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Dabbling with Alcohol in Beer

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In the plethora of options when choosing an alcoholic beverage, beer is relatively on the lower end of potency on alcohol content. Popular light beers average around 3-5% ABV (alcohol by volume) with heavier beers averaging over 7% ABV. In comparison, wines range in the early teens percentage-wise for ABV and spirits/ liquors are known for the higher ABV: 30% and beyond.

table of friends enjoying food and beer. Making a toast with beers
Source: Unsplash

Breweries have experimented with creating stronger beers to compete with the hype of higher alcoholic beverages. It isn’t as simple as adding straight alcohol to achieve this goal. There are many ways to achieve higher ABV when brewing a beer. Some popular ways of pumping up the ABV include adding sugars, experimenting with the types of yeast, altering steps in the brewing process, and freezing the batch.

Sugar used in brewing represents more than just the sugars we delectably eat as a treat. During the mash process, fermentable sugars form after enzymes break down starches with the most desirable being: glucose, maltose, maltotriose.  Brewers will also add sugar straight to the boil (Belgian candy sugars or syrups) to increase their original gravities without increasing the amount of grain being used in the mash. With all this sugar available, it is important for the brewer to use a yeast strain that can thrive and thus leave the brewer (and consumer) with a high ABV beer!

brewer looking into a tank of beer
Source: Unsplash

Yeast is a beast! It consumes the fermentable sugars created during the brewing process and converts them to carbon dioxide and most importantly, alcohol. There are thousands of different strains a brewer can select when creating specific styles of beer. For higher ABV beers, the best yeasts to use are those best suited for high alcohol environments like those chosen when brewing imperial stouts and barley wines. These yeast strains are able to survive in the alcohol laden environments they create with less stress than their less tolerant counterparts.

Manipulating certain steps in the brewing process and playing with ice are other ways to increase ABV. One method involves using a lower mash temperature to achieve more fermentable sugars and less dextrins (unfermentable sugars). Another method is to extend the boil time to concentrate the wort which in turn creates a higher concentration of sugar in the post-boil. Incorporating these methods with a double mash is a common way to combine the sugars of two recipes into one homogenized solution of wort.

Snake Venom Beer
Source: Reddit

The last method being covered is an icy one. Lowering to freezing temperatures can also influence the alcohol content. By allowing the water to freeze, it can be removed during the fermentation process furthering alcohol concentration. This is one of the processes used to create the strongest beer in the world, Brewmeister Snake Venom. This beer has a whooping 67.5 ABV! Just remember that these higher ABV beers have a harder time disguising the taste of alcohol. The name “Snake Venom” seems like the perfect name for describing the bite in every sip.

Hopefully, by understanding some of the extra treatments used to manipulate alcohol helps everyone appreciate the next time they grab a high ABV beer. Just remember to drink responsibility and be aware of the amount you are drinking!