[Originally published at The Beer Nut]
Here at Jack’s Abby Brewing we have decided to do something different than most craft brewers. We will be focusing entirely on lagers for our initial beers.
Lagers are one of the two main families of beer, with ales being the other. The vast majority of craft brewers focus on ales, inspired from the English and Belgian traditions and spurred by the popularity of beers such as IPAs. We feel that putting the extra time into lagers is worth it to bring you something unique.
Lagers originated in Germany, somewhat by accident. Brewers stored their brewed ales in damp and chilly caves. These caves were the same temperature as the ideal temperature for fermenting lagers. At some point a yeast strain mutated to take advantage of these conditions, creating the second great beer family. Over the years, German brewers developed an exacting tradition to ensure the quality of their lagers. It is to them that we owe much of our inspiration for our brewing standards.
There are a number of differences between ales and lagers from how they are brewed to how they taste. Ales use a ‘top’ fermenting yeast that ferments best at temperatures around 65-75°F. Lagers use a ‘bottom’ fermenting yeast that works best at cooler temperatures around 45-55°F. In recent years, new strains of yeast have been found that can blur the line between these distinctions, however these rules generally hold true. Lagers also require a longer process of cold conditioning.
The use of different yeast strains and fermenting temperatures when brewing lagers leads to some differences. The lager process prevents many of the fruity and spicy chemicals that are present in ales from forming. Instead, the flavors of the hops and malts come through unaltered. As a result, lagers require more exacting standards to make sure they receive all of the required flavors and aromas just from the hops and malts. While this process is less forgiving, when it is done properly you can create some great beers.
At Jack’s Abby Brewing, we will be doing some things differently when brewing our lagers. Using a hopback will allow us to maximize the flavor of our lagers. A hopback is a chamber that is filled with whole-leaf hops. The hot wort is then filtered through the hopback before heading to the chiller. This process allows the beer to pick up hop flavors and aromas that would have normally been lost when the wort is boiled. Cooling the wort right after going through the hopback ensures that these flavors will be retained. Spices, herbs, and other ingredients can also be put in the hopback as is the case with our Leisure Time Lager.
We have talked a lot about the German tradition that inspires our general brewing process at Jack’s Abby. We also plan on brewing some very untraditional beers. We have selected hops, spices and grains to use that are unusual and surprising. Our goal is to combine the rigorous, traditional process of making a lager with innovative ingredients and concepts. This unique approach led us to the idea for our India Pale Lager, our twist on the classic ale, and several other distinctive brews coming your way.