Nick Carr on January 18, 2018 0 Comments The Brewing Process The Grain Bill Adjuncts Extract Brewing Hops Water The Mash Boil Yeast Fermentation No matter what your feelings are when it comes to the American lager, it’s important to note that this style is not easy to brew. We gave it the title of the “Naked Beer Style” in our full profile, precisely because when you brew it, you are making an oh-so-subtle, nearly blank, canvas for the palate. That exacting clean blankness that craft beer snobs love to decry makes it impossible to conceal any faults in the brewing process. Another good illustration of off flavors in a neutral profile is the image hidden in those 3D stereogram — optical illusion — posters. It takes some time to find the hidden image. This can be likened to an off flavor in a beer with more hops and a bigger malt profile. The off-flavor is hard to spot, may even remain hidden, because of the complex background. Now, imagine the stereogram gone and the — once hidden — image standing alone against a clean white background. It’s impossible not to see it; the same as even a minuscule off flavor in an American lager. So, it is not easy to make a quality example of the American Lager style, and this should definitely not be your first shot at brewing a lager beer. Try to brew a few of the more forgiving and complex lager styles first. Sharpen those lager brewing procedures, practices, and ingredient selection. Only when you have a finally honed edge to your technique, take on this style. The Grain Bill Start with stellar ingredients; fresh and of the highest possible quality. Just like off flavors from brewing practices, off flavors from stale or sub-par ingredients will appear front and center when it comes time to relax and enjoy your labors. So, it’s important to get it right. Base Malts The grain bill is simple. It is generally made up of 2-row or a 2-row/6-row mix. Along with additions of corn or rice adjuncts that can make up to 40% of the grain bill. The American Lager is a light-colored style, — only 2 to 4 SRM — so stick to malts that are light in color. Because of the high percentage of adjuncts you need to pay attention to the diastatic power of your malt and your grain bill as a whole. Diastatic power is the ability of the malt to break down starches in to simpler fermentable sugars via enzymatic action. This ability is usually measured in degrees lintner (°L). Generally, 2-row has a diastatic power of around 140°L and 6-row about 160°L. And you need above 30°L overall to have enough enzymatic power to finish conversion in a reasonable amount of time. You can figure out the diastatic power for a batch of beer by: multiplying the Lintner of each grain in your recipe by that grains weight. Then add these together and divide by the total weight of your grain bill. As far as I can tell, you’d have little trouble having enough diastatic power to convert additions of even 40% adjunct using only 2-row. But, there is something to be said of having that little extra help to make starch conversion a little faster during the mash. So, if you’re going to have additions of adjuncts above 30% it may not hurt to consider adding a portion of 6-row in there for the extra diastatic power. Adjuncts For the adjunct, you can either go with corn, rice, or a combination of the two. Corn will add a somewhat sweet, slightly fuller flavor to the beer, while rice will add little perceptible flavor. Both rice and corn are available in flaked form, which can be added directly to the mash. This will make them easier to use. If you do get your adjunct in flaked form, be sure to taste them before using. Flakes can go stale quickly. You could also buy corn grits or regular old rice, but you’d need a cereal mash to make the starches available for conversion. For most American lager recipes, that’s all there is to the grain bill. Sometimes a little dextrin or Carapils malt might be added to help with body and head. You also might play with very small quantities of light-colored specialty malts — but note, this would be going rogue and not staying true to the style guidelines. Tips for Steeping & Mini-Mashing How steeping and mini-mashing can help brewers transition from extract to all-grain brewing. Learn More Extract Brewing For the extract brewer, you may want to wait until you start brewing all-grain before trying to tackle an American Lager recipe. It’s a difficult style to get right using extract alone. If you decide you can’t wait and want to give it a try, you’ll need to do a partial mash at the very least. Yes, there is brewer’s corn syrup or rice syrup available, but this will not give you the exact character you’d be looking for. Your base should be of the freshest, highest attenuating pale malt extract you can find. You’ll also need enough 2-row or 6-row malt to perform a partial mash with your flaked adjunct grains. Read through this article on Extract Brewing Tips, paying particular attention to the boiling tips and the tip