Author Topic: I am new to lager  (Read 8557 times)

Offline hairyhood

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I am new to lager
« on: December 12, 2011, 07:48:15 AM »
I brewed my first lager on Saturday.  I made a starter on Friday evening (WLP833)...just under a gallon.  By the time I was done my batch on Saturday there was still no activity in my starter.  Fearing it was dead I went to my brew shop and bought a vial of White Labs WLP800.  I had to go ahead and just pitch that vial, knowing that I was probably under-pitching.  I cooled the wort down to about 62 degrees F.  Pitched the yeast which was probably about 70 degrees F.  I am slowly letting it come up to 70 degrees F until I see activity and then was going to ramp it back down in temp.  

My question is:  Does it take a long time for fermentation to start in lager yeasts?  My ales don't take more than 8-12 hours to start rolling.  I typically make my ale starters 1-2 days before and they are rolling in a few hours.  Should I be seeing any activity?  Is there anything I can do to save my lager?
« Last Edit: December 12, 2011, 08:44:46 AM by hairyhood »

Offline denny

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2011, 08:48:36 AM »
I brewed my first lager on Saturday.  I made a starter on Friday evening (WLP833)...just under a gallon.  By the time I was done my batch on Saturday there was still no activity in my starter.  Fearing it was dead I went to my brew shop and bought a vial of White Labs WLP800.  I had to go ahead and just pitch that vial, knowing that I was probably under-pitching.  I cooled the wort down to about 62 degrees F.  Pitched the yeast which was probably about 70 degrees F.  I am slowly letting it come up to 70 degrees F until I see activity and then was going to ramp it back down in temp.  

My question is:  Does it take a long time for fermentation to start in lager yeasts?  My ales don't take more than 8-12 hours to start rolling.  I typically make my ale starters 1-2 days before and they are rolling in a few hours.  Should I be seeing any activity?  Is there anything I can do to save my lager?

Let's start with what might have been a better plan....make the starter at least a week in advance.  Let it ferment out and decant the spent wort so that won't be going in to your nice fresh beer.  Chill the wort to a few degrees below your intended fermentation temp, then pitch the yeast straight from the fridge.  The above procedure has always produced better results for me than the process you described.

OK, now on to what to do....did you pitch your starter as well as the tube?  If not, do it now.  And get the beer cooled to to lager fermentation temps.  Don't wait for fermentation to start.  Once that happens, by the time you can get it cooled down you may have developed too many esters.  Then just be patient.  It may well take 4 weeks for your lager to ferment.  Just forget about it and wait.
Life begins at 60.....1.060, that is!

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Offline hairyhood

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2011, 08:59:42 AM »
I figured I was cutting it too close on the starter.  I foolishly dumped my starter out.  I only pitched the one vial of WLP800.  Should I get another vial today and pitch it also or just slowly bring the temp down.  I was going to ferment at about 50 degrees.  I was under the impression that I should wait until the fermentation started to show some signs and then lower the temp.  Will the fermentation be a rapid "boil" like you get in an ale?  Thanks for the response!

Offline denny

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2011, 09:48:14 AM »
I figured I was cutting it too close on the starter.  I foolishly dumped my starter out.  I only pitched the one vial of WLP800.  Should I get another vial today and pitch it also or just slowly bring the temp down.  I was going to ferment at about 50 degrees.  I was under the impression that I should wait until the fermentation started to show some signs and then lower the temp.  Will the fermentation be a rapid "boil" like you get in an ale?  Thanks for the response!

You probably will need more than 1 more tube.  Check out mrmalty.com for the correct amount.  AND bring the temp down.  At lager temps, the fermentation usually is a lot more calm than an ale fermentation.  Although if you pitch the proper amount of healthy yeast you can get quite but of activity.
Life begins at 60.....1.060, that is!

