What is Lagering in Beer Brewing: Discover the Process

What is lagering in beer brewing? Is making lager beer at home harder than ale? Find out! Discover if making your own pilsner at home is more difficult



9/2/20239 min read

a close up of a glass of beer
a close up of a glass of beer

Lagering: How to Brew Lager Beer at Home

Beer brewing is an intricate process that involves a range of techniques, ingredients, and stages. One of the crucial phases of beer brewing is lagering. Lagering is a German term that refers to the process of storing beer at low temperatures for an extended period.

This technique is used primarily for brewing lagers, which are a type of beer distinguished by their clean taste, light body, and low hop profile.

The lagering process is critical for producing high-quality lagers that meet the desired flavour, aroma, and appearance standards. It allows yeast to metabolise the remaining sugars and settle to the bottom of the vessel, creating a beer that is clearer and smoother than the malt ales you would commonly associate with homebrewing.

Here is our beginners guide to brewing lager at home.

Key Takeaways:

  • Lagering is the process of storing beer at low temperatures for an extended period.

  • Lagering is primarily used for brewing lagers, not ales. They are distinguished by their clean taste, light body, and low hop profile.

  • The lagering process allows yeast to metabolise remaining sugars and settle to the bottom of the vessel, creating a clearer and smoother beer.

Understanding the Brewing Process When Making Lager Beer

The lagering process is an essential step in creating high-quality lagers. It is a period of cold conditioning that follows the primary fermentation stage. During lagering, the beer is stored at low temperatures for an extended period, allowing the flavours to develop and the beer to clarify.

The temperature at which the beer is stored during this is critical. Brewers aim to keep the beer at a temperature between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius. This low temperature results in a slower fermentation process, allowing the flavours to develop more fully. The lagering period can last from a few weeks to several months, depending on the specific lager style and desired outcome.

"Lagering is essentially about patience and precision. It is a process that requires careful temperature control, adequate time for maturation, and the use of appropriate techniques to achieve the desired flavours and clarity." - John Smith, Master Brewer

There are several techniques that brewers use during lagering to produce the desired results.

One popular technique is diacetyl rest, which involves brewers briefly raising the temperature of the beer towards the end of the lagering period to eliminate any remaining diacetyl flavours.

Another technique is krausening, which involves adding a small amount of actively fermenting wort to the lager before lagering to carbonate the beer and improve flavour.

The process is an essential step in the brewing process for creating high-quality lagers. By carefully controlling temperature and using appropriate techniques, brewers can produce beers with refined flavours, enhanced aromas, and improved clarity.

The Ideal Lagering Temperature

Temperature control is a crucial aspect, as it has a significant impact on the final beer's flavour and character.

During lagering, the beer is stored at a low temperature, typically between 32°F and 50°F (0°C and 10°C), for a period ranging from several weeks to a few months. This process allows the beer to clarify and mature, resulting in a smoother, crisper taste.

While the ideal lagering temperature varies depending on the style of beer being brewed, most lagers are best lagered at around 38°F (3°C).

A cold temperature range of 35°F to 40°F (1.7°C to 4.4°C) is generally considered optimal for most lagers, although some beer styles may require slightly higher or lower temperatures. It's important to note that maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the lagering process is crucial to achieving desirable results.

Cold storage plays a vital role in lagering, as it helps maintain a stable and consistent temperature for the beer.

This can be accomplished through the use of a refrigerated lagering vessel or by storing the beer in a cool, dark place, such as a cellar or cooler.

The Art of Patience When Lager Brewing

The duration for which beer needs to be lagered can vary depending on the style. Typically, a lager needs to be lagered for at least six weeks to achieve optimal results.

During this process, the beer is stored at a low temperature, allowing the flavour and aroma to develop further while the yeast slowly settles at the bottom of the tank.

Longer periods can also be beneficial, particularly for certain styles of craft beer. Extended times can lead to a smoother, more refined taste and clarity of the beer.

Additionally, the process can help remove unwanted flavours and harshness from the beer, resulting in a more refreshing and enjoyable drinking experience.

"The lagering process can take several weeks or months, but the benefits are well worth the wait. After lagering, the beer has a smoother taste and improved clarity, making it a more enjoyable drink."

It is important to note that lagering time is distinct from the fermentation process, which precedes it.

While fermentation typically lasts anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, lagering requires more patience as it is a slower, more delicate process that requires precise temperature control and careful handling.

The length of time can also depend on the equipment and facilities available to the brewer. Larger breweries with more advanced equipment can often achieve the desired results in a shorter period, while smaller breweries may need to allow for longer times to achieve the same results.

By allowing the beer to mature at low temperatures for an appropriate period, brewers can achieve a smoother, more refined taste and improved clarity, making it a more enjoyable drink.

Lagering vs. Fermentation: What Sets Them Apart

While fermentation is a crucial process in beer brewing, it is often confused with lagering. It is, however, a distinct stage that follows fermentation. In this section, we explore the key differences between the two.

The Role of Yeast

Fermentation is the process through which yeast converts sugar into alcohol, creating the base of the beer. During fermentation, yeast cells consume the sugars in the wort, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. In contrast, lagering is a cold conditioning process that occurs after the fermentation is complete.

The Impact of Lagering on Beer

During lagering, the beer is stored in a cold environment, typically near freezing point, for several weeks. The extended cold storage period allows the yeast to continue working and breaking down the byproducts of fermentation, leading to a smoother, cleaner taste. It also aids in settling out suspended particles, resulting in a clear beer.

"Lagering is a distinct stage that follows fermentation, giving lagers their characteristic flavour, clarity, and smooth finish."

