There is a special place in my heart for high gravity beer. Brewing it is even better. But sometimes your grain bill can exceed the capacity of your equipment. If you’ve already tried this I’m sure you’ll understand the frustration. You smack your yeast pack, get your strike water ready, and then… DOH! TOO MUCH GRAIN! First world problems I know. Don’t let that stop you 🙂 As long as you’ve got a decent pot there is still hope! Here are a few tips and techniques you can use to make big beers using small equipment.
1) Know Your Capacity
Hopefully you are reading this before you’ve already spilled grain all over the place. Knowing your mash tun’s capacity is CRUCIAL to make big beers. If you are trying to cram more than 13 pounds of grain into a 5 gallon mash tun you are in for a rude awakening 😉 Planning ahead when making a recipe, and taking into account the capacity of your mash tun will definitely reduce the amount cursing and last minute adjustments you’ll have to make to your batch. Here are some tools from the Green Bay Rackers Homebrew Club that will help you calculate the grain capacity needed for you recipes.
2) Make a Double Brew
Ok, so your mind may not be completely blown by this concept, but it does actually work. Double brews involve mashing a normal batch, then pulling off your wort and heating it back up to mash with new grain. This means you can take an existing normal gravity recipe, and make an Imperial style by by mashing new grain with the wort you pulled from your first mash. I’ve tested this with a wheat recipe I make and had great results. I want to say that I had an OSG somewhere in the ballpark of ~1.110. Once you’ve pulled off your wort a second time, you can actually sparge again for a small beer. This is referred to as parti-gyle brewing. It will make for a long brew day, but you get 5 gallons of Imperial style beer along with 5 gallons of a session beer of the same style without maxing out your mash tun.
3) Extend Your Boil Time
Extend your boil from 60 minutes to 90 minutes. Extending your boil time causes more water to evaporate, and concentrates your wort which ultimately increases your OSG. Boil your wort for 30 minutes, and then add your hops on your normal hopping schedule. Just remember that your beer will be sweeter and will likely need more hops for the same bittering effect as a 60 minute boil to counter that sweetness. Usually big beers are mashed at a higher temperature. This helps increase body, but also leaves longer chains of sugars which are recognizably sweet. This works great on pretty much any batch. Apologies for the rampant meme use 🙂
3) Use A Yeast Starter and an Alcohol Tolerant Yeast
There’s a lot of sugars floating around in a big beer. The best thing you can do for your batch is make sure you have plenty of hungry yeast. I usually create a yeast starter by boiling a pint and a half of water along with 1/2 cup of light dry malt extract for about 3 minutes. Quickly cool this down to room temperature in the sink (I usually just put the lid on my pot and place it in a sink full of ice water), and then I pour it into a 2 Liter flask and pitch my yeast. If you have a stir plate it works out even better. If you don’t make a yeast starter, I would recommend using at least two yeast packets if not more. Remember, you want an army of yeast cells to take on a wort higher than 1.080. Here are some charts from Lugwrench Brewing Company showing the alcohol tolerance of Wyeast and White Labs yeast strains: