How To Make Lager From Scratch

Whether you drink large production American lagers or handcrafted micro brews, chances are while you've been sipping you've wondered how to brew your own lager from scratch. Lager style beers have been around for between eight hundred and nine hundred years, and though the process has changed somewhat with the growth of technologies such as refrigeration and bottling, the process remains fairly simple. There are two basic ways to go about brewing a lager beer: all grain and extract brewing. We'll be covering the cheaper of the two, extract brewing, in this article.

There are a few basic pieces of equipment every brewer needs:

  • A soup or stew pot capable of holding at least 2.5 gallons of water (the Brew Kettle)
  • 2 food grade 5 gallon plastic buckets (Fermentation Tank and Bottling Bucket)
  • An airlock
  • 53 empty beer bottles (pry off only)
  • A bottle capper and caps
  • A six foot length of food grade plastic tubing and a bottling wand
  • A long plastic spoon
  • A large food grade funnel
  • A heat source
  • A cold place to ferment (chest freezer, refrigerator, basement)
  • Food thermometer

Yes, there is a bit of initial investment in the hobby of homebrewing, but this set up will keep most brewers happy for at least their first year of brewing. All this equipment is available online or at your local homebrewing shop.

For a basic lager recipe, you will need:

  • 6 lbs of light dry malt extract (DME)
  • 1/4 lb Crystal 60L malt, milled (crushed)
  • 1.25 oz Hallertauer Hops
  • 1 package lager yeast
  • 1/4 cup corn sugar
  • 5 Gallons of water (bottled or filtered if your water is chlorinated)

Now, we're ready to brew:

  1. Be sure to sanitize all equipment that will touch the beer beforehand with a no rinse sanitizer.
  2. Pour 2.5 gallons of water into your brew kettle and bring it to between 150 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Place 1/4 lb of Crystal malt into a nylon or muslin bag and add to the water. Steep the grains for ten to twenty minutes until the water takes on some of the color of the malt.
  4. Remove the steeping grains from the water (now called the "wort") and bring the wort to a boil.
  5. When the water reaches boiling, remove it from the heat and slowly add 6 lbs of malt extract. Stir and the extract should all dissolve. If not, add more boiling water until you can fully dissolve it. After the extract has fully dissolved, bring the wort back to a boil. 
  6. Warning! During these next steps, do not leave the room or turn your back on the brew kettle. Extract and hops will boil over!
  7. When the wort has returned to a boil, add the hops either loose or in a nylon / muslin bag.
  8. Boil for one hour. During this time, have a friend prepare an ice bath in a sink or bathtub (or do this in advance)
  9. When one hour is up, remove the kettle from heat and place it in the ice bath, cover it with the lid and let the wort cool to approximately 75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. Pour the wort from the kettle into the fermentation tank, top it up to five gallons and add the yeast.
  11. Place the lid on the tank and shake to incorporate the yeast.  Make sure to place your airlock into the grommet which is fitted into the lid of the tank.
  12. Let the beer ferment at 40 degrees for 45 days (yes, lager takes a while longer than ale).
  13. <span bold;\\"="">Transfer the beer from fermentation bucket to bottling bucket with plastic tubing. Be careful not to let too much air incorporate into the beer and add 1/4 cup of corn sugar.
  14. Bottle beer using your bottling wand and plastic tubing, then cap and let rest for two weeks to carbonate.
  15. Open a bottle, drink and enjoy!

Crafting your own beer is a fulfilling experience, worth the effort and time.  If you've ever wondered how great beer is made, give it a shot and enjoy yourself.  And remember the home brewer's mantra: Relax, don't worry, have a home brew.