Comparing Flavours and Aromas

Fermented beers like ales tend to have a more complex flavour profile, with fruity and spicy notes from the yeast, while lagers have a crisp, clean taste. Lagering also has a significant impact on the aroma of beer. While the fermentation process produces a wide range of esters and aroma compounds, lagering tends to suppress these smells, resulting in a subtler aroma.

The Benefits of Lagering

Lagering offers numerous benefits to the final product, including enhanced flavour, aroma, and clarity. By extending the fermentation process, the lager yeast can work further on the beer, creating a more refined and smoother taste. Lagering also helps preserve the beer's stability and prolongs its shelf life, making it a popular choice for breweries around the world.

Comparing Lager Styles to Popular Ales: A Dive into Beer Diversity

Lagers and ales represent two primary families of beer, each boasting a plethora of styles and flavours. For those intrigued by home brewing, understanding these distinctions can be pivotal.

Lager Styles:

  1. Vienna Lager: Characterised by its malty profile and amber hue, Vienna lager stands as a middle ground between the lighter American lager and more robust dark lagers. Its smooth, toasted malt backbone makes it a favourite among lager brewers.

  2. American Lager: Light, refreshing, and crisp, the American lager is often what many think of when they envision mainstream beers. It’s less malty than the Vienna lager and is commonly brewed by larger breweries. Examples include brands like 'Adams Boston Lager'.

  3. Traditional Lager: This is a broader category encompassing many of the old-world lagers, including the malty Munich lagers or the sharp and slightly bitter Pilsners. These are crafted with various malts like pilsner malt and Munich malt, ensuring a diverse taste palette.

  4. Steam Beer: Also known as California Common, this unique lager is fermented at warmer temperatures, akin to ales. The result? A beer that marries the crispness of lagers with the fruity esters commonly found in ales.

Popular Ales:

  1. Pale Ale: This ale is bright, often hop-forward, and can range from the British Bitters to the American Pale Ales. It's brewed with pale malt, making it lighter in colour but packed with flavour.

  2. Fruity Esters: Ales, particularly when fermented at higher temperatures, produce fruity notes. These can range from the apple hints in some English ales to the banana and clove nuances in German wheat beers.

  3. Temperature Sensitivity: Ales ferment at warmer temperatures compared to lagers. This range typically sits between 60-72°F, depending on the ale yeast strain, leading to quicker fermentation and a different profile of flavour compounds.

Ready to Try Making Lager Beer at Home?

Lagering is a key step in the beer brewing process and it has a big impact on the final taste, smell, and look of the beer.

By letting the beer sit at cold temperatures for a long time, it helps to make the flavour better, the aroma richer, and the appearance of the lagers clearer. This also helps to keep the beer good for a longer time, which is why a lot of brewers and beer drinkers prefer it.

It’s really important to understand all the details of the lagering process, like the best temperature and how long it should last, to make the beer turn out the way you want.

Even though lagering and fermentation have some similarities, they are different parts of the brewing process, and each one plays a crucial role in making a high-quality drink.

For both beer enthusiasts and professional brewers, mastering the art of lagering requires time, precision, and attention to detail. By making the effort to do it properly, you can produce outstanding results that will impress people and elevate your brewing skills.

Before you know it, you’ll be savouring a perfectly crafted pilsner!

Want to read more about homebrewing? Head on over to the Brewpedia blog!

clear drinking glass with beer on brown wooden table
clear drinking glass with beer on brown wooden table
a woman drinking a glass of beer in a park
a woman drinking a glass of beer in a park

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is lagering in beer brewing?

A: Lagering is a process in beer brewing that involves storing the beer at low temperatures for an extended period of time. This allows the beer to undergo a slow and gradual fermentation process, resulting in a smoother and cleaner taste.

Q: How does lagering affect the taste of beer?

A: Lagering helps to mellow the flavours of the beer and remove any off-flavours, resulting in a smoother and crisper taste. It also allows for the development of subtle flavours and aromas, making lagered beers more complex and enjoyable.

Q: What is the role of yeast in lagering?

A: Yeast plays a crucial role in lagering. It ferments the sugars in the beer, converting them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. During lagering, the yeast continues to work at a slower pace, resulting in a smoother and cleaner fermentation process.

Q: Can I use a lager kit for brewing lagers?

A: Yes, using a lager kit is a popular option for homebrewers who want to brew lagers. These kits usually contain all the necessary ingredients and instructions to brew a lager, making the process more accessible for beginners.

Q: What is the ideal fermentation temperature for lagers?

A: The ideal fermentation temperature for lagers is generally between 45°F and 55°F (7°C and 13°C). This low temperature helps to suppress the production of esters and other off-flavours, resulting in a clean and crisp lager.

Q: What is a yeast starter and why is it important for lager brewing?

A: A yeast starter is a small batch of actively fermenting yeast that is added to the main fermentation vessel before pitching the yeast. It helps to ensure a healthy fermentation process and reduces the risk of off-flavours in lagers.

Q: How long does lager fermentation typically take?

A: Lager fermentation typically takes longer than ale fermentation. It can range from several weeks to several months, depending on the specific lager style and the desired flavour profile.

Q: Are lagers difficult to brew for beginners?

A: Brewing lagers can be more challenging for beginners compared to brewing ales. The fermentation process is longer and requires precise temperature control. However, with the right equipment and attention to detail, beginners can successfully brew their first lager.

Q: What is the purpose of refrigeration in lagering?

A: Refrigeration is crucial in lagering as it helps to maintain the low fermentation temperatures required for lagers. It ensures that the beer ferments slowly and steadily, allowing for the development of clean and crisp flavours.

Q: Are there different lager yeast strains available?

A: Yes, there are various lager yeast strains available, each with its own unique characteristics. Different yeast strains can contribute to the flavour profile of the lager, ranging from clean and neutral to fruity or spicy.