There’s no doubt about it: It’s a great time to be a beer lover. In Austin and across the country, there are more options than ever when it comes to experiencing unique, exciting beers from local breweries and microbreweries. Like many beer aficionados, you are probably also fascinated by the science that produces the differences between various types of beer. If you enjoy lagers, you’ll be interested to know that they are produced through a process called cold fermentation. Why is it used, though? Keep reading to learn more!
What is a Lager?
If you are lucky enough to visit Live Oak Brewing Company in Austin, TX, you will be able to take your pick from a number of enticing lagers. What exactly is a lager, though? Unlike ales, which use a top-fermenting yeast that attenuates, or converts sugar to alcohol, relatively quickly, lagers rely on a bottom-fermenting yeast that attenuates more slowly and to a lesser extent. Additionally, this type of yeast has a lower alcohol tolerance, and it is capable of fermenting a sugar called melibose. What all of this means for you, the beer drinker, is that the resulting lager has more sugar remaining. It is also clearer, more full-bodied and tastes mellower on the palate.
While one could argue that the primary distinction between ales and lagers is the type of yeast that is used, another factor plays a crucial role: the temperature at which the beer is fermented. While ale yeasts typically prefer temperatures of between 60 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, lager yeasts ferment best at temperatures of between 48 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit. With cold fermentation, flavors that are derived from yeast, including phenols and esters, are rarely present in the resulting beer. After fermentation, lagers are placed into an extended cold lagering period of anywhere from two to three weeks at a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. During this cold aging process, yeasts and other proteins are precipitated out, producing the crisp, smooth lager that we know and love.
Understanding Cold Fermentation
To understand cold fermentation properly, it helps to understand how yeasts react during the process. As yeasts are fermented, they consume sugars that produce carbon dioxide and a variety of aroma and flavor molecules. When fermented at room temperature, yeasts consume sugars very quickly and are exhausted fast, halting the production of more gases and flavor compounds.
When fermented at cold temperatures, on the other hand, yeasts produce carbon dioxide and other molecules more slowly and steadily. Because fermentation takes longer, the result is a more complex combination of flavor compounds. Essentially, heat is a catalyst that speeds up chemical reactions. The higher the temperature is, the faster that sugars are converted into alcohol. Therefore, ales have higher alcohol content than lagers—another interesting fact to keep in mind as you explore cold-fermented lagers at local microbreweries.
Benefits of Cold Fermentation
Knowing what you do now about how cold fermentation works, you’d probably like a clearer understanding of why the process is so cherished by brewers. Temperature conversions, drops in pH levels and excretions all happen at a slower rate and are less extensive. Some of the top benefits of these factors include:
- a more notable mouthfeel
- excellent foam
- a nobler taste
- lower alcohol content
- improved clarity
- a fuller body
- mellower to the palate
Why is Cold Fermentation Needed to Brew Lagers?
What would happen if you attempted to ferment a lager using lager yeast but with warmer temperatures? Some of the downfalls of exposing these yeasts to higher temperatures include:
- beer is less aromatic and less enjoyable to drink
- an unfavorable ratio of higher alcohol to esters impedes quality
- the excessive elimination of bitter proteins and other substances affects taste
- lager has a less satisfying mouthfeel, producing an “emptier” taste
- a reduction in volatile acids and an increase in fixed acids throws off flavor balance
Popular Lagers in Austin
If you are looking for the expertly fermented and brewed lagers in Austin, TX, Live Oak Brewing Company has a nice assortment for you to explore. Only one of them, Big Bark, is available year-round; therefore, it pays to swing by throughout the year to experience the other unique offerings. Here’s a quick rundown of the expertly fermented lagers that you will find at this popular Austin watering hole:
- Big Bark – Brewed using a German specialty malt, this amber lager is renowned around town for its rich, malty aroma and delightfully soft body. German noble hops help to balance out the flavor nicely. Most importantly, however, the cold fermentation and lagering processes bring out the best in this lager, imbuing it with a crisp, clean finish and a flavor that intrigues with its interaction of hops and malt. Come in any time of year to enjoy this lager on draft and in cans.
- Schwarzer Rauch – Also known as Black Smoke, this smoked black lager features a neatly balanced malt flavor that intrigues the senses. Released every January, it is a great way to say hello to a brand-new year. Beechwood smoke combines with layers of dark, malty flavors to produce an enticing taste. German lager yeast is expertly cold fermented by brewers at Live Oak to ensure the utmost quality.
- Helles – July is a great time to stop by Live Oak in Austin because that’s when Helles, the most popular beer in Bavaria, is available. A light, crisp lager, it boasts soft malt flavors that will keep you coming back for more. Through the cold fermentation process, this lager boasts a clean, brilliant quality that is sure to delight.
- Gold – Available only during the spring, Live Oak Gold is actually a pilsner that is also produced through cold fermentation and lagering. Originating in the Hallertau region of Bavaria, it features floral noble hops. Quality German lager yeast is fermented at cold temperatures to allow for the hops to really shine, lending this pilsner a dry, subtle and malty profile.
Experience the Best in Cold Fermented Lagers at Live Oak Brewing Company
Located in Austin, Live Oak Brewing Company is a great place to explore the very best in locally brewed lagers and other beers. Our microbrewery regularly features special tappings, happy hours, disc golf tournaments and much more. Our lively and beautiful biergarten is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy some local brews, and special events occur there regularly too. Be sure to bring your appetite as well—The Black Forest food truck out back churns out some of the best German comfort food in the area.
Discover What’s On Tap at Live Oak Today
Live Oak Brewing Company is the best brewery in Austin for experiencing German style beer, including a regularly revolving array of pilsners, lagers, ales and more. In fact, we are so confident about the quality of our beer that we can safely say that we offer the best beer in Texas. Find out for yourself by checking out what’s on tap—we look forward to seeing you!