Author Topic: Should I just give up on lagers?  (Read 3269 times)

Offline gmac

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Should I just give up on lagers?
« on: September 01, 2013, 08:21:22 AM »
I've made some pretty good beers if I do say so myself.  Won some medals, had some really nice reviews from folks and generally been very happy with my ale brewing.  But man I can't seem to have any luck at all with lagers.  I don't know what I am doing wrong.
I've made some that are OK, but never a really nice crisp refreshing lager that I would want to make again or have on hand for the summer months.  I've tried again them a long time, I've tried drinking them fresher as in a kellerbiere style, nothing really seems to hit perfectly.

My process and ingredients are basically mostly Weyermann Pils malt (I use Weyermann because the distributor is close and I can get it for a decent price compared to most other malts and even though some may prefer other types, it can't be that bad since it seems pretty widely available).  I may add a touch of Munich depending on the colour I want and what I have on hand.  That's about it for malts.  I only do single infusion batch sparge because I don't have the equipment for decoction mashing and I'm not to the point where I think it necessary as I have far too many other issues with my lagers to worry about that yet.

Water is 50% RO and 50% tap (I have fairly hard water although I don't know the complete chemistry profile yet.  Getting a water test is on the list to do ASAP.  There is no chlorine/chloramine in my water as we are on a well.  The water does have a small amount of hydrogen sulphide which is slightly detectable by smell when filling the kettle but never detectable in the taste of either the water or the beer and my understanding is that this boils off anyway.

I've tried WLP830, 833, Wyeast 2035 and Mexican Lager (forget the #).  The last one I made was using 3 vials of Mexican lager in a 5 gal 1.045 wort as a starter for a larger lager brew.  I wasn't expecting it to be perfect as it was meant as a starter but I ran into new problems. This one has a very medicinal phenolic character and is obviously infected with something.  Made me mad because I wasted 3 vials on one beer!  I need to order new yeast so I'm open to suggestions.  I want to have just one go-to lager strain and WLP833 looks like it may be my first choice but is it the best "overall" strain?  I know it's malty but is that what I want in every case?

My fermentation temp is set at 48F in my freezer.  I check the temp of the water in the thermowell to ensure it is close to 50F and I assume the fermenting beer will be 1 to 2 degrees warmer which should put it right at 50F.  After fermentation ceases, I bring the beers out into the basement for a D-rest at 65 or so for about a week and then back into the cold.  I have never had a D issue that I could perceive.

I've tried using adjuncts in the form of both flaked corn and minute rice in the 20% range in an effort to lighten the body etc.  Hops are either Hallertauer, Saaz or Tettnang depending on what I have available and what my whim is.  I've been trying for something in the 30 - 35 IBU range in order to put it into the German pilsner range. 

So, I know you can't tell me what I'm doing wrong because you haven't had the beer but I'm just getting very frustrated with my lack of success with lagers.  Not sure what to do aside from giving up and just doing ales.  But, I would like to do some lagers this fall and winter in order to have them lager for next spring.  I even have a dedicated beer cooler set at 2C that I can lager them in. 

Please feel free to give me any thoughts or advice you may have. 
Thanks.

Offline greatplainsbrewer

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2013, 08:30:21 AM »
Short answer: don't give up

Long answer:  I'd really look into getting your water analyzed and start using a water calculator.  That made a huge difference for me, especially my pale lagers.  I noticed a much smaller improvement in my ales.  I'd also try to make sure I didn't over pitch or under pitch.

For fermentation you might look at (apologies if I get this wrong) what Mike McDole does.  It is much quicker and in my experience works better.  A brewpub brewer uses that technique professionally as well.

For me lagers really made me pay more attention to smaller details.

Offline denny

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2013, 08:48:38 AM »
Short answer: don't give up

Long answer:  I'd really look into getting your water analyzed and start using a water calculator.  That made a huge difference for me, especially my pale lagers.  I noticed a much smaller improvement in my ales.  I'd also try to make sure I didn't over pitch or under pitch.

For fermentation you might look at (apologies if I get this wrong) what Mike McDole does.  It is much quicker and in my experience works better.  A brewpub brewer uses that technique professionally as well.

For me lagers really made me pay more attention to smaller details.

