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How to Ferment For Higher Alcohol Content

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.

Consider your yeast.

This is the most important step. Think about the yeast you're going to use. Can it handle an increase in sugar? All 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.

Do you need a yeast starter?

Starters increase the cell count of your yeast pack. Chances are, if you want to increase ABV, you'll need a starter. More cells = more mouths to munch on sugar and turn it into alcohol. 

The easiest way to increase cell count is with Fast Pitch. Rather than muddling through making a starter by hand, you crack open a can and pour. 

Watch a 30 second tutorial on how to use Fast Pitch here.

Are you adding malt extract?

Here's what you need to know about changing the volume of malt extract in your brew.

  • 1# of dry malt extract will add approx. 1.008 specific gravity points per 5 gallons
  • 1# of liquid malt extract will add approx. 1.007 specific gravity points per 5 gallons
  • Increases overall body of the beer
  • Possible higher finishing gravity or sweeter malt finish
  • Less perceived hop bitterness
  • Can add a spicy flavor and aroma and increased alcohol warmth

Are you adding simple sugars?

Simple sugars are another great option. If you add more of these (corn sugar, table sugar, honey, Brewer's Crystals);

  • 1# of sugar adds approx. 1.009 specific gravity points per 5 gallons
  • Increases dryness in the finish
  • Decreases overall body
  • Increases perceived hop bitterness
  • Too high a percentage can dilute the malt nutrients needed for healthy fermentation
  • Can add a spicy flavor and aroma and increased alcohol warmth
  • Brewer's Crystals add similar gravity points as sugar does but mimics malt extract in fermentation profile. Maintaining your beer's mouthfeel and body.

Check for flavor balance.

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 amount of other ingredients (hops & additives) to maintain a balance of flavor and aroma, or it might mean something else entirely. Have fun with it!

 

Want to keep reading?

- 5 Easy Tricks for Boosting Yeast Health

7 Crucial Reasons to Keg Your Homebrew

The Winemaker's Guide to Yeast

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