addressing holding some of your extract in reserve. These tips will help reduce color uptake. If you decide to hold some amount of your extract in reserve, add it 10 to 15 minutes before the end of boil. Hops You won’t be asking much more than some bittering balance from your hops. Bittering is light, hitting an IBU rating of 8 to 18; aroma is very, very low or none at all; and flavor is very low or none at all. Varieties to Consider: You’ll want to stick with classic American hops when brewing this style. The common varieties here include: Cascade Chinook Magnum Cluster Domestically grown noble hops, known for their spicy and floral character, would also be an excellent choice. Liberty Crystal This is where you get to experiment and play around with different varieties. Just keep in mind that for an American Lager recipe, the hop profile will remain low and offer floral, herbal and spicy notes to your beer. Water You will want soft water when you’re brewing this style. A general water profile might look like (ppm or mg/L): Calcium — 25-50 Sulfate — 25-35 Chloride — 25-50 Magnesium — 0-10 Sodium — 0-10 You can work on adjusting your filtered tap water to your profile, but it might be easier to start with a clean slate of reverse osmosis water, and adjust from there. The Mash You need a very fermentable mash for an American lager recipe. So, you’ll want to either use a long single infusion mash or a long step mash. Which of these mashes works better is really a matter of opinion between individual brewers. All I can suggest is, do it one way and take good notes — both process and tasting — then next time do it the other way and see if you have a preference. Keep a pretty thin mash with a liquid to grist ratio of 3.5quarts:1pound of grain. This will slow down your mash, but will also lead to a more fermentable wort because the enzymes will not be hindered by a high sugar concentration. Keep a Low Saccharification Temperature For both types of mashes, you’ll want a saccharification temperature basically at the bottom of the brewer’s window, 144-148°F. The low temperature creates a highly fermentable wort, but it will also take longer for conversion to take place. You also want a longer mash to ensure conversion of the adjuncts. It is rumored that Budweiser does a step mash with a 2-hour saccharification rest. How to Do Step-Mash for American Lager Recipes: If you decide you want to do the step mash, here’s the process that you’ll want to follow. Hit a regular protein rest at 122°F for 15 minutes. Increase the temperature to your saccharification rest, and hold for 90 to 120 minutes. Then, raise the temperature to 158°F and give the alpha amylase 15 to 20 minutes to work. Finally, mash out at 168°F. Because of the thinner mash, you’ll need less sparging water, if you need any at all. You may find the runoff fills your needed volume, but it is good to sparge at least a little to get all the sweet stuff rinsed out of the grains. Also, you have a long boil coming and remember you lose about 8% of your volume in an hour of aggressive boiling. The Boil The boil is pretty standard when brewing this lager style. It is a 60-90 minute boil. Add your bittering hops at 60 minutes. If you’ve chosen to add a small quantity of flavor or aroma hops, add them at the appropriate time. A longer boil will help decrease DMS levels, and because you’ll be brewing with lighter malts (2-row, 6-row, and pilsner), which have more of the DMS precursor S-Methyl Methionine, I’d suggest going for the longer boil. Remember to boil vigorously with the lid off. But, if you’re extract brewing, try to keep your boil as short as possible to reduce color pickup. *Note: Six-row malt is significantly higher in the precursor to DMS, S-Methyl Methionine, than two-row. Yeast To get that mostly “naked” palate experience of an American Lager, you need a lager yeast that ferments extremely clean, and has a high attenuation to make a dry finish. Some likely candidates include the following: Wyeast: American Lager (2035) or Pilsen Lager (2007) White Labs: American Pilsner (WLP840) or even the Pilsner Lager (WLP800) Dry Yeast: Saflager S-23 and W-34/70 will both work, though W-34/70 may ferment a little cleaner Organic: Imperial Organic L17 Harvest (L17) Fermentation This will be a typical lager fermentation. Cool your wort down to around 50°F, or whatever the pitching temperature is for your chosen yeast, as quickly as possible. Make sure that you aerate it well, and then pitch it accordingly. Ensure you follow quantity instructions for the yeast. Fermentation should be done within 10 days. Once it begins to slow, you may want to raise the temperature up to the low 60s for a couple of days to accomplish a diacetyl rest. Once primary is complete, rack the beer over to a secondary and lager at 32°F for up to a month. When ready to package, shoot for a CO2 volume of between 2.5 and 2.8. The American lager has a short shelf life, so you’ll want to enjoy within a few months. Cheers!