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Question: : With winter temperatures here, what are some good beers to brew?
Answer: It seems like in the LA basin that we are always fighting against
fermentation temperatures that are a little too warm. Fortunately, winter weather
offers us the opportunity to make some different beers without the expense of
refrigeration systems. Around my place in West LA, the temperature hovers around
60oF without a lot of temperature manipulation.
The key to selecting a beer style is to know the various yeast styles that are typically used. The first hint comes from the traditional geographic regions where beer styles originated. Think of a cold climate area and chances are the local beer style will do well in cold weather.
One of the first places that comes to mind is Scotland. Hence, the yeast that typifies Scottish ales does well in cool blustery weather. There are four varieties of Scottish ales to choose from, with differing starting gravities. Wyeast #1728 works well here for all four types, at temperatures as low as 55°F. However, if you're brewing a Wee Heavy, (the strongest) you might want to make sure the fermentation is active before you let the temperature fall.
In the mid-1800's all the rage in Germany was the advent of lager beers, facilitated by the widespread use of refrigeration. In the town of Düsseldorf, however, the brewers defied the new trend, and continued to make beer the old (alt) way, leading to the style called Altbier. The effects of low temperature fermentation weren't lost on the brewers, though. They realized that lower temperatures led to smoother taste. Hence, their local yeast also does well at low temperatures. Similarly, the folks in nearby in Cologne kept the old-style brewing method with their own style called Kölsch. Try Wyeast #1007 for Altbier and #2565 for Kölsch.
Want to try a lager? The easiest way to go is with the style of another cool weather region, San Francisco. California Common yeast has the highest temperature range of any lager, doing well from 58° to 68°F.
Finally, another style to try is Cream Ale. Cream Ale doesn't have a specific yeast history, but a clean fermenting yeast such as Wyeast #1056 yeast does fairly well. Cream Ale, like Altbier and Kölsch, are best brewed with modest temperatures, followed by colder temperatures in secondary. Hence, you'll get best results if you can set up your fermenter so it can handle both temperature ranges.
Don't forget that it is usually easier to keep a fermenter a bit warmer than it is to get it a bit cooler. With a simple aquarium heater, you can make excellent Pale Ales, Browns, Porters and Stouts all winter long. About the only styles to avoid are those where the temperature should be distinctly warm to get best results. Generally, these are estery styles such as Hefeweizen and some Belgian Ales. Low temperatures here will leave the beer lacking in these more aromatic features.
Still too poor to buy a lager fridge? You might want to move to Seattle. The 5-day forecast (and probably the 30-day forecast) calls for showers with a high of 52° and a low of 39°F. Perfect lagering weather.