Increasing the Alcohol Content of Kit Beer

It’s All About Sugar and Yeast

It’s the magic combination that turns ordinary fluid into the age old concoction that is alcohol. Let’s say you brew your first all grain beer, and your numbers fall short. Suddenly your 5.3% Pale is will be a 4.1% session beer. Or maybe you just find yourself wanting to increase the alcohol content of an extract kit you bought. We’ll go over a few options at your disposal as a home brewer. Some of them require you to plan ahead, and others can be used for emergencies as well.

Additional Base Malt

As an all grain brewer you probably have a decent guess as what your typical efficiency is. If your efficiency is lower than what the recipe is listed for, or you want an extra boost, you can mash some additional base grain. If you’re not an all grain brewer, you still have plenty of options.

Malt Extract

A great thing to keep around in case you miss your numbers in all grain brewing is a bit of dry malt extract. It is a powdered malt that has already been converted, boiled down, and dried. What will help you here is that it can be added after the flame out.

If you brewed an extract kit, it can be added with the rest of the extract to increase your original gravity. You’ll want to use the lightest extract you can get to not throw off the other flavors of the recipe. If you add more than a pound of DME (dry malt extract), you can start to throw the IBUs out of balance and some hop adjustments should be made. Most kits will indicate what the final ABV should be.

A great thing about this type of sugar addition is that you are adding malt sugars, and won’t affect the overall body or fermentability of your beer. If you don’t have DME, here are a few other types of sugar you can add. These simple sugars will dry your beer out, by increasing your original gravity but decreasing the final gravity compared to an all malt wort.

Candi Syrups and Sugars

These cooked sugars give belgian beers some of their malty, plummy, and bready characteristics. They will also increase the original gravity of your beer. Depending on the darkness of the sugar or syrup, different flavor profiles will be added to the beer. Read up on which each one adds and see if it matches well with the beer you’re making.

Honey

Honey can be added similarly to candi syrups and sugars. There are many types of honey that all have different aromas and flavors. To preserve these, honey should be added after the boil has ended. Honey will add a champagne-like dryness, and floral characteristic to the beer.

Basic Sugars

Plain table sugar can be added as well to increase the alcohol content. However, it won’t add any desirable characteristics to your beer. A touch of brown sugar can add some character to your beer, but the molasses in the brown sugar can sneak up quickly, so use it sparingly. If you feel you must use sugar, try to find some raw or turbinado sugar as they are a little more complex than plain white sugar.

Total Volume

The final tool in your arsenal doesn’t include adding anything. In fact, it involves taking something away. Decreasing your volume will mean an increased original gravity. Sometimes starting with a gallon or half gallon less may be the best way to increase your alcohol.

A Final Note

One thing to consider is scorching your sugars. If you add any of the above options, be it DME, plain sugar, or something in between; sugars can caramelize if not dissolved properly in the boil. This will add a candy-like sweetness to your beer that can be very hard to overlook when it comes to tasting.

written by David Doucette

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