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Offline davidgzach

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2011, 06:48:15 AM »
Denny is of course spot on.  The only thing I would add is to pitch the yeast, after you decant it, in to the wort that is a couple of degrees below your target and let it warm a little.  If you pitch warm and wait to see activity before lowering the temp, you are inviting ester, sulphur and acetaldehyde production.  You will have to lager much longer to clean up the beer.
Dave Zach

Offline hairyhood

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2011, 07:39:01 AM »
Thanks guys.  I brought it down to 60 and fermentation started.  I will get it down into the 50s and maybe lower in the next day or two.  I did not pitch anymore yeast.  I realize the yeast has been stressed and it has been under-pitched, so I will be getting some esters.  So, you think a longer lagering, say 6 weeks after primary is complete, could still clean it up?  Or should I just give it my planned 4 weeks or so, cut my losses and follow your suggested procedures for the next one?  Thank you all for the advice!

Offline denny

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2011, 10:12:24 AM »
So, you think a longer lagering, say 6 weeks after primary is complete, could still clean it up?  Or should I just give it my planned 4 weeks or so, cut my losses and follow your suggested procedures for the next one?  Thank you all for the advice!

I'd be skeptical of a longer lagering cleaning it up, but it's worth a try to find out.  Try our recommendations next time and I think you'll have better results.
Life begins at 60.....1.060, that is!

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Offline gmac

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2011, 10:28:56 AM »
I started doing lagers this fall and I was surprised by how mild the fermentation is.  You won't get the aggressive ferment that you get with ales (since you asked this and I don't think it was answered directly). 

I have had good luck cooling my wort over night in the cold room with tin foil over the top and then pitching the next day into the cool wort.  I get it to about 70 with immersion and then cool it down to 50 in the cold room overnight.  I don't have a way to get below fermentation temps but I get to fermentation temp before I've been pitching and the results have all been very clean and crisp with no off-flavours.  I think this is better than pitching too warm just for the sake of pitching.

Offline hairyhood

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2011, 12:15:38 PM »
Thanks.  No, I don't think that question of how aggressive the fermentation was directly answered.  I think I have a better plan for next time.  That's what I get for not doing enough reading.

This reminded me of another question that I had.  What are any of your thoughts on primary and secondary fermenters.  I talked to someone in my brew shop yesterday.  He said that he always leaves everything in the primary for fermentation and lagering.  Any thoughts on moving to a secondary?   

Offline denny

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2011, 12:30:31 PM »
It's hard to generalize about the "ferocity" of fermentation.  Often, due to the lower temps, it's less active than an ale fermentation.  But I have a German pils in the fermenter now.  I used a 10 gal. keg for a 5.5 gal. batch and I was getting a VERY active fermentation, even with a bit of blowoff, with WY2784 (I think that's the number, it's the StaroPrague) at 42F.
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Offline hairyhood

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2011, 12:34:40 PM »
Well, I actually have krausen in my carboy now.  No blow-off.  I guess it all depends on the sugar and the yeast.

Offline hairyhood

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2011, 12:38:28 PM »
I guess my question at that point was really due to the fact that my wort was still and there were no visble signs of fermentation (bubbles in my blow off jug, krausen, flocculation).  So, I was wondering whether lager yeast had any visible signs.  I now understand that the long lag time was due to my under-pitching and high temps.

Offline hairyhood

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2011, 12:40:14 PM »
Any thoughts on moving the liquid to a secondary fermenter Denny?

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #13 on: December 13, 2011, 12:42:21 PM »
This reminded me of another question that I had.  What are any of your thoughts on primary and secondary fermenters.  I talked to someone in my brew shop yesterday.  He said that he always leaves everything in the primary for fermentation and lagering.  Any thoughts on moving to a secondary?  
I always leave it in primary too, the secondary vessel is the serving keg.  The only time I do a secondary is if I am adding fruit or something.

I now understand that the long lag time was due to my under-pitching and high temps.
High temps will get you a shorter lag time, not a longer one.  Under pitching is the main lag-time problem here.
Tom Schmidlin

Offline hairyhood

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Re: I am new to lager
« Reply #14 on: December 13, 2011, 12:46:19 PM »
Got it.  Makes sense.

So, no danger of off-flavors from sitting on the yeast too long, like I was always warned about in ales?