How To Brew Lager Beer (Step-by-Step Guide)
While there exist nearly a hundred subcategories of beer, the two most common ones are ales and lagers. The difference between the two stems from the way each beer strain ferments; fermentation (also referred to simply as brewing) is most often carried out at a beerhouse or brewery, but some choose to take it up as a hobby and brew their own lager.
To brew lager beer, first, brew the beer, then pitch the yeast, ferment the wort, and bottle it up! Brewing lager is a precise process that requires concentration, and by following its four stages of preparation, you’re sure to master it in no time.
You may wonder– how do I ferment, mature, and lager the beer, though? The process can seem overwhelming to beginners, but by the end of this article, you’ll know just how to kickstart your homebrewing journey. Keep reading this step-by-step guide to learn more about brewing your own lager beer.
1. Brew the Lager
Brewing involves two terms you need to know: the mash and the wort. This link will direct you to Home Brew Advice’s explanation of the specific differences between mash versus wort.
For the purpose of this article, though, all you should know is that wort is the result of mashing, which is an initial part of the brewing process.
Brewing needs to happen before you pitch the yeast into the wort. Successfully brewing your own lager isn’t possible without this particular stage. Mashing refers to the act of combining hot water with a crushed grain in order to extract the grain’s sugars and liquids.
To begin, you need:
- A mash barrel
- A mesh bag
- A thermometer
- A heating device (at home, you can use your stove or oven)
- Binder clips
Mashing is easy. First, attach your mesh bag inside the mash barrel using binder clips. There should be the appropriate amount of water in the barrel already, waiting to heat up the grains. (No, the mesh bag won’t burn)!
If your barrel is on the stove, turn the burner on and begin to heat the water inside the barrel.
Use your thermometer to check the temperature. Ideally, mashing happens between 148 and 158 degrees Fahrenheit (t64 and 70 degrees Celsius), so wait until the water is warm enough before pouring your grains into the mesh bag.
You can stir the mix once or twice, but for the most part, leave the mash untouched to allow it to do its thing! It takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes for the mash to complete, depending on what temperature you’ve set the water at.
To maintain the heat inside the barrel, turn your heating device off when it reaches the appropriate temperature and cover the container with a tight lid to maintain the warmth. Check the temperature every ten minutes, and when it naturally starts to lower, turn the stove back on to bring it back up.
When it’s done, your mash should have the consistency of a perfectly-made bowl of oatmeal!
After the hour is up, it’s vital to stop the production of enzymes in the mash (which happens to break down the grains’ sugars). This step is called the mashout. To do this, you must raise the temperature of your container to about 170 degrees, which will help the sugars flow into the wort.
Lautering the Wort
The second portion of the brewing process is to lauter the wort. Since mashing is done to extract liquids, the wort is the resulting liquid that needs to be drained from the grains.
This is where the mesh bag comes in handy. You can remove the grains from the wort and transfer the liquid into a chilling chamber (more on this in a moment). Some brewers then complete a second round of mashing with the grains and combine the wort when it’s finished.
When the mashout is finished, and you’ve got your wort, there are a few small steps you need to take before pitching the yeast and beginning the fermentation process.
To start, chilling the wort to room temperature after the mashout can prevent the possibility of infection due to bacteria in the wort.
You can do this by placing the wort container in an ice bath or by using a wort chiller. A wort chiller looks like a long, copper hose that gets put into the liquid. It distributes cooling fluid throughout the wort, which very quickly reduces its’ heat in order to pitch the yeast properly.
Secondly, you should take what is called a gravity reading. A gravity reading will tell you the density of your wort and give you the wort’s alcohol content. To take a gravity reading, you’ll need a tool called a hydrometer. It works just as a thermometer might but provides an original gravity reading instead of a temperature reading.
2. Pitch the Yeast
“Pitching” yeast is the brewer’s way of explaining the process of mixing your yeast with wort. Once you do this, the yeast gets activated in the wort and feeds off of the extracted sugars, thus creating alcohol– lager beer cannot be made without it.
Yeast starters are available at most local wineries and breweries. However, you can also create your own starter at home with the following materials:
- A glass pitcher
- Aluminum foil
- 3.5 oz per 100 grams Briess Dried Malt Extract (DME) (available on Amazon)
- ½ teaspoon Yeast nutrient
- 1 quart of water
- A heating device (a stovetop burner is recommended)
First, mix the DME, yeast nutrient, and water together– shake to dissolve. Then, sanitize the liquid by heating it for twenty minutes.
The boiling serves to rid of any excess bacteria in the mixture. Since temperature is so important for yeast, the starter will need to be chilled to 70 degrees Fahrenheit after sanitizing.
