I love lager. It’s probably my favourite type of beer. No, I don’t mean generic mass produced beer, 6 for £5 from Tesco lager, I’m talking about Staropramen in Prague lager. A perfectly poured Pilsner Urquell from Plzen type lager, Munich beer hall quality helles and a kolsch from Cologne level of lager.
I’ve been trying for years to recreate them in my home brewery. This has led me to experiment with different techniques and a range of different yeasts. Making a good lager is a bit more difficult than the average beer, but I won’t get into this here. I will talk about the different yeasts I’ve used and my opinion of them. Yeast and fermentation temperature is, of course, such a huge aspect to making a good lager.
I’ve included details of how I’ve used the yeast and in what beers. This is based on my experience with the yeasts and I’d be really interested to hear how your beers came out with these strains in the comments. As I try new yeasts I’ll be updating this article as well.
I’m including some ale yeasts for making koslches and pseudo lagers. When speaking to other brewers who want to make lagers, I find they focus too much on the process and not really on what they want to achieve. A clean malty beer can be achieved without making a lager in the traditional sense, and it’s really constructive to think of beer production in this way.
Lager Yeast Table
This table is a summary of all the yeasts I have used and allows for easier side by side comparison. There are a few caveats though: yeast type is quite straightforward until we get to the kveiks. Some kveiks contain multiple strains of yeast, and/or haven’t even been studied in too much detail yet to know exactly what the strains are.
Most details are from the yeast lab’s website or packaging, and where info wasn’t available I went by my own notes. A lot of the time, attenuation is recorded as a description (e.g. “medium”) as opposed to a percentage, I’ve converted that to a percentage. Attenuation is usually a range and dependent on several factors, I’ve tried to get an average.
|Yeast||Type||New Form||Flocculation||Attenuation||Max ABV%||Temp Range (°C)||Good For||Notes|
|Saflager W-34/70||s. pastorianus||Dry||High||83%||10||Dec-20||All types of lagers, pseudo lagers and clean style ales||2 or more sachets are required for cold fermentations|
|Saflager S-23||s. pastorianus||Dry||High||75%||10||Sep-22||All types of lagers, pseudo lagers and clean style ales||Can produce esters over 21°C|
|WY2124||s. pastorianus||Liquid||Low – Medium||75%||9||Jul-20||Warm ferments at 18°C, amber style lagers, cold fermented helles||There are better yeasts for Bohemian and Czech pilsners, good for warm fermented beers|
|WLP830||s. pastorianus||Liquid||Medium||77%||10||Oct-13||German style lagers: helles, rauch, pils, beers with a crisp bitterness||A good sized starter is recommended|
|WLP802||s. pastorianus||Liquid||Medium||72%||10||Oct-13||Czech pilsner||Stressing the yeast slightly can create some interesting esters. Quite a fussy yeast|
|WLP920||s. pastorianus||Liquid||Medium||69%||12||Oct-13||Schwarzbier, amber lagers, traditional non-pale lagers, hoppy lagers||Produces some esters|
|WY2112||s. pastorianus||Liquid||High||70%||9||14-20||California common, Vienna lager, warmer fermented beers||Seems to highlight phenolic flavours, aerate wort well, make a big starter|
|Safale K-97||s. cerevisiae||Dry||Low||80%||10||Dec-25||Kolsch, pseudo lagers||Possibly good for wheat beers with an open fermentation.|
|Lallemand Nottingham||s. cerevisiae||Dry||High||80%||14||Oct-22||Kolsch, pseudo lagers||Highlights malt flavours, lacks the crispy bitterness of a lager yeast|
|Skare||Dry flakes/slurry||Medium||78%||?||20 – 35||Very clean and crisp, good for all types of lagers||Kveik yeast. This strain lowers wort pH resulting in an increased perceived bitterness.|
|Opshaug*||s. cerevisiae||Liquid||Medium – High||75%||12||25-35||Very clean yeast, can ferment fast at high temperatures.||produces orange flavours at higher temperatures|
*Opshaug is a Norwegian farmhouse yeast, however most brewers who use this strain will probably use the White Labs WLP518 isolate. This is what’s represented here.
