Author Topic: What makes a lager a lager?  (Read 2820 times)

Offline gman23

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What makes a lager a lager?
« on: June 26, 2015, 05:11:58 PM »
I have run into a bit of confusion regarding this lately. What things determine if a beer is a 'lager'. Is it just the yeast? A combination of the yeast, fermentation temperature, and post fermentation storage? If I fermented a batch at 70F with lager yeast would it be considered a lager although probably a quite bad one?

It seems like a lager is just as much (if not more) about the process than the actual yeast. To me, this creates a huge grey area. At the end of the day, I realize it is all about the results but I am just curios about others feedback. 

My buddy was over tasting my beers the other day and was asking about my lager on tap. He was curious if it was a 'real lager' like stored for weeks at close to freezing temps. I said no, I guess not. I fermented this around 52F and it has been in the fridge at 38F for a few weeks. I don't have the ability to truly lager a beer but I can cold condition after it has been kegged.
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Offline erockrph

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2015, 05:22:40 PM »
I think that there are a few approaches to answering this. You could say that something is a lager if you use a lager yeast. You could also say that something is a lager if you go through a lagering (i.e., cold-conditioning) process.

Personally, I go by the "what does it taste like?" rule. As the brewer, you're the only one who knows the process and ingredients used in your beer (unless you tell someone first). So all that really matters is what it tastes like to the drinker. If it tastes like a lager (or more specifically, if it tastes like a style that is considered a lager style), then you can call it a lager in my book even if it was brewed in the 60's with an ale yeast. A style name is simply something to set the expectations of the drinker, be it a BJCP judge in a contest or just one of your buddies.
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Offline homoeccentricus

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2015, 05:30:54 PM »
If it's something you want to avoid it's probably a lager (Belgian speaking here)
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Offline gman23

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2015, 05:47:26 PM »
Seems like my under-developed palate has trouble discerning between lager yeast and a clean ale yeast fermented cool. I guess I need to brew the same recipe with lager yeast using normal fermentation profile and then with a clean ale yeast fermented cool.

Has Marshall done this? I know he makes lagers with WLP029 but has he done a side by side with lager yeast?
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Offline homoeccentricus

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2015, 05:51:22 PM »
Seems like my under-developed palate has trouble discerning between lager yeast and a clean ale yeast fermented cool. I guess I need to brew the same recipe with lager yeast using normal fermentation profile and then with a clean ale yeast fermented cool.

Has Marshall done this? I know he makes lagers with WLP029 but has he done a side by side with lager yeast?
Lager fermented at high temperature vs lager fermented at low temperature: no difference discerned.
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Offline gman23

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2015, 06:02:03 PM »
Seems like my under-developed palate has trouble discerning between lager yeast and a clean ale yeast fermented cool. I guess I need to brew the same recipe with lager yeast using normal fermentation profile and then with a clean ale yeast fermented cool.

Has Marshall done this? I know he makes lagers with WLP029 but has he done a side by side with lager yeast?
Lager fermented at high temperature vs lager fermented at low temperature: no difference discerned.

I saw that one. I was thinking clean ale yeast fermented at cool temp vs lager yeast fermented at low temp
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Offline Joe Sr.

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2015, 06:11:29 PM »
I saw that one. I was thinking clean ale yeast fermented at cool temp vs lager yeast fermented at low temp

IME, "clean" yeasts are never really all that clean.  Different yeasts will perform differently and give different flavors.

Fermented cold, the difference are probably minimized, but they'd be different.

Clearly, you can ferment cold with an ale yeast and get lager-like flavors.  I see no reason you couldn't call that a lager as no one who drinks it will be analyzing a yeast sample under the microscope.
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Offline gman23

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2015, 07:23:50 PM »
Ok so to go off topic. Has anyone ever experienced a sort of "dirty sock/feet odor" taste in a lager? I know that may sound weird...I don't know how to describe a taste as the way something actually smells...

I have had a few commercial lagers over the years that had this distinct flavor to me but not to anyone else with me. Basically undrinkable and I have always referred to them as "feet beers". My current lager has just a very slight impression of this characteristic however I think it is something that I may just be sensitive to and not necessarily an off flavor.   

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Offline klickitat jim

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2015, 07:29:48 PM »
Ok so to go off topic. Has anyone ever experienced a sort of "dirty sock/feet odor" taste in a lager? I know that may sound weird...I don't know how to describe a taste as the way something actually smells...

I have had a few commercial lagers over the years that had this distinct flavor to me but not to anyone else with me. Basically undrinkable and I have always referred to them as "feet beers". My current lager has just a very slight impression of this characteristic however I think it is something that I may just be sensitive to and not necessarily an off flavor.
That could be isovalaric (sp?) acid, caused by certain bacteria in the presence of oxygen and stuff found in wort (not to sound too scientific). If its sulfur you're smelling some lager yeast strains throw that more than others. But stink feet is usually isovalaric

Offline gman23

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2015, 07:48:48 PM »
Ok so to go off topic. Has anyone ever experienced a sort of "dirty sock/feet odor" taste in a lager? I know that may sound weird...I don't know how to describe a taste as the way something actually smells...

