How to Brew an 18% ABV Beer

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Many home brewers like the challenge of brewing unusual and difficult beers. One challenge is brewing an extremely strong beer; many strong ales and barley wines reach over 10 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), but it is possible to go far beyond that with the right techniques. An 18 percent ABV beer is tricky to achieve, but is possible.

Things You'll Need

  • Large pot
  • Dry malt extract
  • Brewing yeast
  • Champagne yeast
  • Brew an extremely high-gravity beer style. On the specific gravity scale, the original gravity of the beer should be well over 1.100. To get such a high-gravity beer, brew a beer style meant to be extremely strong (such as a barley wine or imperial porter) or add a large quantity of corn sugar, molasses or other sugary adjuncts to a more standard beer recipe. Your local home-brewing store should have a variety of recipes on hand, depending on the specific style of beer you want to brew.

  • Use a large yeast starter to prime the yeast. To make the starter, add about 19 oz. dry malt extract to 1 gallon of water in a large pot, boil the mixture for about 20 minutes, and then cool it to room temperature by immersing the pot in cold water. Pour the mix into your sanitized fermenter, add the yeast, and put an airlock on it just as you would a full-sized batch of wort. The starter will allow the yeast to start multiplying before you add the wort, helping to make fermentation quicker and more vigorous. Once you have boiled and cooled the wort, add it to the starter in your fermenter.

  • Aerate the wort heavily. You may want to use an oxygen stone, or just splash and shake the fermenter around for a while to mix a lot of air into the wort. Under most circumstances, this would run the risk of oxidizing the finished beer, but the yeast will need the extra oxygen to fully ferment the beer due to the unusually high gravity.

  • Pitch champagne yeast once the beer yeast is done fermenting. Normal brewing yeast will reach the limit of its alcohol tolerance before your beer reaches 18 percent alcohol by volume. Once the bubbling in the fermenter's airlock slows, add a champagne or other extra-high alcohol yeast to continue the fermentation and allow the beer to reach the desired strength.

  • Age the beer for six months to a year after bottling. Strong, high-gravity beers tend to be intensely flavorful and need a long time to mellow out and mature. Store the beer in a cool, dry place well away from sunlight or fluorescent lights during this time to avoid altering the beer's taste.

References

  • "Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass"; Randy Mosher; 2004
  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
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