Lagering is a pretty popular topic. Almost every brewer has at one time or another wondered how their beer would differ if they could make it as a lager. Most of us think it is a technique beyond our reach because we don’t have space for a second refrigerator, or maybe other household members have a myopic viewpoint and can’t see the benefits of a “beer fridge”.
Recognizing that every flavor and color of ale has a lager counterpart makes lagering all the more intriguing. Would I like a lagered version of one of my favorite recipes? Would I like it better? Could I make more accurate examples of certain styles of beer? Maybe, maybe, and yes!
How to mimic traditional lagering conditions depends on what the beer style would demand. Lagered beers range from some that are fermented at ambient temperature and then cold aged, to those that are cool fermented and cool aged, to those that are fermented under increasingly cooler conditions and ultimately aged near freezing. The common factor of each is that cool or cold aging helps clarify beer very effectively, and smooths the finish flavor.
Regardless of the traditional way a particular beer would be handled, you can ferment via whichever of the following methods you feel comfortable with. The first and least demanding method is simply taking advantage of cooler ambient Winter temperatures and finding an appropriately stable and cool spot, often a garage that stays shaded or even a protected outside location like a utility shed or shady balcony. During cool cloudy weather, temperatures in this type of location will likely stay in the upper 50’s to mid 60’s. And as we do in Summer months, we can wrap a wet towel around the fermenter, and let evaporative cooling help keep it cooler and more stable.
The second method requires a little more attention but gives you more control and allows you to maintain cooler temperatures. Your fermenter is placed inside a larger container such as a plastic garbage can. Water is placed around the fermenter and enough ice is periodically put into the water to maintain the desired temperature. If the fermenter/garbage can combination is placed inside an even larger container and covered, the stability of temperature will improve and need to add ice will be less frequent as this set up acts like an insulated vessel. It is actually surprisingly effective.
Either way, the bottle conditioning of the beer should be cool to cold, protecting the lager character and aiding clarification. Since particles in suspension are forced to settle or “flocculate” more effectively in cooler temperatures, the cold aged beer will be both cleaner tasting and cleaner looking. Of course you must remember that the carbonating process will be slower at cooler temperatures, as will the fermentation. There is no question that some beers taste vastly different when lagered. Whether you will like them better lagered is a matter of individual subjectivity. These simple lagering techniques make it feasible, and easy to try.
The Alternative: Lagering With Refrigeration Equipment
If you have the ability to use a refrigerator for lagering you have a bit more flexibility and more opportunity to manipulate the process. But you have a serious limitation within the refrigeration unit... its thermostat.
The thermostat built into any refrigerator is designed to give control over temperature within a range that protects foods from spoilage. Those temperatures are too cold for all but the very final bottle conditioning period of lagering. Until then we need to maintain temperatures in the 50’s and possibly 60’s.
The way to do that is with an external Temperature Controller that requires no re-wiring or alteration of the refrigerator or the freezer (yes, a Freezer!) being used. It simply allows you to override the on-board thermostat and select the temperature you need. A freezer in fact is a very practical way to go when getting an appliance for lagering, storing or setting up a tapping system. The Temperature Controller is the key. It’s simple and only $69.95!!!