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Now is a great time to consider making a high gravity beer to toast in the new millennium. I consider high gravity beers are beers as those have starting gravities in excess of 1.070. These would include ales such as Belgium Triple, English Barley Wines, Russian Imperial Stout, Scotch Strong Ale and Chico Big Foot as well as two lagers from German, Doppelbocks and Eisbocks.
There are a three things to know about brewing high gravity beers that will be extremely helpful.
First, due to the very high gravity ratings, you should be on guard for a very active fermentation for the first 2-4 days. I have had numbereous brewers tell me that their high gravity beer blew the lid off their fermenter. This was probably due to the fact most home brewers that ferment in plastic fermenters, no matter the size, do not strain the batch as they pour it into the fermenters. The fine hops fragments and other solids are not large enough to stop up the opening in the airlock that is attached to the fermenter, BUT they tend to ride the carbon dioxide bubbles that form during fermentation to the top of the foam. Making their way to the opening of the airlock, where they are joined by other fine particles. As they accumulate at the opening, they can clump together and create a blockage and build up enough pressure to blow off the lid or blow out the stopper. I tell you not to discourage you from brewing a high gravity beer but to understand the need to strain the beer even you are using a fermenter large enough that blow-off should not occur. An easy way to strain beer, is by using an elastic straining bag (item# BAG-EF) that will stretch across the rim of the plastic pail. By the way, I would not ferment one of these beers in a 5-gallon carboy due to the amount of beer that you are likely to lose during the blow-off stage of fermentation.
Next, high gravity beers need a high IBU (International Brewing Units) rating so that the beer will be balanced when it matures. With IBU ratings in this range, the common perception would be that the beer would be exceptionally bitter. Not. Even though the recipes will have rating in the 70+ range, they will ultimately be very malty due to the large amount of DME (Dried Malt Extract) used to develop the high alcohol content.
Last, with gravities reaching as high as 1.110, they will require an extended time for conditioning. A reduction in the amount of sugar added at bottling should be anticipated. An amount of 1/4 to 1/2 cup is all that is needed. By itself, this amount of priming sugar would not develop enough carbonation for most of us. However, the more complex sugars which are present in a high terminal gravity, 1.025 and higher, will kick in to give beer the extra fermentables needed for proper carbonation. These sugars kick in at about the 6-9 month range. Therefore, it is very desirable to make this beer up to a year ahead of time.
These beer will keep waiting for months but they will worth the wait. Furthermore, they will have a shelf life of 10 years of more. Consider one of these beers to toast in the millennium and hold on - 10% alcohol can sneak up on you real quick.
Belgium Trippel - English Barley Wine - Russian Imperial Stout - Scotch Strong Ale
German Doppelbock - German Eisbock