Homebrewing Lagers – Do you really have to ferment cold?
Short answer – No!
I know, you are saying to yourself that I am crazy and I don’t know what I’m talking about and a year ago I would have believed you. But I am here to tell you, if you love lagers, and you do not have the ability to ferment cold, I just made your day!
We have been told time and time again you have to ferment a lager cold. I believed it. I did it, and now I know it’s not the case, however you do have to have the right strain of lager yeast.
Now, I am not talking about hybrid yeast strains that will give you results kind of, sort of, like a lager. I am talking real lager yeast strains.
A year ago I decided 2016 was going to be a year of lagers for me. I love many styles of lager and I couldn’t wait to get going. I even had a brand new temperature controlled chest freezer that would allow me to ferment up to 30 gallons of lager at any temperature I desired. I also did a lot of research on brewing lagers and lager yeast strains.
I started out using various liquid yeast strains fermented at 50 degrees with great results but I really did not like the pain of making 3 and 4 liter starters every time. (I do 10 gallon batches) I decided I was going to try a couple of dry yeast lager strains, Fermentis Saflager S-23 and Saflager w-34-70.
Being a lazy brewer I was really loving the dry yeast strains. Rehydrating a few packages of yeast was a lot easier than making a 1 gallon starter. Plus I really like the results I got. The beer was great!
Then one day I read an article published my Marshall Schott of Brulosophy fame. Click here for the article. He had done what he calls an exbeeriment. He had brewed a lager, split the batch between 2 fermenters, and pitched Saflager W-34-70. One he fermented at 50 degrees and the other at 70 degrees. The result? A panel of tasters could not reliably distinguish any difference between the beers.
Being the skeptic I am, and the fact that I have been telling my homebrewing customers for years that they couldn’t brew lagers without temperature control, I had to try it. I did not submit it to a panel of tasters but I couldn’t tell the difference between the two beers and both kegs went quick. Everyone enjoyed the beers.
Keep in mind, this test was only done using Fermentis Saflager W-34-70. I think it would be logical that you can get similar results with Saflager S-23 as it has the exact same temperature range as W-34-70. Also W-34-70 is a great yeast strain and makes a fantastic lager. You will not be disappointed with it.
Another interesting note. Brulosophy did another exbeeriment where he pushed the fermentation temperature up to 82 degrees. Here is a link to the article. While no one is suggesting you ferment this warm my guess is you could even exceed the 70 degrees by a little bit and be fine.
Now that this homebrewing myth is debunked, go and brew yourself a nice lager.
Note: All of this being said, I will always recommend temperature control, even for ales. Temperature control gives you the ultimate in the consistency in brewing beer. It also allows you to coax different flavors from your yeast and makes it easier to achieve full attenuation of your beers. Plus some yeasts have a temperature sweet spot. If you are serious about your beer put temperature control near the top of your list.