It is interesting how most brewers follow the same progression, they start out brewing malt extract kits, then typically move to partial mash before transitioning to making all grain ale’s and then for the overly ambitious brewer they decide they want to learn how to lager beer.
If you are part of the latter group this post is designed to simplify the process for you; to include providing you with all of the steps involved in making a lager (there are actually not many) and also a lager recipe you can use to brew up your own.
Table of Contents
You Could Just Cheat
Before we get into the steps of making a lager it is important to understand that it is very possible to make an ale that most people would never be able to tell was not a lager.
If you do not have the patience required to wait the time it takes to brew a lager and you do not have the equipment or cold space available to actually lager your beer then brewing an ale designed to look, smell and taste like a lager is perhaps the route you should take.
Simply use a Kolsch or even a Cream Ale Recipe. Be sure to implement strategies to clear your beer such as using whirlfloc and gelatin. Use a highly attenuative ale yeast such as US-05 and be sure to ferment it at the lower end of it’s range. When fermentation is done, cold crash your beer for 2-3 days. And once you have kegged or bottle put it back in your refrigerator and let it cold condition aka lager even longer.
Very few people will be able to tell that your beer is not a lager.
Alright so that is the cheating method, and this being Make Beer Easy I do tend to prefer that method but if you still want to try your hand at lagering (and I do recommend you do as it is a fun part of this hobby) read on…
As you are about to learn, making a lager is not that much different than making an ale. The additional steps, although necessary, are not that difficult. The big difference is the time involved that it takes to go from grain to glass which is at a very minimum 7 – 8 weeks.
Step 1: Make a Yeast Starter
If you are going to use liquid yeast this is a step you should strongly consider doing. If not then you need to pitch more yeast then you would with an Ale. When brewing an ale you can easily pitch 1 packet of yeast into the chilled wort and all will be well. Not the case with a lager.
Lagers are fermented at much colder temperatures which results in the yeast not reproducing as quickly which means that fermentation starts slower. If it starts out to slow you run the risk of your beer becoming infected.
Note: If you are using dry yeast then simply pitch two of the 11.5 gram packets and move onto step 2.
A yeast starter allows the yeast cells to multiply quickly; the more yeast cells working away at eating the sugar makes for a much healthier fermentation.
Making a yeast starter is easy. Basically you are just making a very simple small beer using dry malt extract or DME. Heat up your water to 170 degrees, add your DME, stir until dissolved and bring slowly to a boil. Boil the wort for 10 minutes. Once the boil is completed, chill the wort down to under 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Transfer the wort into a sanitized container such as a canning jar or even a growler will work. Pitch your yeast and let it ferment for 24 – 72 hours. When you are ready to pitch your yeast starter simply give it a good swirl and dump it into your fermenter.
Here is a more detailed overview of how to make a yeast starter.
Step 2: Brew Your Wort
This is the easy step, no different than any other beer you have made. Brew your lager the exact same way. Just pick a recipe and brew it up. As for a recipe the truth is you can use any recipe you want, yes even an ale recipe. What makes a lager a lager is during the fermentation phase. You could take your favorite APA, IPA, Stout or Amber recipe and turn them into lagers.
If you want a traditional style lager than your choices would be marzens (oktoberfest), pilsners or maibocks, doppelbocks and Vienna style lagers. The recipe in this post is for a Pilsner.
Step 3: Primary Fermentation Stage
When the boil is over it is time to get the wort chilled down to the correct temperature to be able to pitch your yeast or yeast starter. You want to get it down under 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be a bit tricky with just using tap water, if you can’t get it there with tap water alone then you might have to move back to the old fashion ice bath where you place your kettle into a bucket of ice, of course that is not possible with a system like the all-in-one brewing systems due to it’s electrical components.
Another option is to reverse engineer your immersion chiller system. Instead of pumping cold water through it, get a large rubbermaid container and fill it with ice water, immerse your wort chiller in it and now pump your wort through the chiller and back to your kettle.
Your last resort option is to always put the wort in a refrigerator to get it down to the correct temperature, if you use this option cover it with saran wrap in order to keep the nasties out.
Once you have chilled the wort it is time to transfer it to your fermenter and pitch the yeast or starter (trub and all) directly into it. Leave it at room temperature until you start to see some fermentation action. Once you see some activity it is time to move the fermenter to a cool area in your home. Lagers require that you ferment them between 48 – 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Figuring out a space in your home that will maintain these lower temperatures can be where things get tricky and you are going to have to figure this out. Perhaps your basement or garage will work at different times of the year or build a fermentation chamber from a fridge or a freezer that has a temperature control unit such as an inkbird. Do a little google search on this and you will find all kinds of options available to you.
