Where I live when you’re sitting on the beach with friends or grilling somewhere and you ask for water, you’re not asking for actual water. You’re saying you want an American Light Lager. It’s about the closest thing you’ll get to water when you drink a beer especially when it’s ice cold. Crisp, clean, and somewhat thirst quenching, an American Light Lager makes a great beer for many occasions during the warmer months. Typically known as big beer or “corporate” beer, lots of folks avoid drinking light lagers and opt for something with a bit more oomph to it. There’s no shame in enjoying one of these, and it’s even more rewarding when you can successfully make one. I wouldn’t turn down a Rainier if it were offered.
I won’t get in to the history of lagers in Europe since we’re talking about American Light Lagers, so that’ll be for another style on a different day. The rise of American Light Lagers began in the early 70s when Miller Brewing acquired a recipe for the style and marketed it pretty heavily. Other breweries followed Miller and in the 1990s it became the best-selling style of beer, at least in the United States. Today you can’t find a grocery store or corner market that isn’t selling several different brands of light lagers.
Here is the summary profile for an American Light Lager:
|Color Range:||2 – 3 SRM|
|Original Gravity:||1.028 – 1.040 OG|
|Final Gravity:||.998 – 1.008 FG|
|IBU Range:||8 – 12 IBU|
|ABV Range:||2.8 – 4.2%|
|Appearance:||Very pale straw to pale yellow in color. Very clear. White frothy head seldom persists. These are usually pretty clear beers.|
|Aroma:||Very little to no malt aroma. Grainy, sweet or corn-like if malt aroma is present. Little to no hop aroma, but if present may be spicy or floral in character. Light amounts of fruitiness acceptable, slight DMS also ok.|
|Flavor:||Low to no hop bitterness; very clean, nearly flavorless. Dry and crisp finish. Clean lager fermentation character.|
|Mouthfeel:||Very light body and highly carbonated. Slight carbonic bite possible.|
|Serving & Storage Temperature:||33-40°F|
|Shelf Life:||6 Months|
Guidance when brewing an American Light Lager
For years I dismissed these lighter beers as “not beer.” It wasn’t until I started trying to brew my own light lager that an appreciation for them was born. To brew a light lager you’re going to want to try and make sure you have the ability to maintain cooler fermentation temperatures. When I say “cooler,” I mean lower than ale temps. There’s plenty of discussion out there about fermenting lagers at warmer temps. Try it and see for yourself. Most of my batches are fermented warmer than 60 degrees F. Traditionally ideal light lager temperatures will be anywhere from 46 to 56 degrees F. Light lagers are typically brewed using adjuncts to keep the beer light. Keep the IBUs down, and try to get this beer as clear as you can. If you overshoot your target OG then try adding some water to keep the OG low. Use adjuncts in addition to your base malts when brewing one of these.
You’ll want to use 2 or 6-row barley, but can get away with using Pilsner malt.
Up to 40% of your grain bill can be rice or corn adjuncts. These will definitely help lighten up the beer. Flaked rice is a must for me when it comes to this style.
Use hops that have a spicy or floral aroma. You aren’t going to be using much at all; in fact my recipe calls for less than half an ounce of CTZ. Try to go for the hop character versus where the hop was grown. Again keep those IBUs low.
You can do a step mash if you really want to, but I’ve found that it’s not necessary at all. Shoot for a lower mash temperature around 148 F.
So many choices when it comes to yeast. All of the big labs have options when it comes to lager yeast. W-34/70 is incredibly popular, White Labs 840, Wyeast 2035 or 2105 (both private collection), and the ones I can’t wait to try: Imperial Organic’s Cable Car and Global. There are a ton of options when it comes to yeast strains for the style.
According to a post by Martin Brungard you want to focus on getting the mash pH to about 5.4 or less. Here’s the water profile I personally use (courtesy of Bru’n Water):
Ca: 13 | Mg: 6 | Na: 8 | SO4: 37 | Cl: 13
My experiences brewing an American Light Lager
Light lagers are insanely popular in my neck of the woods, so it’s always rewarding to be able to whip up a batch that people just fall in love with. Light lagers have been some of the best beers I’ve made. Some fermented cold, and more of them fermented on the warmer end of the spectrum. Admittedly I need to work on clearing them up, but other than that they’ve been spot on. Definitely beers I’d happily drink while sitting on the beach. Here’s the recipe I brewed up for NHC 2018:
Da Beach Beer – Short & Shoddy
Batch size: 6 gallons
7lbs. 5.9oz. 2-Row (78.7%)
2lbs. Flaked Rice (21.3%)
.15oz. CTZ (13.1% AA) @ 30 min 5.6 IBUs
.15oz. CTZ @ 15 min 3.6 IBUs
Mash at 148°F
OG: 1.040, FG: 1.008, ABV: 4.4% (slightly higher than the style guidelines)
IBUs: 9.2, SRM: 2.8
30 minute mash, 30 minute boil
Have fun with this beer, and have even more fun drinking it with friends and family while grilling, relaxing, or both.
Forum discussion about this article can be found here.
By David Gaines