew for several reasons.
Why are they so difficult?
The brewing process for them is much the same as any ale would be but it’s in the fermentation that things start to differ greatly.
First off, lager beers are cold fermented. This means they have a fermentation temperature range of anywhere from 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it difficult to pull off at home without the proper equipment to maintain that temperature. A regular fridge is much to cold but just letting it sit at room temperature is much too warm. Yeast can vary in flavor profile immensely depending on temperature, so it is paramount to keep the fermentation in the right range for a particular yeast.
The second reason lagers can be difficult to brew lies in the fact that there isn’t much by way of flavor to cover up any flaws in the finished beer. With ales – think amber ales and IPAs – there are tons of other flavors from malty sweet to hoppy and bitter that can help mask flaws that pop up during the brewing process. The most common flaws that show themselves in lagers are two chemical compounds called diacetyl and acetaldehyde. Think notes of buttered popcorn and green apple, respectively. While not pungent flavors in general they do not taste very good in beer and must be cleaned up.
All this talk of cleaning makes me thirsty. I’ll see ya around the neighborhood watering holes or in the shop if you’d like to chat more about beer. Cheers!