In the season of presidential birthdays and over-the-top displays of love, it’s time to get some lagers brewing for a potentially long, hot summer. Whether or not you accept global warming, it’s a fact that Oregon summers have been getting hotter and hotter. During these scorching summer months, the usual double IPAs and imperial stouts just don’t quench the thirst as well as a nice, crisp, clean lager.
You might say there’s a reason macro breweries remain powerful: light lagers are intimidating to brew and have earned an unfortunately bad rap in the craft beer culture. But the term “craft beer” means all beer, not just the super specialty black imperial session red IPAs. Light American lagers are just as easy to brew as every other style, they just require a little special attention during the process.
The Raw Ingredients
According to the style guidelines of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), light American lager and American lager are supposed to be simple grain bills of two-row and an adjunct grain such as rice or corn. Two-row can mean pale malt but when making a lager, color counts — using an American pilsner malt would be more suitable. The adjunct grain gives these beers their characteristic light body and touch of sweetness.
Brewing an American lager with extract is absolutely possible. Instead of trying to steep quantities of rice and corn in your water, you can use a small amount of corn for some flavor, adding a small portion of rice syrup with your malt extract to achieve a similar flavor profile. The lager yeast will help to give the beer the crisp, refreshing snap that a good clean lager should have. This beer has very little in the way of hops so just a light amount at the bittering addition will be plenty to cut through and balance the sweetness from the adjuncts. Other than water that’s it — no other ingredients needed. In order to get the beer to come out tasting nice, clean and refreshing, a couple of steps should be taken during the brewing and fermenting process.
The mashing and boiling processes are exactly same as every other brew you have done, except for one small detail: this style of beer has few dominant elements going on so any off-flavor will be very noticeable. Pilsner malt has a higher instance of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) creation. This unpleasant creamed corn aroma and flavor can be combated very easily. In some cases, the other reason beer is boiled for an hour or longer — other than hop utilization — is to evaporate the compounds that form DMS. Adding an extra 30 or even 60 minutes on to your boil time will help produce an even cleaner finished product. But remember to add extra water to your sparge or kettle to account for evaporation so you have the correct volume when your boil is finished. Of course, it’s not just boiling a little longer that will help, but also chilling your wort as fast as possible. Once you have boiled for 90 minutes and chilled the wort to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to pitch the yeast.
Once the yeast is in the wort, you should keep the temperature of your fermenter as close to between 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit as possible, during the first week of fermentation. While the initial fermentation is taking place, it’s important to maintain lower temperatures. If the temperature gets too warm, the yeast will produce large amounts of sulfur and phenols. The sulfur will eventually dispel but the phenols will add a flavor to a beer that it is not supposed to have. Once fermentation is getting close to finished, it is important to allow the temperature to warm up a bit. This point is called the diacetyl rest. During this stage, the yeast will absorb any diacetyl it produced during fermentation, removing the risk of a buttered popcorn flavor appearing in your finished product.
Now that fermentation is complete, it’s time for the final step of lagering. Lagering is the process of holding the finished fermented beer at cold temperatures for a long period of time. This stage will allow all of the yeast to fall out of solution, producing a clearer product. This process also helps to clean up any flavors that may have come from too many hops. Though all of your brew should go through a short cold rest phase before you carbonate, lagers require a little extra time to allow the flavors to round out.
Remember, it isn’t always the most explosive flavor and alcohol content that matters but the attention to detail and ability to be patient that can create your next award-winning brews. •