Problems brewing high ABV

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Scandixbrewer

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Hello I think I need some advice on brewing beer with high ABV, it seems like all my attempts are failing. I started over a year ago to brew some high ABV ales, first attempt was a barley wine with a ABV of about 10%. Since then I've brewed 2 more barley wines, a scottish wee heavy, 3 old ales and a couple of belgian quads. All of them have had this flavor I don't like and a flavor i think is an off-flavor, but not able to describe very well. It's not harsh or astringent, more like an old or stale flavor, but not stale as in flat or oxidised. The flavor doesn't seem to go away with age, I have two older than a year and several that's between 6 months to 12 months old, and it's still there.

I brew other beer too, mostly ales, and nowadays those are quite good, I have no major problems brewing IPA, NEIPA, British ales etc.

For these high ABV beers I try to oxygenate well, I've purchased an oxygenation wand and a (pure) O2 source. I make a starter according to what the brewing software tell me, and slightly more. I use yeast that should be able to handle the kind of expected ABV.

What else is there to do that I might be missing? Or am I still not oxygenating enough? Or use not enough yeast? Or too much yeast?

Thanks in advance!
 

davidabcd

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What else is there to do that I might be missing?
It's really just about the yeast's ability to process the sugar and temperature. That Kveik stuff is supposed to be neutral and can do 15%'ers. That's what I'm going to experiment with in the near future.
Edit: OOPS, you said "didn't." You said the off-flavor goes away so that's good. High ABVs generally are better after three months or more, anyway.
 
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Scandixbrewer

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I've used a couple of yeasts, like WLP028 Edinburgh ale for the old ale, Nottingham for a Barley Wine and Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II for a quad. I ferment on the lower end of temp. range, like 18 degrees C (64-65F) for WLP028 and Wyeast 1762, and 17C(62-63F) degrees for Nottingham.
 

IslandLizard

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Have you tasted the beers along the way, during the various stages, and as it ages? Are they better when younger?

Do you bulk age and how? Then bottle? Or keg?
 
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Scandixbrewer

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I started to keg last year so the first brews was bottled and the last ones are kegged. When I bottled/kegged I don't think the flavor was there, at least not strong enough for me to notice or perhaps I just took too small samples. I have some bottles stored in room temperature and some bottles are stored cold in the fridge. I have taken a bottle/glass now and then for various brews and it feels like it appears pretty fast, a few weeks after bottling/kegging, and stays that way. But as I said, it might have been there already at bottling/kegging day but for some reason or another I missed it.
 

IslandLizard

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I still think it's oxidation. But it could be old/stale ingredients, is that a possibility?
Did you "bulk age" the ones you bottled in a "secondary?" If not bulk aged, how long were they in the fermenter before you bottled?

The bottled ones, did they carbonate well? Did you add extra yeast?

Are the kegged ones stored cold (keezer) or are they bulk aging/conditioning in the keg?

Did they reach their intended FG? Around what gravity?
 
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Scandixbrewer

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Thanks for all the help, much appreciated.

I use the same ingredients for a lot of my other brews, everything from the base malt (pale ale, maris otter etc) and the crystal/cara malt. The fermentation usually takes about 7-10 days I think, so I let it sit in the fermenter at least that long, usually 10 to 14 days. I use a TILT to track the progress. Below is an example of fermentation progres of a Barley wine. OG of 1.95 and FG was 1.023, the TILT showed a slightly higher FG.

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I think they usually end up somewhere around the expected FG, more or less, maybe a bit higher at times, and some times a bit lower. I haven't added any yeast when bottling but they seem to have carbed up pretty well. I don't age them in a secondary, I bottle or keg straight from the fermenter, just like I do with my other brews also. Just like the bottles, some of the kegs are stored in room temp. (or perhaps slightly lower than) but usually in a dedicated fridge.
 

IslandLizard

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Is it possible you have a wild yeast infection that takes time to present itself?
That's a very good point.^

Do you routinely take all your valves apart for cleaning, including the bottom one on your boil kettle? That's a known and notorious Pedio trap, that starts to show up after a few years without thorough cleaning.

How's your water? Treatments?
What kind of fermenters?
 

bwible

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I started to keg last year so the first brews was bottled and the last ones are kegged. When I bottled/kegged I don't think the flavor was there, at least not strong enough for me to notice or perhaps I just took too small samples. I have some bottles stored in room temperature and some bottles are stored cold in the fridge. I have taken a bottle/glass now and then for various brews and it feels like it appears pretty fast, a few weeks after bottling/kegging, and stays that way. But as I said, it might have been there already at bottling/kegging day but for some reason or another I missed it.
When you got your kegs, did you change out all the rubber gaskets? Used corny kegs come from different sources, one being soda companies. They may have been used for soda - cola, ginger ale, the worst is root beer. The rubber gaskets can hold flavors and should be changed whenever you get a keg. There are 5 of them. One inside each post on the dip tube, one on the outside of each post, and the main rubber gasket in the lid. If the odd flavors only showed up when you got your kegs and started kegging this is something to try.
 

bwible

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Comments on high gravity brewing in general. These beers use more grain and often stress the limits of your mash tun. Use a thinner mash if you can, more like 1.75 qts per pound instead of the usual 1.5 qts per pound. Another option is to replace some of the grain with extract in the kettle if your mash tun wont hold it all. Brewers often frown on adjuncts and sugars but high gravity beers can come off as heavy or cloying sometimes and some sugar can lighten the beers body and increase fermentability while still providing the alcohol. I have used as much as 10% corn sugar in a 10% barleywine.