Leave your beer to ferment in this environment for approximately 3 weeks. Make sure all visible fermentation activity is done before moving to step 4.
Step 4: Maturation/Diacetyl Rest
At the end of the 3 weeks you now have made beer. Along with making beer you have also created some off flavors of butterscotch candy. These flavors are as a result of a compound called Diacetyl being created by the yeast. You do not want these flavors in your finished product. The good news is that not only does the yeast create these flavors it will also get rid of them if you allow them time to.
In order to give the yeast the perfect environment to clean up these off flavors raise the temperature of the beer to between 60 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 – 48 hours.
Step 4: Lagering Stage
The Lagering stage is very much like the cold crashing stage when making an ale; except it is much longer (3-4 weeks).
After your Diacetyl rest is completed you want to start dropping your temperatures down to the mid to high 30 degrees Fahrenheit range (between 35 – 40 Fahrenheit is typical). Some people suggest slowly lowering your temperature down to this range (1 – 3 degrees per day); however, that can be hard to do depending on your setup. If you do not have the ability to slowly lower it, don’t sweat it, just do what you can, and it will work out fine.
Some people will rack the beer to a secondary fermenter for the lagering stage, that is a personal choice and completely up to you as well.
Leave your beer at these temperatures for 3 – 4 weeks. Lagering allows for all of the solids to fall out of suspension, it makes for a very clear, crisp, and clean beer.
Step 5: Bottle or Keg
At this stage, you are almost there, depending on how you package your lager you could be taste testing it within 2 days if you keg – 2 weeks if you bottle. You keg and bottle the same way you would any other beer you have made
One side note is that if you are going to bottle your lager I would recommend that you add some new yeast to the bottling bucket along with the sugar. This is because all of the yeast you originally added would be dead and gone.
Add a quarter to half a packet of dry yeast. It can be any yeast, ale yeast will work fine at this point. All of the flavors have been produced and this yeast will have no effect on flavor, it’s purpose is to eat the sugars you add and create the C02 for carbonation.
The following is a very simple lager recipe called “Lager Me Up Baby”. This recipe actually uses dry yeast. However, you can use any lager yeast you like.
For dry yeast, you will need 20 grams, which is two packets of the 11.5-gram size. If you are directly pitching liquid yeast with no starter you need four packages. If you are using a starter 1 package of liquid yeast will work.
Batch Size: 6 Gallons
Pre Boil Size: 6.5 Gallons
Fermenter Volume: 6.25 Gallons
Target OG: 1.047
Target FG: 1.008
- 11 lbs German Pilsner Malt
- 1.5 oz Saaz (90 mins)
- 1.5 oz Saaz (20 mins)
- 1 oz Saaz (5 mins)
- 1 oz Saaz (o mins – flame out)
- Fermentis – Saflager – German Lager Yeast S – 23 (two 11.5 gram packs)
- Mash for 60 minutes at 154 degrees Fahrenheit
- Sparge slowly with 170 degrees Fahrenheit water bringing the water level in your kettle up to the pre-boil mark.
- Vorlauf or collect the first runnings from the spigot and pour them slowly back over the grain bed. Do so until the wort is coming out clear.
- Bring wort to a boil.
- Add hop additions as called for above under the Hops section.
- Add 1 whirlfloc tablet at the 20-minute mark.
- When the boil is completed, chill your wort to down under 60 degrees Fahrenheit as previously described in Step 3.
- Transfer to your sanitized fermenter and pitch your yeast.
- Proceed with the fermentation, diacetyl, and lagering steps as described in steps 3 – 5.
- Package your lager (keg or bottle).
Ingredients & Equipment
If you need ingredients or equipment to make this lager beer please consider ordering from our recommended online vendors, the 5 vendors I recommended are listed here: Homebrewing supplies online
For the brewing setup, I brew on the all-in-one systems. I own two of them and they are the best way to brew at home by far. Equipment cost is less expensive, the process is much easier, it takes up less space in your home, clean-up is a breeze and the beer turns out top-notch.
You can learn about the all-in-one systems here.
There you have it my friend you now know how to lager beer. Give the recipe a try and let me know below how you made ut or if you have any questions.
P.S. Be sure to get your free copy of my top 5 recipes I brewed at my brewpub. Sign-up is on the side of the blog or the bottom if you are on a smartphone/device! Enjoy!