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Making Lagers - Q&A with Jonathan Plise


The former California HomeBrewer of the Year and MoreBeer! employee answer a few questions about making Lagers at Home!

Jonathan won the prestigous California HomeBrewer of the Year in 2008 after winning the most points in select California homebrewing competitions. Not only is it a coveted bragging right, the winner also gets to brew at Sierra Nevada whom is the sponsor of the award.  Jonathan ran our concord showroom for 9 years and was a founding member of the Brewing Network.  Jonathan became an amazing Lager brewer and also took home a gold at the National Homebrewers Competiton for his Munich Helles recipe. We had the opportunity (because we work with him) to sit down and ask him a few questions.

Q: That is your ideal fermentation temp for a lager?
A: My ideal temprerature range for fermenting a lager is 48-50F.

Q: What is your fermentation schedule for a lager?
A: I ferment my lagers for 14-21 days in primary. Then I do a diacetyl rest at 53-55 degrees for 3-5 days. Next I take a gravity reading and taste to make sure there is no more diacetyl present. Finally I “crash” the temperature to 40 degrees and leave it in there for another week.

Q: How much yeast do you need for a lager?
A:You will need 4 times as much yeast as an ale because of the cold start. Eventhough you are you pitching so much yeast you will have a longer lag time than an ale. 3-5 days without a “krausen” is normal.

Q: What kind of yeast starter do you make for lagers?
A: I take 2 vials or 2 packs and use those to make a 2000ml yeast starter.

Q:  I have heard people starting their fermentation at a higher temperature.  Is this something you have heard of? If so what is the process?
A: Yes, but you do not want to go above 65 degrees.  I would recommend starting the fermentation temperature at around 60-65 degrees. I would leave it at this temperature for no more than 8-12 hours.  Wait until you see a krausen head form.  Then drop to the desired lager temp around 48-50 degrees.

Q:  How long do you usually boil for?  90 or 60mins?
A: I always boil for lagers for 90 mins to get rid of DMS, especially if you’re using pilsner malt. If you use 2-row malt then a 60 minute boil is fine.

Q: Do you need to have pilsner malt to do a pilsner?  How important is it?
A:  It is very important to have pilsner malt in a pilsner.  It’s lighter in color and has a unique aroma compared to 2-row. You can have some 2-row for a base but I would recommend to do no more than 30% 2-row.  So you could have a pilsner with 70% pilsner malt and 30% 2-row but I would not do anything above that.  
For a Kolsch you could do 50% pilsner malt and 50% 2-row.

Q: Is cold crashing enough to achieve clarity or should you filter?
A: Cold crashing should be enough. I personally never filter. If anything use a clarifier such as biofine. I put biofine in at 53-55F degrees for a day after fermentation right after diacetyl rest then crash to 40F.

Q: Is it ok to dry hop a pilsner?
A: Absolutely dry hop a pilsner!  Try adding some Czech Sazz right at your diacytl rest. Then leave those hops in for week while you cold crash. Pull the hops after a week. Try using around 2-4 ounces per five gallons.

Q: Do you step-mash your lagers and if so what are the step temps?
A: Yes I do step-mashes with lager. The first traditional “step” used to be an acid rest to lower the ph but now we have malts that already have the correct ph. So this step is not needed. I start with a protein rest at 122-125 degrees for 15 mins.  This is very important to do because it helps break down the proteins in the grain.  Then I do a saccrification “sugar” rest at 144-148 degrees for 15-20 mins. I like this lower temp mash because the beta amylase active at this range make smaller chains of sugar resulting in a more ferementable, dryer beer. Then I do a dextrin or alpha amylase rest at 158-162 for 15 mins to finsh starch to sugar conversion. Finally I do a “mash-out” by raising the mash temperature to 172 degrees.

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