Beer production has evolved enormously over the past decades. From ancient home beer making traditions, down to the most technological methods used by brewing moguls in Europe and in the United States, brewing has definitely gone through a wide range of alterations and advancements. But with all the changes instigated by both master home brewers and brewery magnates, one inherent process remains the same – fermentation.
From a more scientific perspective, fermentation in the beer making process happens when the yeast content of the cereal grains converts glucose into alcohol and carbon dioxide. While most beers would have an alcohol content of four to six percent by volume, home brewers can always opt for stronger snifters. Brewing a flavorful beer with higher alcohol content can be achieved by considering a malt base with higher gravity, increasing the fermentation phase, and using yeasts that are more attenuative in character.
The Base and the Basics
Increasing the proportions of your malt base and your water content will equate to increased gravity levels. As a general rule, the higher the specific gravity, the higher the alcohol content. Pick rich grains and add the malt extracts prior to fermentation. A hydrometer may be used to measure the specific gravity of your homemade concoction. Reaching figures that are roughly around 1.07 to 1.08 are already ideal results. Denser wort equates to more sugars available for fermenting.
The Fermentation Process
The lag phase in fermentation where the wort begins to assimilate to the new characteristics of its environment can last from one hour to several days. In this case, a little waiting will do your beer a lot of good. Remember that at this phase, the yeast is working extra hard to respirate the added amount of sugar in the form of richer grains; so give it time to finish all the chemical phases that it needs to undergo. Typical fermentation periods usually yield 35 grams of ethanol per liter of beer. Allowing longer fermentation will help increase the alcohol levels. Beers with alcohol contents of up to 12 percent or more by volume can take as much as 4 to 6 months to ferment.
The Yeast Factor
On a general note, attenuative yeast selections usually continue to ferment to increased alcohol levels. Attenuation is the ability to transform sugar into alcohol. The brewers’ yeast, scientifically known as Saccharomyces cervisiae, is just one of the roughly 500 yeast species known to man. This yeast specie is preferred by beer brewers because these specific strains are characterized by ideal attenuation, alcohol tolerance, flocculation (innate ability to bundle together), and zesty fermentation flavors. Yeasts also affect the taste profile of beer.
In fact, the flavor wheel release by The American Society of Brewing Chemists evidently shows that 79% of the total taste or flavor of beers are attributed to actual yeast derivatives (by-products), or beer elements that are directly or indirectly affected by yeast. The way they absorb the iso-alpha-acids directly affects the bitterness of beer because these alpha compounds are actually responsible for the pungent taste that strong beers are known for. However, master brewers always emphasize that great brewers should know how to strengthen their beers without compromising the flavor. If you really want beers with high strength alcohol, opt for yeasts that can stand alcohol concentrations like the Wyeast 1056.
These strains are known to put up with alcohol concentrations of up to 10 percent. Regardless of the strength, be sure that your homemade beer will not offset overall quality. While attempting to draft strong beers with a distinct, strong kick, be sure that you still consider what home beer making is really all about – the art of crafting your very own beverage to achieve optimum satisfaction and unparalleled quality that only hand crafted beers can offer. After all, more than the entire scientific process, home-brewed beer is genuinely a dexterous art.