Two Amber Lager Recipes

Most homebrewers start by brewing ales. This is because it is not hard to find a cool room, or put a wet t-shirt over a carboy, and keep a fermenting ale in the proper temperature range. In contrast, for most people, holding 5.0-gallons (19 L) or more of beer at lager fermentation temperatures requires a fridge or freezer and an external thermostat. 

If you’ve decided to take the plunge in lagers, your next choice is what to brew. Obviously, the type of lager beer you enjoy the most should be at the head of the list. For me, any of the amber lagers — including Vienna lagers, Märzens, Octoberfests, American amber lagers, and even rauchbiers — would be on my short list. On a recent episode on James Spencer’s podcast, Basic Brewing Radio, we discussed how to put together an amber lager recipe. In my opinion, the top three requirements for brewing a great amber lager are running an ordered fermentation; using fresh, high-quality ingredients; and, as always, being scrupulous about your cleaning and fermentation. Running an ordered fermentation involves pitching enough healthy yeast into properly aerated wort and holding the fermentation temperature steady. 

On James’s show, we came up with two amber lager recipes that I’m sharing below. James has already brewed the first and a second brewer may try the second. (I’m going to be brewing a raspberry wheat beer from a previous show.) Here are the two recipes. 


Third Man in the Fourth Zone Vienna Lager 

Amber Lager (I), by Chris Colby



This is a relatively dry, well-balanced amber lager. You could call it a Vienna lager, Märzen, or simply an amber lager. 


INGREDIENTS (for 5.0 gallons/19 L) 

Malts (for an OG. of 1.052 and 18 SRM) 

7.5 lb. (3.4 kg) Vienna malt

2.5 lb. (1.1 kg) light Munich (8–10 °L) 

2.0 oz. (57 g) black malt (dehusked preferred)


Hops (for 30 IBU)

2.5 oz. (71 g) Saaz hops (@3.2% AA) 


Yeast (for FG 1.011 and 5.4% ABV) 

lager yeast (your choice, slurry from 1.0-gallon/4 L yeast starter) 



Mash in with 3.5 gallons (13 L) of water at 151 °F (66 °C) for a strike temperature of 140 °F (60 °C). Let mash rest at 140 °F (60 °C) for 15 minutes, then heat mash to 152 °F (67 °C). Stir as you heat. Raise temperature about 2 °F (~1 °C) per minute. Let rest at 152 °F (67 °C) for about 30 minutes, then mash out to 168 °F (76 °C). Recirculate and collect about 6.5 gallons (25 L) of wort. Boil for 90 minutes, to reduce wort volume to 5.0 (19 L) gallons. Add hops for final 60 minutes of the boil. Cool to fermentation temperature (which dependson the strain of yeast you have chosen). Aerate thoroughly and pitch yeast. Ferment until completion, allowing the temperature to rise to 60 °F (16 °C) at the end. After 3 days at 60 °F (16 °C), check to ensure that diacetyl is not detectable. Rack to a “secondary fermenter” or keg and store at refrigerator temperature for 4 weeks. Taste test and begin serving if the beer is no longer “green.” 


Backyard Cookout Amber Lager

Amber Lager (II)



This is a full-bodied amber lager, in the style of many American amber lagers. It’s balanced and “quaffable,” as they say. 


INGREDIENTS (for 5.0 gallons/19 L)

Malts (for an OG. of 1.052 and 23 SRM)

5.0 lb. (2.3 kg) 2-row pale malt or Pilsner malt 

4.0 lb. (1.8 kg) light Munich (8–10 °L) 

6.0 oz. (170 g) crystal 40 °L

3.0 oz. (90 g) crystal 60 °L

2.0 oz. (57 g) black malt (dehusked preferred)


Hops (for 26 IBU) 

any relatively neutral strain of hops for bittering 

(for example  0.54 oz./15 g of Magnum at 13% AA)

