This time of year, on the MA/NH border, means cold temps (aside from this little heat wave we’re getting right now). My basement is unfinished, and completely open, so it’s always a good deal colder than the 1st and 2nd floors. main floors are around 67°, basement is about 55°. Why is this important? Because I don’t have a dedicated cooling chamber that can be dedicated to holding temps low enough to ferment lagers. Ideally, most lager yeast strains you want to keep around 48-50° during the heavy fermentation. Once the gravity is done dropping, and the main fermentation is complete, the beer can be racked to a secondary carboy or corny keg and put in a fridge for lagering (cold storage for a month or more during which the beer continues to condition and clear. Yeast and other solids fall from suspension, providing the clean, crisp characteristics attributed to lagers.
In warmer months, the basement gets into the low 60s, but in the winter, it’s closer to the correct temps for lager ferments, meaning it would require less effort to bring the fermenter down to ideal temp. I believe I could place the glass carboy in a tub of water (more liquid mass to help slow temp increase as fermentation itself causes the wort to heat up). A couple frozen water bottles in the water could help as well.
So now the question is, just because I think I CAN brew a lager in the winter, should I? Sure I enjoy a nice crisp German or Czech Pils. Other styles using lager yeast strains include: Octoberfest, Vienna Lager, Munich Dunkel, Schwarzbier, Bock, Baltic Porter, Munich Helles, Dortmunder Export.
So I’m thinking maybe a Victory Prima Pils clone attempt… but here’s the thing: Lagers take longer. In all ways.
Yes lager yeasts require lower temps (too warm a ferment and you end up with fruity esters that are not correct for the style), but because of those lower temps, the yeast does take longer to work. An ale may finish primary fermentation in 7 days, whereas a lager needs 2-3 weeks. Plus a diacetyl rest (raising the ferment temp after the bulk of fermentation is complete, to make sure any diacetyl there may be is ingested by the yeast and removed from the finished beer. Once racked into a secondary vessel (with less headspace) it needs to be chilled down and stored cold for a month or more. A fridge can be used for this assuming you have the space.
Another thing to factor in is the yeast starter. Lagers require bigger starters than ales. The yeast packets homebrewers buy are all the same size regardless of ale or lager. So one needs to take more time building up a starter. For a standard ale I may need a 1.5 liter starter, but for the same amount of Czech Pils, I may need 3 liters.
So I’m torn. Part of me wants to brew a lager, mostly because I never have, and I want to learn more as a brewer. The beer drinker in me thinks a nice Pale Ale or IPA would be great as it can be done more quickly, with less work.