Home Brewing and Winemaking Blog

Coopers European Lager

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Many people making homebrewed lager are disappointed with the results becasue they don't end up with a brew that is overly close to a commercial lager. This isn't because homebrew lager kits are poor quality, just that lager can actually be quite difficult to get absolutely right. Commercial brewers ferment lagers at much lower temperatures than beers and ales and also tend not to bottle condition their products. As well as fermenting at low temperatures, traditional lagers are often stored for several weeks at temperatures barely above freezing to allow them to mature - in fact, the name "lager" is derived from the German word for storage. When they are supplied to the retailer, lagers are crystal clear, heavily carbonated, free from yeast  and respond well to chilling.

Unfortunately, homebrew lager kits don't generally exhibit these traits and, as they are often fermented at similar temperature to beers and ales and then drunk when only a couple of weeks old, can leave brewers, especially first time brewers, disillusioned with the results.

I have just bottled one of the Coopers European Lager kits, which was easy to make, but which, if I follow the manufacturers instructions to the letter, won't be ready for drinking until the end of June. I put it on to ferment in the middle of March and made it up using the kit, 500g of light spraymalt, 500g of brewing sugar and, as we live in a hard water area, 20ltrs of bottled water. As the weather was quite cold when I started it, and as our unit tends to cool down very rapidly overnight, I decided to pitch the yeast at around 18°C and set my heater to the lowest possible setting of 16°C. This is higher than generally accepted optimum temperature for lager brewing, but the best that I could achieve without having a fully temperature controlled brewing cupboard.

Primary fermentation lasted 8 days and I then transferred it into a secondary conditioning bucket which is fitted with a little bottler. I let it sit for a week under an airlock to allow the bulk of the sediment to drop out and then transferred it to clean bottles which had been primed with 10ml of my standard priming syrup. I don't like trying to put dry sugar into wet bottles, even with the aid of a funnel, so I make up a syrup solution by adding 100g of sugar to a jug and dissolving it in sufficient boiling water to make up 400ml of syrup. When the syrup has cooled, I use a syringe to add 10ml to each bottle. In this way, I am guaranteed of getting a consistent priming dose in each bottle and don't have to worry about spilling sugar over the table/work surface/floor.

Once I had capped them, the bottles were placed in a storage box and left to mature.

UPDATE June 2012 : I tried this lager at Week 6, Week 8, Week 10 and Week 12 from bottling. In each case, the beer had noticeably improved from the previous tasting. 12 weeks is a long time to wait for a drink, but in this case, it is worth it.

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  1. paul

    Is now a good time to make this in a shed outside? Temps coming down and a shed offers some temp stability?

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    Lager was traditionally fermented at lower temperatures than beers and ales (around 16°C) and was then stored at much lower temperatures (around 4°C) for long periods to mature. The lager yeast supplied with most kits, while being a true bottom fermenting strain, will work happily at "standard fermenting temperatures" without any problems, but with the added advantage of being able to cope with slightly lower fermentation temperatures. Much more important in producing quality lagers is the benefit obtained from the colder temperatures during the maturation period.

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  2. Colin

    I've been tempted to try this one but I'm not really a Becks fan and was worried it would taste like it (probably because the art work on the kit looks like it). Would be interesting to see what it is like after the full 12 weeks.

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    Not really being a lager drinker, other than my beloved San Miguel, I have never drunk Becks though customers in the shop confirm that this kit is fairly close to that style of lager. I suspect that this is the reason for the artwork, though this kit was originally marketed under the name of "Bavarian Lager" so it may be aimed at being a dry Bavarian Pilsner. Either way, 8 weeks in it is tasting pretty good and there is considerably less of it left than I would have hoped...

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  3. Update 13th May 2012

    The lager has been in the bottles for just on 6 weeks. Having stored it for a week before bottling, there is very little sediment in the bottles. This has, however, meant that it is less carbonated than commercial lagers and the head doesn't last very long. This isn't a problem for me as I don't like really fizzy beers or lagers and would usually prefer lower sediment rate and less fizz than having to accept the higher sediment rates needed to obtain a fizzier beer. Even when served at room temperature, the lager has a rich smooth taste and a good clean flavour. Many reviewers compare this lager to Becks and this has been borne out by the people who have so far tasted the bottles I use in store as samples. I am trying to leave some until July to see how they fare when chilled down and supped during a long hot, sunny afternoon....

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