0.25 oz. (7 g) any aroma hop without a strong varietal characteristic for aroma 


Yeast (for FG 1.013 and 5.0% ABV)

lager yeast (your choice, slurry from 1.0-gallon/4 L yeast starter) 



Mash in with 3.3 gallons (12 L) of water at 163 °F (73 °C) for a strike temperature of 152 °F (67 °C). Let the mash rest for 45 minutes. Mash out to 168 °F (76 °C). Recirculate and collect about 6.3 gallons (24 L) of wort. Boil for about 75 minutes, to reduce wort volume to 5.0 gallons (19 L). Add bittering hops for final 60 minutes of the boil. Add aroma hops at knockout. Cool to fermentation temperature (which depends on your yeast strain). Aerate thoroughly and pitch yeast. Ferment until completion, allowing the temperature to rise to 60 °F (16 °C) at the end. After 3 days at 60 °F (16 °C), check that diacetyl is gone. Rack to a “secondary fermenter” or keg and store at refrigerator temperature for 4 weeks. Taste test and begin serving if the beer is no longer “green.”

Both of these recipes were formulated by James and I, and were not brewed at the time of our discussion. (They will be soon. And, they’re both very similar to two amber lagers in my recipe book, The HomeBrew Recipe Bible.) For yet another amber lager recipe, see also my Schell’s Firebrick clone. Firebrick is a beer I seek out whenever I’m in the upper midwest. It’s a wonderfully balanced beer, in my opinion.

Time to Get Happy

Grapes rotting — er, I mean turning into wine — in a pot.

OK, it’s time for me to get happy. And to do so, I’m going to brew another version of one of my favorite beers — Ancient Sumerian Happy Juice. Several years ago, I read the English translation of the poem Hymn to Ninkasi. This poem praises the goddess Ninkasi, who the ancient Sumerians believed watched over beer production. From the poem, I came up with a “beer” recipe. The beverage contains honey and fruits, as well as grains, so it’s really a hybrid beer, wine, and mead. The basic idea was that dates were crushed and made into wine. Barley was milled and mixed with honey and baked into bread, which the poem called bappir. Malted grains were then mashed along with the bread. The wort from this was boiled and then cooled and the fermenting date wine was added to it. I used some smoked malt in the recipe as I figured that ancient malting techniques may have yielded malt tainted with smoke.  [Read more…]

Grapefruit Juice Pale Ale

Grapefruit juice adds some tasty citrus character

One thing that attracts me to “West Coast” pale ales and IPAs is the citrus character of their hops. I remember brewing my first pale ale with Amarillo back in the day, and I was amazed by the amount of grapefruit flavor and aroma coming out of my pint glass. In order to chase that fruit character, I decided to play with some juice.

As Chris noted in an earlier story on brewing fruit beers, you can use peel, flesh, juice or extract from fruit to achieve a fruity flavor. Back in 2014, I brewed a pineapple saison using a quart of frozen pineapple juice added at the end of the boil. This was inspired by an interview with homebrewers Brook Baber and David Bauter on Basic Brewing Radio about their method of brewing graf, a fictional beverage envisioned by Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series. Brook and David froze fruit juice in plastic bags and added it to the end of the boil to help jump start the chilling process. The technique worked well for my saison, so I decided to adopt it for my grapefruit pale ale. [Read more…]

Blackberry “Pilsner”

Blackberries give this “Pilsner” a rosy glow.

This past summer, I asked my wife, Susan, what I should brew next. She suggested a blackberry Pilsner. I had never heard of such a thing, but in the interest of keeping her happy and tolerant of my hobby/occupation, I decided to give it a go.

I put “Pilsner” in quotation marks in the title of this recipe for a couple of reasons. First of all, those who abide by the Reinheitsgebot – the beer purity law – would cringe at the thought of adding fruit to this classic German style. Blackberries definitely fall outside the malt, hops, water and yeast list. Second, Pilsners are traditionally lagered to brew a beer of clean profile with no fruity yeast characteristics. It didn’t make sense to me to go to the trouble of fermenting cold to avoid fruity flavors to then add some fruit afterwards. So, I fermented this beer with lager yeast at ale fermentation temperatures. [Read more…]

Tart Fruity 100% Rye Session Ale

100% Rye and Fruit make for a tasty tart beer.