This powerhouse of a yeast was pretty much my house lager yeast the first few years of brewing. It’s very robust and more forgiving than a lot of ale yeasts. At room temperature it ferments clean and seems to remain clean even with temperature fluctuations making it perfect for steam beers and pseudo lagers. I’ve found with temperature controls at 18°C – 20°C the malt comes through crystal clear. I’ve always rehydrated packs of this yeast.
I’ve fermented a range of lagers and ales with this yeast, from hoppy IPAs to imperial porters and it’s been great. In the past couple of years however, Fermentis reduced the amount of yeast in the pack to about half, and doing a cold ferment lager resulted in a ton of phenolics being produced. If you want to ferment cold – 10-14°C – I’d recommend pitching two rehydrated packets.
Again a pretty robust yeast. I have a recipe for an imperial hoppy lager with an OG of 1.073 which uses this yeast. When I made this beer without temperature controls I used one rehydrated pack of S-23 and it came out beautifully. I’ve also used it in traditional lagers and bocks with good results. I’ve not yet fermented it cold and as of writing it’s been a good few years since I last used it.
I have read in forums some brewers detecting esters when fermented at higher temperatures. I don’t think I’ve fermented this over 21°C and can’t say I remember any ester development. Maybe S-23 throws them out a bit warmer. There’s an interesting Brulosophy experiment comparing S-23 and W-34/70, both come out very clean.
Wyeast 2124 Bohemian lager
I didn’t think this was a very Bohemian strain when I made a Czech pils with it. Fermented cold, the mouthfeel was a bit thin and flavours were a bit dulled, far closer in style to an American style pilsner.
Fermented warm however, this is where this yeast really shines. I made a Vienna lager fermented at 18°C with a cold crash and it was beautiful. Biscuity, malty, grainy, with a hoppy finish, an incredibly good session beer. A Cali-common made with lager and light caramalt was equally delicious.
This is a great yeast warm fermented (18-20°C). At lager temps, this would better suit American style lagers over Bohemian pilsners. At a push, I can see WY2124 making a good Munich helles.
White Labs WLP 830 German lager
I fermented a rauchbier with WLP830 at room temperature and it was incredibly clean and crisp. As a bit of a caveat, I made a big starter which is important with lager yeasts. The malts really shone through with a balanced and pronounced smokiness, and a lemon zest finish from saaz hops.
Much more recently I fermented a helles with this and it was a good beer. I read somewhere WLP830 and W-34/70 are the same yeast which makes sense as they are very similar to me in character. (Although I wonder how a side by side comparison would turn out?) This is a solid lager yeast and my go-to, and can handle a warmer fermentation just as well as a colder one. To get the most out of it keep the starter big and fermentation at a stable temperature.
White Labs WLP 802 Budejovice
Whilst I did make a couple of cold fermented nice beers with this, I did find this yeast a bit tricky. The first beer I underpitched, the yeast threw out a whole bunch of esters whilst highlighting more of the nutty malt flavours. It actually made a really nice blonde ale which my friends and I enjoyed, however that wasn’t what I was going for. This was the first beer I tried Brulosophy’s quick lager method with and it came out brilliantly clear with very little sediment in the bottle.
The second lager I got the pitching rate correct. The resulting beer was nice but again not what I was after. The yeast seemed to emphasise the hop bitterness and grassiness of the Saaz instead of the malt flavours. Over time, the bitterness faded but the grassiness became more intense to the point I didn’t enjoy the beer anymore.
I assume this is the Buvar yeast. Making a Budvar clone won’t be simple as a lot goes into that beer. Water chemistry plays a huge part, as does the way they mature their beer. It’s a pretty niche yeast, whilst I’d like to play around with it more there just haven’t been enough brews in the month sadly.
White Labs WLP920 Old Bavarian Lager
This yeast has slight esters and is made for amber and dark lagers. I made a schwarzbier with this, adding some chocolate malt at the sparge only. The malts were really balanced producing a bready, malty flavour with some chocolate and roasty notes, and subtle esters. I’m definitely looking forward to making this recipe again as it’s a session beer but with a difference.
