Winter Lager Brewing:
Where did the summer go? It sure got cold out pretty quickly (and this is great for home brewers). If you have read much of my previous posts you know I stress the importance of fermentation temp control. In the heat of the summer months it is often difficult to keep the wort cool enough, but in the winter it’s much easier to keep it warm. The other reason I love the cooler months? Garage lagers.
Yup, that’s right, this time of year you can ferment beers that you normally couldn't, all without the expense of a dedicated fridge. In the mid to late fall months I usually brew Kolsh, Steam beers, Wiezen beers, and others that ferment best in the low to mid 60s. Once winter really comes on, I brew bocks, American lagers, and Pilsners.
The term garage lager is just what it sounds like; ferment your beer in the garage (in my case that means my shed). The garage is usually cool without normally freezing. The beer will create heat while it ferments. If it starts getting too cold in the garage you can wrap the fermenter in a blanket or sleeping bag to help insulate it.
I know this is a very basic, uncontrolled approach to lager brewing, but for many of us it’s our only chance to try brewing these beers. Prior to refrigeration, most brewers simply didn't brew during the summer months instead waiting for cooler months. These guys didn't have precise control of fermentation temp so don’t stress it too much. On the other hand, this also leaves a lot of room for improvement.
One friend of mine built a fermentation chamber, big enough for two carboys, out of rigid foam insulation boards, total cost was about 30$. He uses a temp controller with small window AC unit in the summer and a heat wrap in the winter. My method is an old freezer in my shed. It’s not plugged in, I just use it as a confined space for less heat loss. I have a temp controller and a heat wrap. Do you need this kind of set up? No, it does help give me piece of mind but I've made many good lagers without it.