What makes a good American light lager?

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mcmeador

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I’m planning to brew an American light lager and currently looking at Northern Brewer’s This Beer’s for You at least as a starting point, but I don’t want to end up brewing a Bud Light, Miller Lite, etc. I have had a couple of great craft American light lagers before, the two that stand out the most in my mind being Upslope’s and Southern Prohibition’s.

For any who have made or had a good craft American light lager, what do you think makes them stand out from the typical big beer examples? Is it the hops used, more flavorful malts, less rice, the yeast?

Edited to include link to NB’s recipe for reference:

 
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cgoldberg3

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American light lager recipes I've seen all have the same basic grain bills. 2-row, 6-row, corn and rice. More corn and rice = lighter flavor (though too much corn will impart its own flavor). The hops and yeast choice make the main flavor differences between recipes.
 

Bramling Cross

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I cheat when I make low ABV lagers because the style, as written, suggests that low ABV lagers should be bland and dull. It doesn't have to be that way.

I use Continental pils malt rather than domestic. Paired with 33% corn, or corn and rice, it keeps the beer tasting like beer without compromising its dryness. I would argue that a step mash is necessary, but Annie Johnson famously won a best of show at the AHA with a recipe that calls for a single infusion. Leave the carafoams and carahells out of the grist, they'll only add flabbiness. Stick to your base malt and adjuncts.

Regarding water, I've made the style with calcium-poor ultra-soft water and I've also made it with gypsum leading the charge. Either approach makes a nice beer. The soft water route makes an elegant beer that lets the hops show off their floral notes and lets the corn provide that creamy rounding off of the corners. The chunkier water sacrifices a bit of the soft elegance for a more thirst-quenching bite. I like soft water in the Spring and chunky water in the Summer and Fall.

It's in the hopping schedule where I embrace the depraved, low-down, dirty business of cheating on this style. I'm a big believer in 20min hops, so I like to split my bittering charge into a very small FWH addition of Magnum (or whatever clean, high IBU hop you use) and a larger 20min addition of your starring hop. I really like Hallertauer Mittelfrüh for this style, the style gives HM an opportunity to really express its floral traits against the delicate grist. I also employ a 10min charge and whirlpool charge. Clusters, Vanguard, Crystal, and the usual German, Czech, and French suspects all make outstanding beers. Whichever you choose, make certain that it's in excellent condition. The delicate grist is going to place your hop of choice at center stage, bucknaked, under a spotlight. This isn't the place to dispose of that mystery bag that you found at the back of the freezer. Also, don't be afraid to dry hop.

Here's an example of how I brew the style. It ticks the boxes in terms of the metrics of the style, but it's a shameless exercise in cheating the spirit of the style. If you've never understood why "floral" is used as a descriptor of Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, this recipe will put that trait on full display--assuming you have hops that are in good condition. All percentages of the grist are rounded up to the nearest whole number, and if you're wondering, "panther piss" is my father's favorite appellation for lousy beer.

Panther Piss: An Aquatic Odyssey

For 6gal into the fermenter

OG: 1.040
FG: 1.009
ABV: 4.1%

Mash following the hochkurz technique. Adjust pre-boil wort to pH 5.2, boil 90min.

German Pils Malt 68%
Corn 21%
Rice 11%

.1oz Magnum FWH
.5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh @20
.5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh @10
1oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh whirlpool @170F for 10min
(Optional .5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh dry hops in primary @ 4days for 72hrs ~3/4 gravity)

34/70 or S-189. Pitch at 48F and raise to 50F after the first quarter of gravity. Raise to 52F at half gravity. Raise to 55F at 3/4 gravity. D-rest not necessary, crash at full attenuation.
 
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Transamguy77

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I’ve made a few rice beers with as much as 40% rice and they have all turned out fantastic.

I haven’t brewed in awhile and that is going to be my first brew, really any low AA hop like Saaz or Tetanang @60 and @15 will work. And for yeast 34-70 is a nice clean yeast.

I’ve used 6 row, 2 row and Pilsner malt all with good results. If your looking for a dryer finish mash low like 148-150.
 

deuc224

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Damn at 40%!!!!!!! I made a pseudo lager with lutra and used pilsner, corn and rice. Thought it was gonna be a mexican beer and it turned out ot be just damn good light beer, still clocked in at 4.7 but man was it smooth drinking, i mean like 4 of us kicked a keg in a afternoon working on a car and chillin. Its my go to recipe now for a lagerish beer.
 
