Let’s talk about Lagers

A couple weeks ago, we released our Mexican Style lager, Liberation Lager. It’s a great, easy drinking beer (and it tastes great with a lime, so be sure to ask for one when you come in). This beer has been selling faster than any other beer we’ve made, and that’s saying something - do you remember Rebel Wheat? Yeah, faster that that! We’ve had folks who know beer come up to and say something to the effect of, “Hey, I know you have to turn over beer quickly. This tastes like an actual lager. Is it?“ The first time we were asked, it confused us, because, of course it is a lager, it’s in the name. What our customers would then go on to explain is a craft beer secret that we weren’t aware of, but is apparently common knowledge. That practice being that while some brewers use the term lager, they don’t actually use lager yeast, nor take the time to lager the beer.

So apparently, here’s what happens.

(1) Lager yeast seems to be more fragile.

(2) Lager yeast is a “cold“ fermenting yeast, and simply takes longer to ferment the beer (which is, fyi, how I ferment my sourdough bread as well).

(3) Lagers mature in cooler temperatures, which also take longer. This all translates to less turnover, which translates to less money. The goal, apparently, is to keep turning over my fermenters so I can keep making beer, so I can…you guessed it…make more and quicker money.

To add to this, lagers are typically clean, crisp beers, and much of this is dependent on the water used. Our local water is high in alkalinity and chlorine. Sure, you can boil chlorine out of the water, but if you don’t and you dump it straight onto your mash, you’re in trouble. At Knox County Brewing Co., we use reverse osmosis water, which takes us about 30 hours to fill our tank. Once we do that, we create a water profile to produce the beer we want, and use minerals and salts to rebuild our water. You can’t make a good lager around here without doing that, so on top of the long lager time you have the added time of stripping and rebuilding your water.

True lagers can’t (or shouldn’t) be rushed. They require the art of slow; they take patience. Many of our customers might be surprised to know, I considered dumping the Liberation Lager at one point. I had a difficult time trusting the process; I had anxiety letting nature do what nature does. At one point in the lager process I tasted it, and it was, well, awful. I tasted it at the height of its diacetyl rest. Like life, sometimes in a moment of transition things taste really bad, and if we judge it by that moment, we may jump ship too soon and miss out on what could have been. The lager process is a pretty good metaphor for life. Personally, I like to move at the speed of a fast-fermenting ale, but often, in life, when we trust the process, wait for it, and let the stuff in our life work its way through, the end result is good.

All that to say, when we call something a lager, we mean lager. It’s not just a word we use. It defines the beer and process the beer went through. It has been cold fermented. We’ve used lager yeast and it has taken a while.

Until next time, cheers!

Matthew and Sarah Hansen