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FIELD GUIDE: Practical Tips

This is one section of a longer article on lagering:

Controlling A Cold Storage Environment

There are a number of ways to create an environment that's cold enough to create a lagered beer. The only two absolute requirements are: (a) a low temperature, and (b) a consistent temperature.

Traditionally, lagering was done in deep caverns, and many people still manage to use cold corners of their basements to do it, but that can definitely present challenges. Controlling your temperature is really critical during your primary fermentation, where the risk is ending up with beer that just doesn't taste good because the yeast got too warm. For your secondary fermentation, as long as you can make sure that your beer doesn't get too cold and freeze in the carboy, your main risk is just spending the time and effort to lager your beer, without reaping the full benefits.

Using a warming jacket

If you have a spot that's consistently colder than your target temperature, you can use a temperature-controlled warming pad, although you really cant expect it to reliably warm your beer by more than a few degrees.

Setting up a cold-storage unit

Most home brewers who explore lager beers eventually end up building (or converting) a dedicated cold-storage unit. There a number of approaches that you can take:

  • Upright Fridge: An old refrigerator can work fine, although it probably will not be able to maintain close-to-freezing temperatures, and you'll definitely want to reinforce the weight-bearing shelf substantially. You can usually just remove the fragile glass or plastic shelving, and create a simple wooden platform out of lumber that can carry the weight of 10-15 gallons of beer. Since you'll be pushing the fridges cooling ability, you'll want to open the door as little as possible once lagering has started.
  • Chest Freezer: Top-opening freezer units are a popular choice, since they are actually designed to keep their contents colder than youd need, and you can raise the lid to check on progress without allowing a lot of cold air to escape. Since most chest freezers aren't designed to maintain constant temperatures that are above freezing, however, they usually require an external thermostat like our Digital Refrigerator Thermostat that can monitor the internal temperature of the unit, and cycle power on and off to the freezer.
 
Keg Lid for Secondary Fermenter
Cornelius Keg Airlock Lid
Want a great way to lager your beer safely, and save space in your cooler? These lids let you pop an airlock on top of a corny keg, and voila! You've got an unbreakable lagering vessel that gives you room to lager even more beer!
 

Bottling A Lagered Beer

If you're planning on bottling your lager, then you should really consider putting it into bottles before you go into the secondary fermentation stage. There are two important considerations:

  • Agitation: The secondary fermentation process is meant to get your beer crystal clear, by forcing the remaining solids to fall to the bottom of the storage vessel. Moving around a carboy, and siphoning beer — after your clarification should be complete — only risks stirring up sediments.
  • Warming: Unless you're bottling your beer in a meat locker, the transfer process will also warm your beer a bit. Combined with the agitation, you're creating the perfect conditions for it to re-absorb some of the solids that you've just worked so hard to eliminate.

So, as a rule, while it's always easier to do the primary fermentation in a single large bucket or carboy, if you want to eventually have bottled lager, you're better off doing the bottling at the end of your diacetyl rest. That way, you can just pull out the bottles when you're ready to drink them, and you'll be pouring the clearest beer possible.