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How do I increase the alcohol content of my home brew beer?

Increasing alcohol content of your homebrew beer

How do I increase the alcohol content of my home brew? 

This is a common enough questions for brewers. In the beer realm, the phrase Alcohol By Volume is used. As in what is the percentage of alcohol by volume of the total beer.

Commonly shortened to ABV, the question becomes how to I raise the ABV of my beer?

Sugar and or DME

The beer yeast eats the sugar and that produces more alcohol. Some brewers will use dry malt extract (DME) as their sugar source. You could of course just use ordinary home baking sugar. That will contribute to a sweeter beer than DME.

As a rough guide, an extra  pound or 1/2 kg of DME will add an extra half percent to your beer. Doubling that will give you an extra whole percent.

Roughly.

Maple syrup, honey and brown sugar can all be used as well but remember, like jelly beans, they will influence the taste of your beer. Of course if you've ever tried an 8 percent commercial beer such King Fisher or Elephant, you may have noted how sweet such beers are.

A big caution is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast. The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs.

A keen player will consider adding more yeast nutrients to the wort which may give the original yeast a new lease of life and extend fermentation.

Too much alcohol may actually end up killing of the yeast. Some yeasts do handle the presence of alcohol better than others so shop around for those advertised as being tough.

You could also add a second round of yeast to your brew if you were keen. You'd want to add the kind of yeast that has a higher alcohol tolerance. We suggest you talk to your local brewshop for advice on what particular yeast will meet your needs in this scenario.

In terms of your beer preparation, exposing your wort to an appropriate amount of oxygen will help - make sure everything gets a good stir.

Temperature regulation will come into play as well.

So, what you've got to think about to raise the alcohol content is that there are lot of variables that can help you but at the same time they may also hinder your beer.

If we were to put our 'Science Officer' hat on we would suggest you only make one change at a time from your normal routine and measure your results and make judgement accordingly.

For example - you've made your standard ale brew often enough and you know from using your hydrometer that the alcohol content is usually say 4.5 ABV. You may wish to add an extra half KG of DME to your brew and see if that raises the ABV to 5 ABV. If that's the case, you win!

Knowing that method works, you could continually make changes in increments to get that ABV to 5.5 or higher.

Just remember, the more sugars you put in, the great the chance of hindering the yeast, at which point you would need to consider yeast based modifications to your recipe and practices.

In summary to increase the alcohol or ABV of your beer you can consider:
  • Adding extra DME, sugar or produce like honey and maple syrup
  • Adding extra to yeast to your initial pitch.
  • Adding extra yeast and yeast nutrients late in the usual fermentation process. 
  • Using a yeast that can handle a high alcohol content
  • Make sure the wort gets invigorated with oxygen
  • Keep good temperature control, don't allow wild fluctuations
Image credit to Martin Garrido via Creative Commons Licence

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