Batch #1-09: Lager

Style Basic Lager
Ingredients Cooper’s Lager Pre-Hopped Malt Extract Kit
Brewing Date: Saturday, January 24, 09
Primary Fermentation: Saturday, January 24, 09
Original Gravity: 1.037
Secondary Fermentation: n/a
Bottling Date: Sunday, February 1, 09 (after Super Bowl)
Final Gravity: 1.007
Release Date: Friday, March 6, 09
Alcohol by volume: 4.4% ABV
Final Release Name: Little John’s Lager


Wort boiled in a ceramic pot for 45 minutes. This was risky: because I had no good thermometer that would measure under 150 degrees, knowing when to pitch yeast was a guess. I would have preferred a stainless steel pot, but wanted to improvise on the first brew a little bit (read: be cheap and just use what I had). Mixture was 1 gallon of tap water, can of Cooper’s Lager Malt, and 2 cups of corn sugar. Stirred the wort a lot to prevent any chance of burning.

Wort cooled in Brewpot with cool water and ice in sink for 15 minutes, then placed into plastic fermentation bucket. Added 4 gallons of water to the fermentation bucket. Lid replaced, allowed another 10 minutes to cool. Wort seemed only warm to touch, so took a gravity reading with hydrometer and pitched yeast. Sealed the lid and inserted the S-shaped airlock. Put in corner of garage to begin fermentation.

25 Jan, 6:00PM — Fermentation lock shows bubbling at a rate of 10-15 seconds between “bursts” (i.e. bubbles pressing through the water in the airlock). Note sure what a proper rate is, but the yeast is doing something.

30 Jan, 6:00PM — Fermenation seems to be slowing: now 20-30 seconds between bursts. Documentation I can find on the net says the bursts should slow to less than once per minute when yeast has completed the fermentation cycle. Confirmed this with some co-workers who have also home brewed beer (thanks Ross and Teddy).

31 Jan, 4:00PM — Fermentation has now slowed to over one minute between burst cycles. Took an FG measurement to confirm fermentation is complete (1.007). Will bottle tomorrow night after Super Bowl… due to scheduling… if gravity is stable.

01 Feb, 10:15PM — Gravity was unchanged: 1.007. Siphoned the brew into the second bucket using the racking cane and hose. The racking cane had a problem maintaining a siphon–gotta check into this. The brew was cold. The week in the garage had temperature variations from 42F to 67F during the week. The brew also shows a tangy smell and flavor. Counseled with some co-workers who’ve done this before, and they offered some suggestions of what might have happened. Primed the bottles with 1/4 teaspoon of cane sugar each. Bottling went without incident. Produced 43 12oz long-neck glass bottles, 6 11.5oz Perrier bottles (glass with metal screw cap), and one Pellagrino 25.3oz sparkling water bottle (glass, also with metal screw cap). The Perrier and Pellagrino bottles are to test how well the screw caps maintain the carbonation over time.

4 bottles went into the fridge, and the remaining into a black plastic bucket in the laundry room (for room temperature conditioning).

06 Feb, 8:00PM — Time to break open some bottles and check. Opened a bottle from the fridge, and one from the plastic container at room temperature. The fridge had practically no carbination, while the room temperature bottle produced a head that was 75% of the glass on the intial pour. It also took well over a minute to subside so I could finish pouring. Both beers are quite sweet in taste, and have an orangey/citrusy taste to them. The color is more like an ale than a lager, but the beer is drinkable. I like the taste, but not the sweetness. I think the sweetnesss can be attributed to priming the bottles with cane sugar, instead of corn sugar–or something else. The yeast may have a bit of work left to do with the sugars still there. I am very impressed with the beer’s head: I even pulled the bottles in the fridge out and put them in the plastic tub since they appear to be conditioning well at room temperature.

This beer appears to be progressing well. Only regrets are contributing to the excessive sweetness with the cane sugar.

12 Feb, 10:30PM — Time to break open another bottle and check progress. This bottle had undergone conditioning at room temperature, and wasn’t put into the fridge (to get a true sampling of its flavor). The sweetness has subsided substantially, and the tanginess had also subsided a bit. The beer is now quite drinkable. When pouring it into the glass, it would only fill up 25% with liquid, and the rest of the glass was filled up with a thick foam head. Just as interesting, after putting the bottle back down, the remaining beer in the bottle started to make its own foam head–which oozed all the way up into the neck of the bottle, but did not overflow it.

My home brew counselors/mentors, Ross and Teddy, warn that this could be a warning of over fermentation which could lead to bottle explosions (more like messy breaks). I have the bottles stored in a plastic storage bin with it cover, so any mess from a broken bottle or two (or three or…) will limit the mess to the container.

16 Feb 2009 8:00PM — Impatience got the best of me… it’s time to do another check. This next bottle had undergone conditioning at room temperature, but was put into the fridge 6 hours before opening. It’s getting better, but not quite there as far as desired taste. Cold serving temperature helps the flavor a lot, and when it comes from the fridge the carbonation doesn’t cause a foam to rise in the bottle after the intiial poor. The head on the bear is still at 75% of the glass on the initial poor.

17 Feb 2009 6:30PM — in the process of searching for more information on handling the off flavors, I ran into an excellent article which basically stated the following: just give the yeast time to work its magic. It was quite a comforting article, and confirmed something Ross (one of my counselors told me)… just be patient and let the yeast “do its thang.”

So I’m holding out hope that my tanginess is a minor “off-flavor” that I’m overly concerned about since it is my first brew.

01 Mar 2009 5:00PM — I moved all the bottles into my fridge since the conditioning period is over. I opened a bottle, and was pleasantly surprised at how well the off-flavors had dissipated. So this batch is done, and will be celebrated on Friday with its formal release.

06 Mar 2009 12:00PM — I shared the beer with some friends, and one of my mentors. The reaction was very positive. The comments were that the flavor was more like an ale, and even had the bite of a stout. I revised the ABV value using the formula FG – OG x 131.25 (+0.5% during conditioning). Overall, the first batch proved to be quite a successful start.


There were a number of these. First and foremost: patience. I kept wanting to check the brew, and tweak something. I’m sure the habit comes from both software development and cooking, which occur in a relatively short time span and generate instant results and gratification. With beer, you just have to let it sit and let the yeast do its magic (or chemistry, if you’re not esoterically inclined).

Other lessons I learned were from the bottles I used. I put the beer into a few glass bottles which had metal screw caps (originally sparkling water: Perrier and Pellagrino). The Perrier bottls did a poor job of sealing in the carbonation. They had about the same flavor, but generated practically no head when poured into the glass, or even the “whoosh” sound of the vacuum when opening the bottle.

The Pellagrino bottles did poorly, when the white plastic seal was not intact under the screw cap. When the plastic seal was intact, the Pellagrino bottles did quite well at maintaining the carbonation. In fact, I like the idea of bottling 2-5 Pellagrino bottles in a batch. They hold 25oz of liquid (2 x 12ox bottles), so one bottle is enough for two beers, or a number of half cups or quarter cups for a tasting.

I also used bottles from a number of beer producers: Grolsh (non-resealable top), Warsteiner, Samuel Adams, and AB American Ale. I soaked all of the bottles in a tub of warm water for 24 hours, then removed the labels. The Warsteiner and Grolsh labels came right off with just a shove of my thumb. The American Ale wouldn’t come off with only a push, but the remnants were easily removed with some direct rubbing.

The Samuel Adams bottles were the hardest to get the labels off from. They required a bit of scrubbing, and still left quite a bit of glue. But all of these bottles worked fine. I used standard (non-Oxy) crown caps for the bottles in this batch.