Agree with everything, except maybe the McDole advice since I don't know what he does!  Graham, my light lagers (and all other light colored beers) became much better once I had a water analysis and started adjusting based on it.  How do your light colored ales turn out? 
Life begins at 60.....1.060, that is!

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Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2013, 09:06:12 AM »
Water can be a big improvement, and you have to know your water.

My HCO3 is 364, if diluted 50% with RO, that is 184 ppm (assume RO is <1 ppm). That is still way over what you want! Get a water report, it will let you know what you have. Look up the profilesMartin has in Brunwater, and you will see you want low alkalinity for pale beers. I got crisp lagers once I went to all RO and adding appropriate salts. One new small brewery near heard did a Pils that I described as OK, but muddy and dull. They used the local town  ground water with no treatment.

Do you check your mash pH? That is another thing to do to assure a crisp lager.
Jeff Rankert
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Offline gmac

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2013, 09:55:54 AM »
Short answer: don't give up

Long answer:  I'd really look into getting your water analyzed and start using a water calculator.  That made a huge difference for me, especially my pale lagers.  I noticed a much smaller improvement in my ales.  I'd also try to make sure I didn't over pitch or under pitch.

For fermentation you might look at (apologies if I get this wrong) what Mike McDole does.  It is much quicker and in my experience works better.  A brewpub brewer uses that technique professionally as well.

For me lagers really made me pay more attention to smaller details.

Agree with everything, except maybe the McDole advice since I don't know what he does!  Graham, my light lagers (and all other light colored beers) became much better once I had a water analysis and started adjusting based on it.  How do your light colored ales turn out?

My light ales are mostly saisons and Kolsch and they are quite good.  I enjoy both a lot and have medaled with both before. 
I will get a water profile done soon.  Haven't had a lot of luck finding a lab here that does analysis. Bacterial testing, no problem but dissolved minerals seems to be a bit harder to find although I haven't looked that hard.


Offline gmac

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2013, 09:58:44 AM »
Water can be a big improvement, and you have to know your water.

My HCO3 is 364, if diluted 50% with RO, that is 184 ppm (assume RO is <1 ppm). That is still way over what you want! Get a water report, it will let you know what you have. Look up the profilesMartin has in Brunwater, and you will see you want low alkalinity for pale beers. I got crisp lagers once I went to all RO and adding appropriate salts. One new small brewery near heard did a Pils that I described as OK, but muddy and dull. They used the local town  ground water with no treatment.

Do you check your mash pH? That is another thing to do to assure a crisp lager.

I do.  I'm shooting for a pH of about 5.2 - 5.4 using a hand held pH meter.  I may need to re-calibrate (although I checked it recently and seemed OK) and I've read since buying that the probes don't last forever but it seems to be working OK based on what I expect the pH to be.  I've been adjusting mash pH with food grade phosphoric acid to ensure I'm close to the right level.  But, what do you suggest that the pH should be for this style?  Maybe I'm way off the mark.

Offline gmac

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #6 on: September 01, 2013, 10:01:22 AM »
Short answer: don't give up

Long answer:  I'd really look into getting your water analyzed and start using a water calculator.  That made a huge difference for me, especially my pale lagers.  I noticed a much smaller improvement in my ales.  I'd also try to make sure I didn't over pitch or under pitch.

For fermentation you might look at (apologies if I get this wrong) what Mike McDole does.  It is much quicker and in my experience works better.  A brewpub brewer uses that technique professionally as well.

For me lagers really made me pay more attention to smaller details.

The McDole method won't work for me as I travel a lot and am not home to constantly monitor the fermentation progress and increase the temp in all his small increments. It might be fine but isn't as feasible for me at this time.  Thanks for the suggestion though.

(Denny, unless I have it wrong the McDole thing is to start cold and then continually creep up the temp over the fermentation period to shorten the ferment time and eliminate the D-rest requirement.  The conjecture is that by doing so you reduce the need for extended lagering times).

So nothing else besides water seems to give anyone concern?  I should mention that I try where possible to use Mr Malty for my yeast calculations and always either do a starter or a significant re-pitch for lagers (and appropriately sized starters for ales too).
« Last Edit: September 01, 2013, 10:03:14 AM by gmac »

Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2013, 10:10:07 AM »
Water can be a big improvement, and you have to know your water.