I have had a few commercial lagers over the years that had this distinct flavor to me but not to anyone else with me. Basically undrinkable and I have always referred to them as "feet beers". My current lager has just a very slight impression of this characteristic however I think it is something that I may just be sensitive to and not necessarily an off flavor.
That could be isovalaric (sp?) acid, caused by certain bacteria in the presence of oxygen and stuff found in wort (not to sound too scientific). If its sulfur you're smelling some lager yeast strains throw that more than others. But stink feet is usually isovalaric

Interesting. Good to know. Thanks!

Found this:
"So, how does isovaleric acid get into beer? Most of the time, it’s formed when hops get old, particularly when the alpha acids degrade. I’ve discussed hop acids already in the bitterness article, so if you need a quick overview, head over there and it might clarify some things. This image (from the above-linked article) shows the basic structure of the alpha acids (on the left) and the iso-alpha acids (right) that they isomerize into during boiling in the brewing kettle (at which time they become the source of bitterness in beer). Basically, there are 3 main types of alpha acid (and the 3 corresponding iso-alpha acids) and while they have the same basic structure as each other, there are differences at the “R-group” (top right of the molecule in the images). The differences are minor, but these minor differences can be interesting and influential nonetheless. One of these 3 alpha acids (humulone) has an R-group which is called an isovaleryl group. When this alpha acid oxidizes (due to age and/or improper storage), this R-group can be removed from the molecule and becomes flavor-active, leading to the cheesy/sweatsock flavor I’m on about.

Another way isovaleric acid can get into beer is through a Brettanomyces infection. It’s not the most common source in beer, but infection by this yeast genus can produce cheesy aromas, as well as a host of other undesirable flavor-active compounds like acetic acid (vinegar), 4-ethylphenol (bandages), and 4-ethylguaiacol (smoky). Some breweries intentionally “pitch” Brett into their fermentors as they try to achieve a certain flavor profile or match a particular Belgian style, but more often than not a Brett infection is a bad thing. Brett is also used in winemaking to achieve certain flavors, but it can also be a spoilage organism here depending on the intent of the oenologist.

So limiting undesirable isovaleric acid levels in your beer comes down to using fresh and high-quality raw materials (store hops in a cool, dark environment and, if possible, oxygen-free), and maintaining sanitary brewing conditions and using plentiful and healthy yeast to limit the potential for beer spoilage."

My hops were fresh out of the sealed package so it sounds like it could be slight infection. Luckily it is barely detectable and has not worsened or ruined the batch. The strange thing is he distinctly mentions this as an aroma when I only get it in the taste. The aroma is great...
« Last Edit: June 26, 2015, 08:00:36 PM by goschman »
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Offline klickitat jim

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2015, 08:03:19 PM »
Another way to get it is sour mashing without a blanket of CO2

Offline beersk

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2015, 08:05:07 PM »
Very interesting on the isovaleric acid. Thanks for the info! I've perceived a dirty feet/sock aroma in IPAs I've brewed before, wondered what could've caused that. Another homebrewing friend suggested that of one of the beers as well. Nice to know that's what it is and not an infection.
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Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #12 on: June 26, 2015, 08:22:41 PM »
I think a true lager uses a lager yeast fermented cool, with a period of cold storage. Except nowadays, with more brewers (wisely IMO) using the modified fermentation schedule, the old "longer is better" approach to lagering isn't really necessary for average strength lagers, with the yeast getting to clean up before going to lager temps. Regardless, a lager is fermented cool with a lager yeast IMO. And your fermentation schedule would obviously dictate your lagering period.
As for commercial beers having that funkiness we've all noticed especially in imports, light struck, skunky oxidation comes to mind, too.
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Offline narcout

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2015, 08:27:57 PM »
My buddy was over tasting my beers the other day and was asking about my lager on tap. He was curious if it was a 'real lager' like stored for weeks at close to freezing temps. I said no, I guess not. I fermented this around 52F and it has been in the fridge at 38F for a few weeks. I don't have the ability to truly lager a beer but I can cold condition after it has been kegged.

"Been in the fridge at 38F for a few weeks" sounds a lot like "stored for weeks at close to freezing temps" to me.  I'd call that a "real" lager.
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Offline gman23

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Re: What makes a lager a lager?
« Reply #14 on: June 26, 2015, 08:38:17 PM »
My buddy was over tasting my beers the other day and was asking about my lager on tap. He was curious if it was a 'real lager' like stored for weeks at close to freezing temps. I said no, I guess not. I fermented this around 52F and it has been in the fridge at 38F for a few weeks. I don't have the ability to truly lager a beer but I can cold condition after it has been kegged.

"Been in the fridge at 38F for a few weeks" sounds a lot like "stored for weeks at close to freezing temps" to me.  I'd call that a "real" lager.

Yeah me too. I just know that some may insist that is not cold enough. I tend to get over-analytical about very trivial things. At the end of the day, I am drinking the majority of the beer I brew so I can call it whatever I like...it's all just semantics and relativity at this point I suppose
On Tap/Bottled: Hopfenbier, Kurbis Marzen, Red Rye, Vienna Lager,      

Fermenting: Imperial Porter
Up Next: Maibock, Braunbier