Climbing Gravity-Taking a High Gravity Beer From Grain To Glass

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When I first started Home Brewing my first thought was not to brew some sophisticated Belgian Ale using only imported ingredients from some monastery high in the Alps, but rather I centered my aim to something more American. My aim was to brew something that showcased the truly American ideal of bigger is better. I wanted to hit an Original Gravity(OG) of at least 1.100 and still end up with a beer that I could drink, albeit a bit slower.

Considerations When Brewing High Gravity Beers

Oops. Should have used a blowoff tube.
High gravity brewing brings a new set of challenges and opportunities that you may not normally encounter with a lower gravity beer. One thing to consider is that with the large quantities of grain in your recipe your hops will struggle to break through all that malt. You may want to increase your hop additions to achieve a more balanced beer. Even maly styles can still have 40-50 IBUs just to balance the extreme maltiness. Remember your final gravity will likely be somewhere around 1.020 or above, so don't be afraid to up the IBUs a bit.
Also, you either need a larger mash tun to accommodate the grain or plan to supplement your recipe with some Dry Malt Extract(DME). Having some extract on hand can also be good for these brews, as a fuller mash tun may recquire a lower your water to grain ratio, or cause effecinecy issues. Having some DME on hand to hit your numbers regardless can put those worries at ease.
Another issue is that with a high OG the yeast may struggle to perform its magic to the fullest and eat through all the available sugars. You may need to pitch more yeast or choose a yeast that can handle the high gravity wort. A 2L starter should be good for a high gravity ale, but you might want to think about a 3L - 1 Gallon starter for a big lager. This of course will also affect your calculatinos in terms of the amount of wort you're collecting (Brewing only 4 gallons at a gravity even higher than your target to account for the large starter). A challenge that I personally experienced was the increased fermentation activity. You may want to employ a blow off tube in your fermentation chamber or just be prepared to clean up a sticky mess.

High Gravity Chocolate Coconut Cream Stout.

GrainsHop ScheduleYeast

  • 12 lbs 3.2 oz Maris Otter Malt (Muntons) (3.0 SRM)
  • 2 lbs Caramel Malt - 80L 6-Row (Briess) (80.0 SRM)
  • 1 lbs Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM)
  • 2 lbs Amber Dry Extract (12.5 SRM)
  • 1 lbs Milk Sugar (Lactose) (0.0 SRM)

  • 1oz Chinook @60
  • 1oz Willamette @0

  • 1 pkg Safebrew Abbey Ale
Notes: Add 4 oz Cacao Nibs and 2 pounds of toasted coconut to Secondary/Primary 10.0 days before bottling or kegging.
OG: 1.109 FG: 1.019 ABV: 11%
My recipes are normally adjusted for what my local home brew shop has on hand at the time. For instance, I used Maris Otter because they did not have enough Pale Malt available the day that I went shopping. I also used Shredded Sweetened Coconut off the shelf at the local grocery store and toasted it in the oven on a tray. Just be sure to watch it closely and turn the coconut over every few minutes until it is a nice golden brown.
I mashed in with 23 quarts of 164F water and held the temperature in the mash tun at 154F for 2 hours. I did a 2 hour mash because I was helping a friend brew his first beer and it took longer than expected to get back to mine. I mashed out with 22 quarts of 184F water for 35 minutes. I boiled for 60 minutes and added 1 oz of Chinook at 60 minutes and 1 oz of Williamette at flameout.
I chilled my wort with my counterflow chiller as it transferred to my fermenter. I pitched 1 packet of BE256 for its ability to handle the higher alcohol content and fermented for 7 days at 65F. I then added the Cacao Nibs and Coconut and let it sit for another 10 days at 65F. My OG came in at 1.100 and it finished off at 1.016. Transferred to the keg and force carbonated.

The result is a big, full, sweet stout that I enjoyed very much. The coconut faded over a few months but was just right when fresh. When I do this one again, I may increase the coconut to 3 lbs to help the coconut flavor and aroma linger a bit longer so I can let it age. The grain bill will probably stay the same as I experiment and try some other fruit or coffee to see how they affect the overall flavor profile.
In the end, brewing a big beer is a very rewarding experience, you just have reward yourself slowly.

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I went on a tour of Avery brewery where most of the beer they brew is 12-18% ABV. I asked them how they got such a high alcohol content without killing the yeast. They said to just continue adding healthy yeast at several points during fermentation (starting, 5 days in, 10, etc until it is down at an acceptable finishing gravity). This allowed them to get such big beers. They don't add more fermentables throughout the fermentation, just more yeast.
Pretty cool idea and it definitely works. I have never had so many big beers that were so good as that day.
That is a great idea! I have not heard of purposely planning to add more yeast throughout fermentation. Makes sense when I consider that if you have a stuck fermentation that you can add more yeast. I guess they have their recipes dialed I. To the point that they know exactly when fermentation lags and when to add more yeast to keep it going. Thanks for the input.
I've seen a few people suggest the multi step yeast additions. It works but that would be one hell of a yeast cake. This looks like a fun recipe and I haven't tried anything that high of alcohol. I love coconut in beers but that sweetened coconut kind of scares me though as it is so sickly sweet for eating and baking. Was the coconut flavor funky at all?
The coconut came through nicely and did not present any off flavors or funk. I read as many recipes as I could find ahead of time and the opinions were split pretty evenly. I do think toasting the coconut ahead of time really helps the flavor.
Great article and on coconut, I usually buy 2 small bags already toasted (Whole Foods or Publix usually carries these toasted coconut packs), soak them in a jar with coconut flavored vodka for a few days, and then split the coconut into 2 muslin sacks (as I do 10 gal batches) and put it into the keg (using fishing line) for conditioning/carbing.
Last time I did this in my coconut porter, it was one of the best I ever made and everyone tasted and smelled the coconut in the beer. I was afraid it would be too much putting it directly into the keg and leaving it there, but it was spot on and it was well received.
All this coconut talk reminds me that I need to make that beer again soon. :)
Sounds like a good Winter ale, and since we're still having snow storms here ...... ;>). Could you share the quantities of coconut and cocoa nibs you used? Since I'm not partial to 'fruity' beers, I'd probably split the wort and only add coconut to one half for an experiment, and, since I love chocolate, a second batch might require more chocolate (nibs) flavor than the original recipe calls for. Also, what is your recommendation for aging - i.e. months for the best flavor, etc.?