You need a large starter of yeast. What I will do is brew another beer of a similar style that would use the same yeast first, such as a pale ale in the case of a barleywine, and then pitch the barleywine right on top of the yeast cake from the previous beers. You just want to take recipes into consideration. I would not pitch a barleywine on the yeast cake from a stout, etc. Sometimes I make 4 beers with the same yeast and go up in increasing order of gravity. Barleywine would be the last one and I would not use the yeast again after that. Also put in some yeast nutrient. I use it at the end of the boil every time I brew.

If you can oxygenate, thats great. You have a line and probably a diffusion stone there that need to be cleaned and maintained. Boil the stone after every use so it doesn’t hold wort and bacteria.
 

kevin58

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One technique you might want to try is to skip trying to make a starter. Instead make a lower gravity beer first and let it ferment out. Then on the day this first beer is ready to go into the keg you brew your big beer. When cooled just transfer this big beer straight into the just emptied fermenter on top of the yeast cake. Your first beer is basically your starter. It works like a champ!
 

Gorm

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I like notty for my barley wine, usually I’ll make a Irish stout or a burton ale light, like 4.5 abv then pour the barley wine wort over the yeast cake. Also, I still use the secondary method usually after 10 days in the primary. Secondary is for another week then bottle.

Imperial stouts get the same treatment but secondary is usually 1 month. In this I’ll add what ever extras I want and have good luck.
 
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Scandixbrewer

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Thanks everyone, lots of good input. I'm not ruling anything out, but oxidation and infection from equipment seems less likely to me (I'm a noob though). My other beers are pretty good and can last for months (I brew too much) without any problems. I would have thought a problem with equipment would have shown in those beer too.

I use BIAB in a digi boil and ferment either in a brew bucket or a fermzilla, same with every brew.

A couple of things occurred to me though. Last year I made my first lager, this time of year, a Märzen I thought I should drink in october. However, I remember now that one had the same problem also, but it wasn't a high ABV beer... I think 5.5% or so. But also, this year I have made two double IPA, about 8%, and have had no problem with those.

Anyhow, I will listen to your input. I'm going to do an extra round of deep cleaning on the equipment, from boil kettle to kegs and everything else, like the oxygenation stone. I will make a Belgian Double next with a starter, if needed, and then use the same yeast cake for a Belgian quad.
 
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Scandixbrewer

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From what you are describing, an old, stale flavor it seems to point towards hops or possibly some type of fungus or mold.

You may want to consider your mash schedule too.
Can you explain what you mean with considering mash schedule? I never step mash, always do it at one temperature, usually 67C. I also always do full volume mash.
 

1bottlerocket

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For a barley wine mash schedule, we typically rest at 55c for 15 minutes and then heat to 65c and rest for 90 minutes, and then heat to 75c and rest for 10 minutes for the mash out. We heat the sparge water to 78c to keep the grain bed warm and take the runnings. I guess that's our lautering process.

Some people think a protein rest is not necessary, but we find that it helps with efficiency and clarity, especially with thicker mashes. We typically get about 80% efficiency using a 50l Speidel Braumeister. The machine is pretty old but it works very well for us.

I hope that helps.
 

Cloud Surfer

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High ABV beer is mostly what I make. I use liquid yeast where I need to, such as for my Belgians, but if I can, I use dry yeast for my RIS or Barley Wine. These are 13%-14% beers, so I’ll pitch 4 packets of yeast. They get 4 weeks minimum in primary. 10 days is too quick for a big beer. Then I bulk age 3-6 months before bottling. My RIS has won in show, so I think I’m doing something ok.

I was a steward at a beer comp last year, and sat in on the judging for a lot of the day. The number one thing I took away from the day was that guys weren’t leaving their beer in primary long enough for the yeast to clean up after themselves. The judges detected loads of faults in beers all day they said would be absent had it sat in primary longer.
 
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Scandixbrewer

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Thank you. I've been wondering if I rush my fermentation too much, but when gravity seems to come to a halt and close to expected fg, and stays there for some days, then I've called it done. So you think I should leave it longer? See the graph I attached above, where gravity was the same for at least 4 days.
 

IslandLizard

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Thank you. I've been wondering if I rush my fermentation too much, but when gravity seems to come to a halt and close to expected fg, and stays there for some days, then I've called it done. So you think I should leave it longer? See the graph I attached above, where gravity was the same for at least 4 days.
Going from 1.096 to 1.024 (close to terminal gravity) in 5 days is rather quick, yes! You're using a Kveik yeast, correct? Which strain? Could it be the strain of Kveik that gives you the off flavor, or being stressed due to the very high gravity or in combination with other factors?

I wonder if what you taste are higher alcohols (than ethanol), such as isopropanol ("rubbing alcohol") also perceived as a "hot" taste. Higher alcohols have/give weird off-flavors, even when present in small(er) amounts.

Although actual time spent in a fermenter is not all, most higher ABV beers benefit from a long(er) conditioning period, usually in the 4-6 months range.

I've done 3-day IPAs (1.060-1.065 OG) grain to glass, and they were very good. Fermented at 68F (20C) with WY1318. That time included a dry hop at the end of fermentation as well as a 12 hrs cold crash. So active fermentation was only around 1.5 days, and they had completely attenuated.
 
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Scandixbrewer

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No it was not kveik, it was White Labs WLP028 for that beer. I thought it was Nottingham but that was just for my first Barleywine, the above beer/graph is for the second one. Both have that same off flavor.

Yes it might be stressed yeast, it certainly is not right at least. If it's fermentation or something else I have no idea. I don't think it's the alcohol I'm tasting, it tastes too off for that. In a previus post I also mention I made a lager with not so high ABV that also shared the same flavor.
 
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