From: CraftPittsburgh Magazine Issue #3
When a person makes that faithful commitment to try their hand at homebrewing, the first styles they tend to gravitate toward are the ones that are most readily available in extract kits and, in many cases, the ones that are least complex. A tendency that’s understandable for obvious reasons. Beyond that, many homebrewers follow the same progression pa ern from rather timid, fledgling attempts at ambers, brown ales, and porters to more involved recipes. Understandably we are attempting to hone our abilities and increase our knowledge of this maddening and addictive hobby.
My concern lies at the point when novice brewers, such as myself, feel as if they’ve rifled through the normal laundry list of day-to-day styles and recipes and begin experiencing a craving for something different; a deep seeded desire to break out and expand one’s horizons. We’re possessed with the urge to throw some creativity into the fold. At this point in our progression, we tend to shift our interests toward variations on familiar styles (A smoked porter you say?) or adjunct additions to familiar styles (lemon peel and coriander in our American pale wheat sound appetizing) but beyond that, the potential for disaster lay ahead.
Inevitably, monotony will set in. One can only produce so many flavor variations before things get…precarious. Before we know it, our creative aspirations have spiraled out of control: Dill Pale Ale, PB&J Saison, Kölsch Cordon Bleu, etc. All of the sudden your home tap list or cellar sounds more like a reject list for potential Doritos flavors than respectable renditions of styles. What’s happened to you? Those once proud aspirations have mutated into mangled monstrosities and a hodge-podge of mismatched flavor combinations and overpowering adjuncts. The answer to your misled woes…lagers!
Let us cut to the heart of the issue. You are bored, pure and simple. What happens to a bored child in class? He or she acts out and misbehaves, not because they are ‘bad apples’ necessarily, but because they do not feel challenged by the material. Lagers are that challenge you, as a brewer, are yearning for. Yes, they require a bit of specialty equipment and/or the temperature-control provisioning that ales do not, but the juice is worth the squeeze in this case. Lager yeast strains require lower fermentation temperatures and, in many cases, cold conditioning of some kind. Not only does learning to be patient and how to better control your fermentation temperatures help you to evolve in all facets of brewing, but procuring the necessary conditions for lagering opens up doors to an entirely new world of stylistic challenges.
Let’s say we brew a brown ale, your run-of-the-mill English-style brown ale. Then let’s say we rack it off the yeast too fast or we don’t control the fermentation temperature as well as we had hoped, resulting in some mild to moderate off flavors. Without any major follies, the average joe would probably consider it a solid, drinkable rendition. Make those same mistakes in a Munich Helles and we may not be as likely to squeak by. Many of the lighter, more delicate lager styles don’t provide that same veil of forgiveness. Crafting a clean, flavorful lager is one of the most rewarding and, often times, challenging accomplishments a homebrewer can meet. By making the leap toward lagering, one can expand their horizons, hone their techniques, and keep themselves entertained (and out of trouble) in one fell swoop.
As I’ve stated, I’m mostly speaking to the moderately experienced brewer. Many would agree that beginners are beer suited getting their feet wet with less involved recipes. Inversely, advanced homebrew gurus have already graduated beyond our level years ago. But for those who are teetering on the edge, do yourself a favor and take that leap of faith. Buy a chest freezer, fashion some sort of acceptable contraption (as only homebrewers can) or otherwise make provisions and begin the long and rewarding trek toward lager bliss. When you experience the sensation of pouring your first crystal clear, clean, hoppy lager, you’ll look back and say to yourself, “Thank you lagers, you may have saved my brewing soul.”