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mcmeador

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Thank you all for the suggestions. I had been tempted to do only a 60-minute hop addition, but after reading the comments I have decided to do a late hop addition as well.
 

Beer666

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I cheat when I make low ABV lagers because the style, as written, suggests that low ABV lagers should be bland and dull. It doesn't have to be that way.

I use Continental pils malt rather than domestic. Paired with 33% corn, or corn and rice, it keeps the beer tasting like beer without compromising its dryness. I would argue that a step mash is necessary, but Annie Johnson famously won a best of show at the AHA with a recipe that calls for a single infusion. Leave the carafoams and carahells out of the grist, they'll only add flabbiness. Stick to your base malt and adjuncts.

Regarding water, I've made the style with calcium-poor ultra-soft water and I've also made it with gypsum leading the charge. Either approach makes a nice beer. The soft water route makes an elegant beer that lets the hops show off their floral notes and lets the corn provide that creamy rounding off of the corners. The chunkier water sacrifices a bit of the soft elegance for a more thirst-quenching bite. I like soft water in the Spring and chunky water in the Summer and Fall.

It's in the hopping schedule where I embrace the depraved, low-down, dirty business of cheating on this style. I'm a big believer in 20min hops, so I like to split my bittering charge into a very small FWH addition of Magnum (or whatever clean, high IBU hop you use) and a larger 20min addition of your starring hop. I really like Hallertauer Mittelfrüh for this style, the style gives HM an opportunity to really express its floral traits against the delicate grist. I also employ a 10min charge and whirlpool charge. Clusters, Vanguard, Crystal, and the usual German, Czech, and French suspects all make outstanding beers. Whichever you choose, make certain that it's in excellent condition. The delicate grist is going to place your hop of choice at center stage, bucknaked, under a spotlight. This isn't the place to dispose of that mystery bag that you found at the back of the freezer. Also, don't be afraid to dry hop.

Here's an example of how I brew the style. It ticks the boxes in terms of the metrics of the style, but it's a shameless exercise in cheating the spirit of the style. If you've never understood why "floral" is used as a descriptor of Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, this recipe will put that trait on full display--assuming you have hops that are in good condition. All percentages of the grist are rounded up to the nearest whole number, and if you're wondering, "panther piss" is my father's favorite appellation for lousy beer.

Panther Piss: An Aquatic Odyssey

For 6gal into the fermenter

OG: 1.040
FG: 1.009
ABV: 4.1%

Mash following the hochkurz technique. Adjust pre-boil wort to pH 5.2, boil 90min.

German Pils Malt 68%
Corn 21%
Rice 11%

.1oz Magnum FWH
.5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh @20
.5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh @10
1oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh whirlpool @170F for 10min
(Optional .5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh dry hops in primary @ 4days for 72hrs ~3/4 gravity)

34/70 or S-189. Pitch at 48F and raise to 50F after the first quarter of gravity. Raise to 52F at half gravity. Raise to 55F at 3/4 gravity. D-rest not necessary, crash at full attenuation.
How long are your rests for the Hochkurz mash? I have been doing 90 minutes at 62c then 30m at 68c. Not sure if the second rest is contributing much but my attenuation is high.
Mittlefruh is a great hop for a lager. Never tried using corn ans rice together, will have to give this a go.
 

Bramling Cross

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How long are your rests for the Hochkurz mash? I have been doing 90 minutes at 62c then 30m at 68c. Not sure if the second rest is contributing much but my attenuation is high.
Mittlefruh is a great hop for a lager. Never tried using corn ans rice together, will have to give this a go.
I've experimented with 60min/30min, 90min/30min, and 60min/60min. I've done multiple runs on each of those schedules. The bulk of those runs were done last year while dialing in a CAP recipe with a 70/30 pils to corn grist, so a similar grist to the one I mentioned above, just w/o rice and at a higher OG.

Regardless of the rest schedule I used, the attenuation settled into a consistent 78%-82% window, with the bulk of the batches in the 79%-80% range. The majority of those batches used 60/60 schedules. The 90/30s and 60/60s schedules didn't make themselves obvious in the finished beer, nor did they seem to deviate in terms of attenuation. On the whole, all of those beers were very similar in the glass, their only noteworthy differences were in recipe construction (hops, for the most part) and a disastrous detour into Diamond Lager Yeast.

