Brewing a Big Beer (Brewer speak for high alcohol beers)
There is no such thing as strong beer only weak drinkers, at least that’s why we refer to high alcohol beers as “big”. You may have dabbled with making Pale-Ales maybe an Irish Stout or a Red ale but you long to equal those commercial breweries that make imperial stouts, imperial IPA’s, or Imperial everything! Its not hard to make an Imperial beer but there are some things to take into consideration before you order 30 lbs. of Marris Otter from our store and dive in.
Most homebrew packs are good for 5 gallons of beer up to a gravity of about 1.060. But 1.060 beers are for the lawn-mower, we want beer at 10%+ alcohol content which requires a starting gravity of about 1.100 or greater. The yeast need some help by making a yeast starter so you have more cells to ferment that big beer. As an alternative you can purchase additional yeast packs.
This applies for both our All-grain and extract brewers. High gravity beers have a higher chance of boil overs so watch out when that wort start to boil. In addition your hop utilization (how much each ounce of hops contributes to bitterness) is reduced with these big beers which mean you need to use more hops than normal. We recommend using brewing software or one of our made to order recipe kits so you end up with a delicious well balanced beer.
Wow that’s a full Mash Tun!
When we increase the alcohol content in our beer we also up the amount of grain. In addition to increasing the amount of grain we also extract less sugars from that grain. We usually experience an 8-10% drop in efficiency making big beers which requires even more grain. This all adds up too crunching the numbers (or making a guess!) to make sure your grain bill will fit in your mash tun.
Fermentation is likely to be more vigorous than your smaller beers. This vigorous fermentation causes a few problems you need to be prepared for. First use a blow off tube instead of an airlock so that any Krausen that makes it up to the top of the fermenter doesn’t fill the airlock. Second leave some extra headspace at the top of your fermenter so that Krausen has somewhere to go. Also you can expect a significant temperature rise during your fermentation because your yeast are working overtime. You can put a wet t-shirt over the fermenter or set the fermenter in a kids pool to help keep it in the correct fermentation range.
Big beers are fantastic beers to make and drink and you now know what to expect when you make them! If you have any questions give us a call we are happy to answer any of your brewing questions.