My HCO3 is 364, if diluted 50% with RO, that is 184 ppm (assume RO is <1 ppm). That is still way over what you want! Get a water report, it will let you know what you have. Look up the profilesMartin has in Brunwater, and you will see you want low alkalinity for pale beers. I got crisp lagers once I went to all RO and adding appropriate salts. One new small brewery near heard did a Pils that I described as OK, but muddy and dull. They used the local town  ground water with no treatment.

Do you check your mash pH? That is another thing to do to assure a crisp lager.

I do.  I'm shooting for a pH of about 5.2 - 5.4 using a hand held pH meter.  I may need to re-calibrate (although I checked it recently and seemed OK) and I've read since buying that the probes don't last forever but it seems to be working OK based on what I expect the pH to be.  I've been adjusting mash pH with food grade phosphoric acid to ensure I'm close to the right level.  But, what do you suggest that the pH should be for this style?  Maybe I'm way off the mark.

I shot for 5.3 to 5.4, or what Brunwater says.

You are doing most of what is recommended. Good luck on getting it fixed.
Jeff Rankert
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Home-brewing, not just a hobby, it is a lifestyle!

Offline denny

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2013, 10:10:42 AM »
Damn, buddy, you're not making this easy.  You seem to be doing everything by the book.
Life begins at 60.....1.060, that is!

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Offline denny

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2013, 10:25:26 AM »
Hey, I just read something Martin wrote on another forum.....have you checked your wort pH in the kettle?
Life begins at 60.....1.060, that is!

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Offline greatplainsbrewer

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2013, 10:25:54 AM »
Others may disagree with this but I start my lager fermentation at 50F and as it begins to slow (about 4-5 days in) let it rise into the low 60's.  After it finishes and has been gravity tested it goes into my lager chamber.  So I guess it's a modified McDole fermentation

For water testing Ward labs seems accurate, fast, and reasonable.


Offline gmac

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #11 on: September 01, 2013, 12:53:12 PM »
Damn, buddy, you're not making this easy.  You seem to be doing everything by the book.

OK, so lets dumb the water thing down for me.  Assume I go buy 100% distilled water (my local store carries "mineral" and distilled and I've got enough mineral already).  What would/could/should I add to it in order to get to the proper water chemistry levels for a German Pilsner.  Assume WLP833 with an adequate starter and 100% Pils malt with Tettnang hops (cause that's what I got). 

For a 5 gal brew what would you add to the water and what amounts (chemistry was never my strong point).
At present I only have gypsum and whatever is in the kitchen.  But, I can get whatever I need.  Really dumb it down for me, what do I add, when do I add it, stir it, boil it, stare longingly at it???  I have chosen to stay far away from water chemistry but I'm hearing that if I want to make a good lager, life is going to get more complicated.
Thanks a lot everyone who's taken the time to reply.  Of course I'll be in Detroit next week, maybe I bring a keg of saison to Jeff to trade and I can leave lagers to the smart people???

Offline gmac

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #12 on: September 01, 2013, 12:56:02 PM »
Hey, I just read something Martin wrote on another forum.....have you checked your wort pH in the kettle?

There's ANOTHER forum?? 
And no I have not.  I just check mash.

Offline jeffy

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #13 on: September 01, 2013, 01:46:18 PM »
I hear you saying you want clean and crisp lager flavors, so I would make sure that you have the most fermentable wort as possible and that it attenuates fully.  Mashing at 152F and aerating the cooled wort a lot at pitching should help.  If you can't lager long enough, use a clarifier like gelatin to drop the yeast out fully.
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Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Should I just give up on lagers?
« Reply #14 on: September 01, 2013, 02:02:13 PM »
I use RO water and build up with Bru'nWater.  It's improved the consistency of my beer beyond belief.  The last German Pils I brewed used around 50ppm Chloride and 100ppm Gypsum (calcium sulfate).  Loved it.  I've read accounts here of higher sulfate:chloride ratios having great results( read:drier). I use a digital scale which measures to tenths of a gram (not hard to find) to measure my salts. Bru'nWater will guide you through it. Takes out all the guesswork.
Jon H.