Thursday 16 May 2024

Is Homebrewing a Lager Difficult?


Lagers are by far the most popular beer style in the world, so it makes sense that most brewers want to have a go at making one for themselves at some point. But when people begin diving into the world of homebrewing and researching how to make one themselves, they'll inevitably come across advice suggesting to steer clear as they can be more difficult to make than ales.

This is something that was always in the back of our mind as we've been progressing on our own brewing journey, and only fairly recently have we attempted making a few different lagers - with (in our humble opinion) great success. Which got us thinking - is it really that hard to make a good lager?

Why are Lagers more difficult to make than ales?

There's a number of reasons that lagers are considered more difficult to make than their ale counterparts. Let's break down some of them below;

Lager Yeasts need to ferment at lower temperatures

This is generally true for most lager strains which need to ferment at lower temperatures compared to most ale yeasts. There's a couple of ways to manage and address this though. First of all, if you've got a fermentation fridge, or other method to manage/control your fermentation temperature, then you're all set. Plug and play temperature controllers like the KegLand RAPT Temperature Controller mean you can turn just about any fridge of freezer into an precisely controlled fermentation chamber, for very little outlay (get a second hand fridge off eBay or other marketplace sites!)

Another option is to ferment at a warmer temperature, and use pressure fermentation to suppress the creation of off flavours that are typically created by fermenting too warm/hot. There's loads of information on this, and with cheap plastic pressure capable fermenters readily available (Keg King Apollo or KegLand FermZilla All Rounder are good starting options), it's very easy to leverage this relatively new fermenting method.

Keg King's Apollo PET fermenter

You could also leverage a yeast strain like NovaLager which has a higher recommended fermentation temperature range compared to most other lager yeast strains, but still gives a really nice, clean lager flavour profile.

Off-flavours are hard to hide

The other cautionary advice when brewing lagers is that there's "nothing to hide behind" in terms of flavour profiles, so if somethings not right, it can't be masked by high hop levels like it potentially could with heavily hopped ale styles like IPA's. There is some truth to this, but in terms of where your off-flavours are going to come from, in most cases it will be from the fermentation - namely temperature control (or lack thereof) which we've addressed in the point above.

There are loads of other steps in the brewing process where off flavours could be developed or introduced, but if you've got some reasonable brewing processes in place, or have made a couple of decent ales without any major flaws, then there's no reason you couldn't do the same with a lager.

Higher yeast requirements

Since most lager yeasts ferment at a colder temperature than ale yeasts, the pitching rates for lager yeast are generally higher to ensure sufficient yeast cells are present in the wort for a healthy fermentation. We previously mentioned Novalager, which ferments at temperatures similar to ale yeast, and this particular strain has a similar pitching rate to ale yeast, meaning a single pack of dry yeast can be used for a standard 20L/5 gallon batch. For most other lager yeasts, typically 2 packets of (dry) yeast would be needed for the same batch size.

NovaLager yeast is a higher-temperature tolerant lager yeast

Extended Conditioning Time

The term lager loosely translated to storing at cold temperatures for an extended period of time - also known as aging, which is what is required by lager yeast in order to condition. This conditioning process allows for off-flavours created during fermentation to be reabsorbed or broken down by the yeast, and generally allows the flavour profile to develop, smooth-out and mellow.

Raising the temperature towards the tail end of fermentation can help kick start this process, by keeping more yeast cells in suspension for a bit longer to help with this cleaning up process. But we don't think this conditioning time requirement should deter anyone from making a lager. We find the same kind of conditioning time is also required for some heavily hopped ales. It can be an interesting journey for your tastebuds to try your beer every day or two during the conditioning period to see how the taste changes and develops.

Hot Take on Brewing Lagers

Here's our hot take on brewing lagers - we actually think they can be easier to make in some aspects compared to ales.

Simple Grain Bills

The grist or grain bills for lagers are generally pretty simple, comprising mostly of pale or pilsner malt. Of course you can include other malts as well, but specialty malts don't play as big of a role in lagers as they do in ales.

Simple Hop Schedules

As with grain bills, the hop schedules for a lager are pretty simple as well. For many lager styles, a single 60 (or 30 minute) addition may be all that is required to get the bitterness and flavour profile you need. Whirlpool hopping, or dry hopping are far less common when making a lager compared to making an ale. The other benefit of reduced hop rates mean they can actually be cheaper to make, especially if you're comparing it to heavily-hopped ale styles that can use several hundred grams of hops for a single batch.

Simple Water Profiles

Water profiles when brewing a lager are generally pretty soft, with very little mineral content being required. Ales, particularly those with plenty of hops will often call for elevated levels of chloride or sulfate to help modify mouthfeel or accentuate hop flavours, but lagers don't need this. As with making any beer, the most important thing to do is remove chlorine or chloramine (use a campden tablet) from your source water. If your water otherwise tastes good to drink, you can make a good lager with it. We don't add any mineral additions to our tap water (aside from running it through a filter to remove chlorine) when making lagers.

One malt variety, and one hop type is all you need to make a killer lager

So, is homebrewing a lager difficult?

In our opinion, no. If you're a brewer and you can make a good ale, then you can definitely make a good lager as well. We've created a checklist below for making a great lager - pretty much all of these apply to making any kind of beer style though, and aren't lager specific

  • Fermentation temperature control (or pressure fermenting)
  • All-grain recipe (in our experience, extract-based brews just don't taste as good)
  • Good water (no chlorine/chloramine)

  • Good cleaning/sanitation practices (for all equipment)

  • Sufficient yeast (as per yeast manufacturers recommend pitching rate)
  • Good packaging practices (oxygen-free transfers are preferable to prevent oxidation)


If you can answer yes to the 6 points outlined above, and you've been toying with the idea of making a lager, then it's time to jump in and have a go. We wish we'd started making them sooner, as we've found they really aren't that difficult to make - and even a super simple lager with only a single malt and single hop variety can give a truly amazing result!

If you're a brand-new brewer it might be worthwhile starting out with a simple pale ale, as they are arguably a little more forgiving, But once you have your brewing and sanitation processes sorted out after even just one or two brews, it may be time to dip your toes in the lager "pool" and see how you go.

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