The second beer I’ve made with this is a hoppy amber lager. I’m not too into hoppy lagers – they all come out like pale ales anyway – but it’s a good yeast to give a “pale ale” a crisper character with some yeast esters.
Wyeast 2112 California Lager
Technically speaking, this is S. Pastorianus so I’m including it in lager yeasts. I came across WY2112 looking for a new house yeast. The first beer I made was a schwarzbier fermented at 18°C but seemed to have quite a bit of phenolic flavour and astringency. It did highlight malt flavours very well though and I drank the batch, trying to focus on the good flavours. WY2112 may have been highlighting the astringency some dark malts can produce.
With this in mind I wanted to make something which would make this yeast shine, so I made a Vienna lager, same recipe as the one from 2124 and it was a good beer. The malts shone through, however there was still a slight phenolic flavour. Granted it was subtle, but this wasn’t a clean beer. I think with the right recipe this can be a good yeast.
I really liked this yeast for the Rush reference.
Fermentis have labelled this a “low ester yeast” yet somehow still “suitable for Belgian type wheat beers”. Twice this yeast stuck during fermentation. On it’s third brew it showed me what it could really do. I did a split kolsch batch, fermented 20 litres with this and 20 litres with Nottingham (below). It seemed to over-attenuate but still left body in the beer.
The beer was well rounded, and whilst it wasn’t the “crispiest” of lagers, it was still malty, balanced and despite the odd description there were some esters which weren’t out of place.
This yeast is apparently really good for open fermentations. This type of ferment increases oxygen to the yeast and increases ester production, in which case maybe it will make a good Belgian style wit.
This can highlight malts really well and it’s worth including this yeast for this reason. I first made a bitter with this yeast. It was biscuity, grainy, caramel and a balanced hop bitterness. So full of flavour for a 3.8% beer. The flavours were reminiscent of amber lagers, so I thought I’d try this in something pale.
I fermented a kolsch with Nottingham, the recipe was a standard pale lager recipe however it came out more ale like than lager. It was a nice beer, but lacked a crispness to the bitterness and promoted more honey flavours from the malts instead of bread and biscuits.
Known for being clean and crisp, Skare (pronounced scar-uh) is one of a growing set of clean “lager” kveik strains. I have a farmhouse version which consists of 2 strains, but as of writing I’ve not seen a lab produced isolate called Skare.
When using this for the first time my knowledge of kveik wasn’t great, and they do need to be treated a bit differently toregular yeasts.
I made a California common, however I only found out afterwards that some kveiks lower wort pH resulting in increased perceived bitterness. Whilst I don’t go for massive IBUs, 35 IBUs in a 5.2% beer was hitting some limits. Nonetheless, the beer was great. Fermentation only took 5 days at 33°C, but bottle conditioning needs to happen at fermentation temps as well for a good carbonation.
This is pretty much my “house yeast”. It’s very versatile and clean, and at lower temperatures (<=25°C) will be clean. When fermenting hotter it does produce some marmalade flavours. I often end up with an extra 5 litres of wort and will always have some Skare to hand to throw in.
I’ve made quite a range of pale, amber and hoppy lagers with this and it strikes a really good balance of ease of use and good flavour. It may not be the most traditional lager yeast out there, but it still makes a very good lager style beer.
This was the first “lager” kveik I got my hands on as White Labs WLP518, therefore it’s most likely an isolate. Again, my first use of this yeast went a bit awry because kveik needs to be treated differently to regular saccharomyces, but still I got great results.
My first beer was an amber doppelbock with an OG of 1.093. With the wrong pitch rates and too little nutrient, WLP518 managed to ferment down to 1.023 after several weeks. Despite the yeast obviously being unhappy and stopped working as soon as it could, the doppelbock tasted amazing. Complex malt flavours came through with a crisp bitterness, however it was also overly sweet and heavy at the same time due to the high FG.
I used this in a best bitter to get a clean flavour, but this time loads of marmalade flavours came through. It actually wasn’t out of place, but definitely not clean.