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October 23, 2018

How to Ferment for Higher Gravity

Want to ramp up the ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of your homebrew? Yeah. We know you do. The best way to increase the ABV is to add more fermentable sugar for your yeast to snack on. Unfortunately, dumping a few extra cups of sugar into your wort, and praying for success won't get you the beer you want. But there are steps you can take to ensure you will. 
Here's how.

High Gravity Yeast

This is the most important step. Think about the yeast you're going to use. Can it handle an increase in sugar? All beer yeasts are not created equal, and some strains simply don't have the manpower (read: cell-power) to produce any more alcohol. 

What's more, even if the strain can produce a higher percentage, if the cell count is too low, it will become stressed. Stressed yeast produces off-flavors and other unpleasant characteristics. To avoid that outcome, you may need to make a yeast starter.

Increase ABV With Malt Extract

Here's what you need to know about changing the volume of malt extract in your brew. When it comes to increasing gravity one pound of dry malt extract will add approximately 1.008 specific gravity points per 5 gallons, and one pound of liquid malt extract will add approximately 1.007 specific gravity points per 5 gallons. When adding malt extract the following may occur:
  • Increases the overall body of the beer
  • Results in a higher finishing gravity 
  • Sweeter malt taste
  • Potentially have a less perceived hop bitterness 
  • Can add a spicy flavor and aroma 
  • Could increase alcohol warmth 

Adding Simple Sugars To Increase ABV

Simple sugars are another great option to boost ABV. One pound of sugar adds approximately 1.009 specific gravity points per 5 gallons. If you do add more of simple sugars (ie. corn sugar, table sugar, honey, Brewer's Crystals) the following may occur:

  • Increased dryness
  • The decreased overall body in the beer
  • Increased perceived hop bitterness
  • Too many simple sugars can result in poor fermentation
  • Spicy flavor and aroma as well as increased alcohol warmth

Finding Balance With High ABV Beers

Increasing alcohol content will alter the intended flavor, aroma, and texture of the finished beer. Recipes are formulated to create a balance between the malt sweetness, hop bitterness, and other fermentation characteristics. Changing ABV messes with the original recipe's balance.

You'll need to experiment. That might mean upping the number of other ingredients (hops & additives) to maintain a balance of flavor and aroma, or it might mean something else entirely. Have fun with these tasting glasses!

Read More About Fermentation:

Fermentation - Learn about fermentation for beer. 

Cold Crashing - So what is brewing yeast anyway?

Controlling Fermentation Temperature - Make sure your yeast is happy with the temperature. 

Stuck Fermentation - Helpful tips to get your fermentation rolling.