Tim's Blue Ribbon- A Crash Course in Brewing Lager

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It was Jan 2008 and I had the home brewing bug big time. I had been brewing about twice a month for 2 years and I had quickly moved from extract to all-grain. I had planned to join my dad and a bunch of fishermen at Pyramid Lake, Nevada for a fish-out in late March. Having brewed a Belgian Blonde the previous year for the trip that was not a style the guys appreciated, I decided to just do a basic American Blonde ale. Lo and behold, there was a style profile recipe on American Blonde Ale from Jamil Zainasheff in Jan/Feb 2008 issue of BYO magazine.

An American Blonde Ale
My parents were in Portland from Northern California for Christmas. My dad and I had made a tradition of brewing beer together when he visited Portland. We did a trip to the homebrew store and bought the ingredients. It's not clear who made the choice or error but we got home with Wyeast 2035 American Lager yeast, not Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast as the recipe called for. As luck would have it, Jamil mentions that this recipe can be brewed as a lager. This would be my first lager, and I was somewhat intimidated by what I had read about lager brewing so I smacked the pack of yeast, made a starter and hoped the starter would have propagated enough yeast by the next morning.
We brewed the beer almost exactly to Jamil's recipe; the only change to the grain bill was using a combination of crystal 10L and crystal 20L instead of crystal 15L, which we could not find. Towards the end of the boil, it dawned on me...where can I put the carboy to ferment a lager?! I checked the Wyeast website for WY 2035 optimal fermentation temperature. The website said 48-58f.
I had always made ales and kept them upstairs in my old drafty bungalow during winter to ferment. We checked the basement- too cold at 42f. The garage was even colder and prone to swings in temperature due to a lack of insulation. As I stood in the landing that led to the basement stairs I looked at the built-in storage cabinets that normally housed the dog food and random canned foods. Hmmm. I checked the temperature inside one of the cabinets...50F. I realized had found my lager fermentation chamber!
My good fortune continued as the yeast took right off and the landing kept about the same temperature for 3 weeks until the beer was finished in primary. I racked to secondary, lagered for a month in the garage fridge and bottled. I opened the first bottle on St. Patrick's Day 2008, the same day I learned I would not be making the fishing trip after all. Hoping to find solace in beer, I was rewarded with a very good medium bodied and flavorful Premium American Lager.
I quickly grabbed a bottle and brought it to my lovely wife, who is never shy about being honest with me about my beers. She loved it! That night we headed to a party at one of my brewing friends home so I grabbed a 6 pack of the new beer. There were many people there who were not so sure about homebrew, so I figured they would be the perfect people to test this beer on. The reactions were so positive that some did not believe I brewed it. I was not so sure I believed it either!
Bolstered by this test audience reaction I entered the beer in the Slurp and Burp Open, a big homebrew competition run by StrangeBrew Homebrew Club here in Portland, OR. Due to family obligations I am rarely able to make it to brewing events, so I had to get the news via the club website. The beer scored 43 points, winning gold in the Light Lager category!
This first foray into the world of lager brewing and competitions was very pivotal for my brewing. I gained confidence in brewing lagers, sharing my beers and entering homebrew competitions. That as a homebrewer I can use the "wrong" yeast and create a great beer just goes to show that sometimes the "mistakes" are the best successes in life!
Here is Jamil's recipe with my tweaks to create.

The creator and author holding a pint!

Tim's Blue Ribbon Premium American Lager

75% efficiency
OG: 1049
FG: 1011
IBU: 20
SRM: 5
ABV: 5%
10 lbs 2 row 2L I use Great Western malts (6.3 lbs light liquid extract/5.1 lbs light dry extract)
.25 lbs crystal 10L
.25 lbs crystal 20L
4.1 AAU Willamette hops (60 min)
(.82 oz/23 g of 5% alpha)
Single Infusion 152f 60 min
Wyeast 2035 American Lager Yeast
Ferment in primary 50f for 3 weeks/rack to secondary 4 weeks at 34f
Prime with 1 cup corn sugar (2.8 volumes CO2)
Thanks go out to Tim for telling us more on his eponymous brew! Tim sits down again next week to explain the inspiration and design behind his India Red Ale.

I think the lagers are sorely under rated. If a brewer wants to show off his skills, brew a lager. There's no hiding behind massive hops, a ton of dark grains, or over funky yeast. Any flaws in your process will be readily apparent. Looking at that awesome beer and score I would say you nailed it! Do you do a d-rest, and if so, what's your process?
Thanks JayDubWill, I honestly cannot remember if I did a D-rest on that beer. I always do a D-rest on my lagers these days, and probably did so with the TBR. I really enjoy doing light lagers, the challenge is part of the fun.
I have been thinking about trying a lager for over a year but busy working on other styles. This story and the simple ingredients list is inspiring to me. It will give me a chance to really see how clean of a beer I can create. Like the previous user noted, no hiding behind tons of hops and dark grains!
+1, I think that the "distaste" for BMC beers prejudice craft lovers against lagers, and they can be so wonderful when crafted for flavor. I almost always have some beer lagering away, there are so many great lager styles to try. Great article.
I bought a fridge for serving, but the first thing I realized is that I can use it for lager fermentation too. These brews are now my favorite.
cannman, I usually finish primary in about 2 weeks with lagers, then a diacetyl rest for a couple days and 3-4 weeks lagering. So yeah, pretty close to 7 weeks. I have been using Mexican Lager yeast lately and it seems to ferment a bit faster than most other lager stains I have used. Pushed out a lager last May in 5 weeks that was quite good, but longer lagering will make the beer more brilliant and smooth.
I just put my lager in the keg when the fermentation is complete. After 2 weeks of slow carbing, I'll start taking "samples". After about 4 weeks I'll realize my samples have completely cleared and smoothed out and it is ready to drink. By the time the keg is empty I'll have a fully aged beer.
42F ambient actually would have been about right for most lager yeast. They say 50F minimum, but it's really lower. Additionally your actual beer temp should stay higher than that until fermentation is complete (at which time you'll either want to slowly ramp down anyway or do a diacetyl rest.)
I was wondering...sounds like you bottle conditioned---after lagering. Was wondering if there was still enough yeast in suspension to carbonate the beer?
Yes, jmitchell3 I did bottle condition this beer. There was enough yeast left after lagering for carbonation. There was a very compact yeast layer in the bottle that stayed put unless you really agitated the bottle.
started my first lager, and after the rest, i racked into a secondary and put into the fridge. is there going to be very much action in the bubbler? haven't seen very much action when i have looked.