I recently had my first experiment with brewing a super high alcohol beer. If you are looking for a challenge and to learn a lot about some new and interesting techniques, I would encourage you to read up on high ABV beers and give it a shot.
A friend and I decided that we wanted to base a brew off of the famous Dogfish Head 120min Double-IPA. We found a clone recipe and added in a few darker malts to make it more of a cross between a barleywine and a IIPA. We were shooting to come out with a beer that packed a punch at about 18-20% ABV. Here is a brief run-down on what we did, particularly what was different than a normal brew:
1) We started with 40 pounds, yes FORTY pounds of grain. For a 10-gallon batch of beer. Unfortunately, we did not get great efficiency out of our mash because we had to mash in at a ration of only about 0.8 quarts of water per pound of grain because that was as much as the mash tun could hold. It was hard to stir and I think there may have been some dough-balls even after we both stirred as best we could.
2) We had roughly 200 IBUs. Most normal IPAs are in the 40-80 IBU range, but since we were shooting for such high alcohol and since there was so much grain, we had to balance it out with hops…and lots of ’em. We measured in pounds instead of ounces. I’m not kidding.
3) Because our efficiency was so low, but we wanted to hit our target starting gravity, we boiled for over 2 hours and even added in a few pounds of dried malt extract. With all of that, our OG was high, but still not quite where we were hoping.
4) We aerated and pitched some pac-man yeast, along with a little yeast nutrient. This part was relatively normal.
5) Each day, we began adding 1 pound of dextrose (corn sugar) in the morning and in the afternoon. We would pull a sample, mix in the dextrose and a little yeast nutrient, then add it back and oxygenate. We did this for a couple of weeks.
6) The pac-man yeast can only survive well in up to about 12% ABV wort, so we made a 3-gallon starter of the White Labs high gravity yeast (#099). We let this ferment for a couple of days, crash cooled it, and decanted the wort. We then added this yeast cake into the beer, and continued our routine of adding sugar twice a day.
7) By the end of a few weeks, our adjusted starting gravity was over 1.150. Once we noticed the bubbling in the airlock start to die down, we stopped adding sugar and let the yeast finish cleaning up the beer, hoping to have a final gravity below 1.020, giving us the 18%+ ABV we were looking for.
Currently the beer has finished its primary fermentation and is now aging, where it will sit for a couple of months before we lager it for a week or two for clarity. This will be a beer that should age very well, as I fully expect the high alcohol content to knock us over when we first try it. I am looking forward to the results of this experiment as I have learned a lot during this process about how yeast work and generally how to create such a high-ABV beer.
If anyone else has ever brewed a beer in this range, let me know, as I would love to hear how it turned out. That is what is great about homebrewing – always trying new things and learning from others. Also, if anyone else reads this article and brews their own high-alcohol beer, let me know what you make and how it turns out.
I will update you with how the beer turns out and if it was worth the effort!