Once the starter is cooled, add your yeast pack and cover the flask’s top with aluminum foil. You’ll have to let this sit for about thirty-five to forty hours, thus the importance of creating your yeast starter before the wort is ready for pitching.
There are two types of yeast packs you can use for a starter– dry and liquid yeast. As I’m sure you can imagine, dry yeast is a powder, and liquid yeast is a liquid. They both do the same thing, so it’s simply a matter of preference for most brewers.
After the thirty-five-hour resting window, your yeast starter is ready to be mixed with your wort. Pitch the yeast by integrating it into your wort container, and don’t forget to stir generously for a few minutes to oxygenate the mixture. Afterward, seal the container tightly.
Keep reading to learn about the post-pitch fermentation process.
3. Ferment the Lager
When it’s time to ferment, you know you’re coming closer and closer to the finished product!
While maintaining your container at a temperature between 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 21 degrees Celsius), the yeast will begin to convert the sugars and proteins into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process takes roughly a week, depending on the volume of your container.
Fermentation also allows dead yeast particles (or other unwanted particles/proteins/cells) to sink to the bottom of the container, becoming separated from the wort. The collection of particles is called trub, and the trub gets removed prior to bottling through the use of a whirlpool tank.
A whirlpool tank allows trub to collect in one location to encourage easy trub removal. They’re the most common device used for beer fermentation. However, whirlpool tanks aren’t necessarily practical unless you work from a home brewing station.
So, you can replicate the impact of a whirlpool tank by using a kettle, separating the wort from the trub through the kettle’s spout.
The process of fermentation comes to a close when you notice less bubbling of carbon dioxide in the airlock chamber. At this point, you can choose to ferment your wort a second time– some call this ‘secondary fermentation,’ and it can be helpful to add extra flavor and ensure the cleanliness of the wort; or, you can bottle the liquid and prepare for consumption!
For more tips and information on how to know when your brew is ready, click here.
4. Store the Lager
Storing your beer is critical to the brewing process because it carbonates the alcohol. (Flat beer is not my idea of a good lager, don’t you agree?).
Just before you get to it, make sure to take a second gravity reading (this needs to be done in order to determine your beer’s alcohol content- for more information on alcohol content, check out this great blog post).
Then, decide whether you want to bottle or keg your beer. A keg is a small container or barrel that can hold about thirty gallons of liquid, so they’re best used for large batches of beer.
If you’re bottling your beer, you will need the following equipment:
- Bottles and caps
- A bottling bucket with an attachable spigot
- Racking tube (the Fermtech Auto-Siphon from Amazon is a reliable choice)
- Priming sugar (this facilitates additional fermentation and adds flavor to your beer)
The first step to bottling your beer after sanitizing all of your equipment (read this piece for tips on sanitation) is to boil the priming sugar and pour it into the bucket you will be transferring your beer into.
Give the sugar a stir prior to the next step. The priming sugar (corn sugar) can be purchased online or through your local brewery.
Set up the racking tube into the container of beer and the bottling bucket, and allow the beer to drain through the tube into the bottling bucket. Make sure the bucket is lower than the container holding your beer. This allows gravity to help speed up the racking procedure.
Once the beer is drained thoroughly into the bucket, you can use the spigot to individually fill each of your bottles with beer. Or, you can purchase another tube similar to a racking tube to first attach to the spigot and then to the inside of the bottle to fill.
These tubes are also known as bottling wands or bottling fillers; and many inexpensive options can be found on Amazon.
Tighten the cap onto the bottle afterward using pliers. For more great tips on bottling beer, check out this article.
Similarly, if you’re storing your beer in kegs, you’ll need to sanitize all of your equipment and rack the fermentor to the keg. Priming sugar isn’t required for kegging because you’ll be using a device called a CO2 cylinder. The CO2 cylinder works to carbonate the beer, just as priming sugar would.
Next, you’ll need to rack the beer. Again, this means placing the keg lower than the fermentor, attaching the racking tube to both, and allowing the beer to drain into the keg.
Once the keg is sealed, attach it to the CO2 cylinder and let it rest. For a great read on how long you should let your beer sit in storage, take a look at this article. Generally speaking, however, you’ll want to store your beer for roughly seven to ten days before consumption, depending on the volume of beer you brewed.
Storing your beer in a keg has different advantages, so for information on how long you can store it for in this type of container, have a read through this blog piece on the topic.
In conclusion, brewing lager beer is a lengthy yet worthwhile process. It takes precision, patience, and supervision to create an alcoholic beverage that is crisp, carbonated, and clean-tasting!
To brew beer, you need to first brew the wort, pitch the yeast, ferment the beer and store it in a bottle or keg to ensure carbonation.
The entire process can take anywhere from one week to one month, depending on the type and volume of the liquid. When the month is finished, though, you’ll get to say you made your own homemade lager!