Within the limits of my tongue, which I'll admit isn't the most talented tongue, I wasn't able to taste anything that I could attribute to a specific mash schedule. With that in mind, though, I do like the idea of a 90/30 or 90/60 mash when going for the maximum possible dryness. I'm just not sure that I'd notice it in the finished beer.

I hope this was helpful to you.
 

maxr

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I am wondering if you would elaborate a little more on this. I am curious about this yeast, but I can't seem to find much discussion about it.
I have only used it once but it made a very nice Munich Helles. I see many people advocating for 34/70 but I do not enjoy that yeast - I find that it requires a long rest to pass a forced diacetyl test.
 

Bramling Cross

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I am wondering if you would elaborate a little more on this. I am curious about this yeast, but I can't seem to find much discussion about it.
I will, but with reluctance because I don't want to bad-mouth Diamond, let me explain.

I started a cycle of beers with Diamond around this time last year and it really was a disaster. In fact, I killed the cake after 2-3 beers--that's rare for a cheap SOB like me. The ever-increasing price of 34/70 had crossed my pain threshold and I had read very positive remarks about Diamond (check the AHA board for a lengthy discussion of 34/70 vs. Diamond). At roughly half the price, I bought a half-dozen packets of Diamond. Very long story short, and with the benefit of hindsight, I'm guessing my packets were mislabeled and actually contained a Chico-like yeast.

Back in the 90's I decided to really learn the Chico strains and I spent a lot of time torturing billions of poor Chico cells at ever lower temperatures. At 48F my pitch of Diamond behaved very similarly to Chico, so much so, that I'm convinced that my pitch of Diamond must be mislabeled. The behavior and resultant beers produced by my pitch of Diamond was so very, very far outside of what everyone else reports that something was drastically amiss with my pitch. After the Diamond fiasco, I switched back to either 34/70 or S-189 and my beers started behaving as they always had.

That's why I'm reluctant to talk about my experience with Diamond. I don't think I've actually used it. If you want to learn more about my fiasco, you can search for my remarks in the "What I did for beer today" thread. I don't want to link those remarks here because I don't think they actually relate to Diamond.
 

bwible

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Damn at 40%!!!!!!! I made a pseudo lager with lutra and used pilsner, corn and rice. Thought it was gonna be a mexican beer and it turned out ot be just damn good light beer, still clocked in at 4.7 but man was it smooth drinking, i mean like 4 of us kicked a keg in a afternoon working on a car and chillin. Its my go to recipe now for a lagerish beer.
This is what I do - pseudo lager or Plager. I don’t have a dedicated beer fridge for fermenting lagers. But I do have a 2 tap kegerator with space for a third keg. And it has a digital temp control built in.

So I brew my plagers with a clean ale yeast like 1056 and ferment them at ale temps. Then I transfer to secondary (this is where the low oxygen crowd will yell at me) then I cold crash in my kegerator and age cold for a week or two. Then I hit it with gelatin, 1g per gallon. Give that a couple more days to take effect. Then keg.

I think my kegerator is set at 35 degrees.
 

DarrellQ

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I cheat when I make low ABV lagers because the style, as written, suggests that low ABV lagers should be bland and dull. It doesn't have to be that way.

I use Continental pils malt rather than domestic. Paired with 33% corn, or corn and rice, it keeps the beer tasting like beer without compromising its dryness. I would argue that a step mash is necessary, but Annie Johnson famously won a best of show at the AHA with a recipe that calls for a single infusion. Leave the carafoams and carahells out of the grist, they'll only add flabbiness. Stick to your base malt and adjuncts.

Regarding water, I've made the style with calcium-poor ultra-soft water and I've also made it with gypsum leading the charge. Either approach makes a nice beer. The soft water route makes an elegant beer that lets the hops show off their floral notes and lets the corn provide that creamy rounding off of the corners. The chunkier water sacrifices a bit of the soft elegance for a more thirst-quenching bite. I like soft water in the Spring and chunky water in the Summer and Fall.

