Brewing a pre-Prohibition American lager

I’ve been homebrewing for years, since the mid-90s really, and one thing I thought might be fun to do—as time allows, of course—is brew up some beers inspired by the local beer history I’ve been researching.


The first beer that came to mind was inspired by the very first brewery to exist in Central Oregon: the Ochoco Brewery of Prineville, which lasted from 1882 until 1890. Of course a pre-Prohibition brewery at that time—with an Austrian brewer, no less—would have been brewing a lager, though a stronger, darker, maltier lager by today’s commonly-understood “American lager” standards. So I set out develop a pre-Prohibition lager recipe loosely based on what I would imagine might have been coming out of the Prineville brewery.

Now, in all the time I’ve been homebrewing, I had never done a true lager prior to this. The main reason is temperature control: lagers require a fermentation temperature of under 60 degrees Fahrenheit (45-55 is pretty ideal) and I’ve simply never been set up to do that. However, during the winter our garage stays a relatively-stable 55 to 57 degrees, day and night, so while we had the colder weather I went for it.

Malt in the mill

Here’s the base recipe I put together:

  • 7 pounds of American 2-row malt
  • 1 pound of Munich malt
  • 1 pound of flaked corn
  • 2 ounces of chocolate malt (~350°L)
  • 8 ounces of cane sugar
  • 0.75 ounces of Perle hops (~8% alpha acid) for 60 minutes
  • 0.25 ounces of Santiam hops (~5% AA) for 60 minutes
  • 1 ounce of Santiam hops for 15 minutes
  • 1 ounce of Santiam hops for aroma
  • Wyeast 2035 American Lager

Homebrewers familiar with the style will note I’ve taken liberties with it. The use of 2-row versus 6-row malt, for instance. And likely there wouldn’t have been much in the way of specialty malts available in frontier Prineville, but I can imagine having an imperfectly-kilned malt which could have lent darker colors and roastier, nuttier flavors to the finished beer. And the hops would possibly have been Cluster or some similar Willamette Valley-grown early variety.

Also, I do a simple single-infusion mash, whereas lager brewers of the day likely employed step-infusion or even decoction mashing.

The end result is a 6.3% amber-brown lager that is tasty and I hope befitting the beer being brewed in Central Oregon 130 years ago!

Ochoco Lager