Along with brewing moderate and higher gravity beers, I’m in search of interesting, drinkable, very low gravity beers to help with cutting calories (and preserving sobriety) while satisfying my beer thirst. Brewing with 100% rye has been one technique I’ve found to give me low alcohol and substantial body. A few months ago, I decided to combine this all-rye approach with wort souring and the addition of fruit.


Let’s begin at the beginning. To six gallons (23 L) of filtered water, I added 5.0 pounds (2.3 kg) crushed malted rye. Using Brew in a Bag, I rested this thin mash at 150˚F (65˚C) for an hour. After removing the grain, I brought the wort up to 180˚F (82˚C) for fifteen minutes to pasteurize. I didn’t want any of the microorganisms on the grain to have any effect on my souring process. [Read more…]

Last Day to Pre-Order Book

DSCN3853Today is the last day to pre-order my new book, Home Brew Recipe Bible.  The pre-order price at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble is roughly 10 bucks off the cover price — just $14.52. Tomorrow, September 20th, the book will be officially released and (I presume) the price will go up. Thanks to everyone who has already pre-ordered. Some details of the book are given here.

Session Rye ESB and Porter

My name is James, my favorite color is green, and my quest is to create tasty, satisfying, low gravity beers using rye as a base ingredient. The latest stops on my quest included the British styles of Extra Special Bitter (ESB) and Porter.

Brew in a Bag is a must for recipes heavy in rye.

Brew in a Bag is a must for recipes heavy in rye.

Let me start with this disclaimer: If you are offended by deviating from traditional style guidelines, read no further. However, if you enjoy hacking recipes and charting undiscovered territory, clop your coconut shells and come along. (No more Monty Python references.  I promise.)

As I have discussed in previous recipes, such as my “Rye Wit” and “100% Rye Pale Ale,” we can take advantage of the gloppiness of rye wort to create tasty low gravity beers that maintain substantial mouthfeel. Too much rye can give you a beer with the consistency of Vick’s Formula 44D, but if you pull back on the reins (notice my restraint in not adding a “Patsy” reference here) and add half as much, you get a more “normal” tasting beer with half the alcohol. [Read more…]

New Zealand Brew Day


A sack of malts and a brewing machine.

While in New Zealand, I brewed a batch of beer. The conference organizers wanted the speakers to each brew a beer at Marchfest (the yearly Nelson, New Zealand craft beer celebration). The beers will be judged in a contest later. We were each given a Grainfather (a combination mash tun/lauter tun/kettle for all-grain brewing) to use, and someone familiar with the machine to help us. (Thanks for the help, Cameron!) [Read more…]

Cranberry Zinger (Recipe Explained)

IMG_2086Thanksgiving is a couple weeks away, so I’m reposting my Cranberry Zinger recipe, with an extended explanation of the ingredients and process. (The original recipe and the all-grain version were posted 2 years ago and 1 year ago, respectively.) [Read more…]

Partial Mash Session IPA

CamaronOf the new IPA variants — black IPA, brown IPA, red IPA, etc. — session IPA is the one I like the best. With the exception of a few rye IPAs, I feel that adding something to an American IPA detracts from, rather than adds to, the beer. I totally sympathize with people who don’t like the name, but whether you call it a session IPA or a dry, hoppy pale ale, I think the concept is brilliant — a “sessionable” pale ale with a big hop bouquet.

This is the partial mash version of my all-grain session IPA recipe. That recipe, in turn, is basically just a lower gravity version of my “regular” American IPA, Roswell IPA. (The amount of bittering hops is reduced slightly, but the amount of late hops is left unchanged. Here’s why I did that.) [Read more…]