It's in the hopping schedule where I embrace the depraved, low-down, dirty business of cheating on this style. I'm a big believer in 20min hops, so I like to split my bittering charge into a very small FWH addition of Magnum (or whatever clean, high IBU hop you use) and a larger 20min addition of your starring hop. I really like Hallertauer Mittelfrüh for this style, the style gives HM an opportunity to really express its floral traits against the delicate grist. I also employ a 10min charge and whirlpool charge. Clusters, Vanguard, Crystal, and the usual German, Czech, and French suspects all make outstanding beers. Whichever you choose, make certain that it's in excellent condition. The delicate grist is going to place your hop of choice at center stage, bucknaked, under a spotlight. This isn't the place to dispose of that mystery bag that you found at the back of the freezer. Also, don't be afraid to dry hop.

Here's an example of how I brew the style. It ticks the boxes in terms of the metrics of the style, but it's a shameless exercise in cheating the spirit of the style. If you've never understood why "floral" is used as a descriptor of Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, this recipe will put that trait on full display--assuming you have hops that are in good condition. All percentages of the grist are rounded up to the nearest whole number, and if you're wondering, "panther piss" is my father's favorite appellation for lousy beer.

Panther Piss: An Aquatic Odyssey

For 6gal into the fermenter

OG: 1.040
FG: 1.009
ABV: 4.1%

Mash following the hochkurz technique. Adjust pre-boil wort to pH 5.2, boil 90min.

German Pils Malt 68%
Corn 21%
Rice 11%

.1oz Magnum FWH
.5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh @20
.5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh @10
1oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh whirlpool @170F for 10min
(Optional .5oz Hallertauer Mittelfrüh dry hops in primary @ 4days for 72hrs ~3/4 gravity)

34/70 or S-189. Pitch at 48F and raise to 50F after the first quarter of gravity. Raise to 52F at half gravity. Raise to 55F at 3/4 gravity. D-rest not necessary, crash at full attenuation.
I have what might be a dumb question, but when you buy the flaked corn and rice, do you mill it or throw it in "un-milled" as is?
 

bwible

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American light lager recipes I've seen all have the same basic grain bills. 2-row, 6-row, corn and rice. More corn and rice = lighter flavor (though too much corn will impart its own flavor). The hops and yeast choice make the main flavor differences between recipes.
Early on I discovered I did not like Budweiser but Milller was ok. This tells me I don’t mind corn, but I do not like rice in my beer. For my taste. So I don’t use any rice or rice syrup, etc.

If I do an adjunct beer I use flaked maize or in at least one I just used corn sugar, like people use for bottling because I didn’t have any flaked maize.

For an adjunct beer I go 20% corn. And I just use Breiss 2 row. At 20% the 2 row still has more than enough DP.

I was reading about CAP beers recently and it talks about how this is where big breweries got out of control with the adjuncts. Corn and rice were added to lighten 6 row malt, which was what the brewers here in the US had to work with at the time. Good 2 row malt was not established here yet and it was too expensive to import 2 row. So they discovered they could lighten the 6 row and make decent beers using corn and rice. It made the beer better, cost savings was a bonus.

But then they got greedy and went overboard cutting the costs. There was also this thing called Prohibition we had here where breweries were not making beer for about 18 years. So Americans forgot what beer tasted like and breweries tried to make what people kind of thought they remembered. And there were a couple of world wars and material shortages. Thats kind of how we got where we are.

But 20% corn is a good starting point. I like to include 3% carapils for head, gives that nice lacing. Maybe just a little light munich.

For hops, as others said, I like Mittelfruher. I’m finding all the Hallertauer hops are very low alpha this year. I bought Mittelfruher and Hersbrucker, both are under 3%. So I used Perle at 60 min and saved the Mittelfruher for 20 min.
 
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mcmeador

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So just a follow-up on my original post: I picked up some SoPro Light from Southern Prohibition that I mentioned as an example of a good craft American Light along with some Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Light, and did a blind taste test. I could not pick out the SoPro. I actually initially mixed up the SoPro with the Bud Light! I guess it really isn’t as different as I had imagined. Something about knowing you’re drinking a craft beer makes you think it’s just so much better.

Either way, I’m still going to brew one for my next beer. Going to do a mixture of corn/rice to make up 33% of the bill and do a later hop addition to try to pick up a little more hop flavor and aroma.
 

deuc224

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I make my pseudo lager with with 30% of corn/rice/caripils. Love the clean crisp flavor after about 2 weeks conditioning.
 
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