Monday, February 15, 2010

My first lager

Here I am well into my second year of brewing and I have not yet done a lager. Yes, my Rocktoberfest claims to be a dunkle, but it is really a dunkle-style ale. I fermented with ale yeast at ale temperatures. It is an ale. This is a shame that I have been living with a long time.

Today, though, I mixed up my Brother Bear Dopplebock and pitched Fermentis Saflager S23 yeast. Mostly, I am relying on the Mr. Beer Linebacker Doppel Bock w/Creamy Brown refill, but I did add some more fermentable sugars to help push its ABV up to style. And, since I added a decent number of sugars, I also added some Hallertauer hops to help add a bit of balance to my beer. The beer is on the low side of ABV according to the style guidelines and a bit on the high side for bitterness, but the hoppiness is still so low, I do not think this is something I would ever notice. I have tried very few dopplebocks in my life, but I do think I'll like the smooth, malty, clean beer (assuming I ferment it ok, it should be clean) with a decent alcohol kick without the alcohol taste (again, making the assumption that I ferment it properly).

Which brings me to my main concern: I'm not 100% sure I can ferment a proper lager with my setup. In case you do not know, there are 2 main categories of beers, ales and lagers. Ales are fermented with ale yeast which ferments from the top of the wort to the bottom. Thus, they are called "top-fermenting" yeasts. Relatively speaking, ale yeasts ferment at warmer temperatures than lager yeasts. Lager yeasts, on the other hand are known as bottom-fermenting yeasts because (are you ready for this?) they ferment from the bottom of the wort to the top. I'm not sure why lager yeasts like to ferment differently than ales yeasts do. When I ask, they tell me to shut up ... they are eating. The ale yeasts don't want to tell me either. It must be a secret. I guess, as long as they eat the sugars and excrete their alcohol, I do not really care.

Anyway, lager yeasts like lower temperatures to do their fermentation. If you ferment too hot, they produce "off" flavors, which on a lager really do not belong. Because they ferment at lower temperatures, they ferment slower. The yeast I got (Fermentis Saflager S23 yeast) says (this happens to be information that the yeasties are willing to share with me) that it works fine up to 75 degrees, but suggests 50 to 59 degrees F. My experience with ale yeasts tells me that I usually prefer how the final beer tastes if I keep the temperature on the lower end of the ideal temperature range during the main hot-and-heavy reproduction and eating phase. So, I believe that the closer I keep my lager yeasts to fermentation at 50, the happier I'll be with the final product.

I have enough experience with ale yeast to know I just need to control temperatures for a few days. I do not have the experience with lager yeasts, but I am told I need to keep the temperature controlled longer due to the slower nature of the lager yeasts. My temperature control is pretty manual. I use frozen ice bottles in a cooler, changing them out when I see the ambient temperature raising. The volume of liquid helps maintain a pretty consistent temperature even if my ambient temperature swings somewhat. Now, I am pretty sure I would be able to keep the cooler cold enough using the same method, however, I am going to be at my wife's sister's wedding during part of the most critical part of fermentation. Bad planning on my part, I know.

Well, no point worrying about it. I'm sure I will like the beer that comes out even if it is not truly a great example of a lager. If nothing else, I am collecting valuable data for future brews.

The video is of my boil through the hot-break. I am stirring like crazy to prevent an overflow. It worked, but it did get pretty close. Think I probably need a bigger brew pot.


  1. You could hire a neighbor kid to come in and take care of your yeast-y pets...or you could turn your furnace down to 50 while you're gone. Or, would the fermenter fit in your beer fridge? You could probably make that be 50 degrees.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions.

    I do not trust neighbors with anything as important as keeping the yeasties happy.

    My beer fridge does not have tight enough controls on it. Plus, it is full of drinkable beers.

    Turning down the furnace is what I was considering ... but if I do that, the ale yeasties in my quarter life crisis will not really be happy with me. I still might do that, because the ale yeasties are most likely done with most of what they are doing anyway. Or... I may use a space heater to warm up the room that my ale is in.

    Or, the other thing is to trust that the cooler will remain mostly stable during that time. The critical time period to make sure yeasties are not adding "off flavors" is the first few days, and I should be past that ultra-critical period by the time we leave. As long as the temperature doesn't crazily jump .... just steadily rises slowly ... the beer should be fine. Plus, I am an ale drinker by nature, so if some of the esters make it into my lager, I probably won't care that much.