Many beer lovers across the United States are now choosing to home brew their own beer to save on costs in the long term.
Unfortunately, for the sake of saving money, many of these same home brewers are settling for low-quality beer with a low alcohol content.
If you’re looking for ways to increase the ABV of your own home brew beer, you’re in the right place.
We will be explaining the different ways you can increase the alcohol content of home brew beer as well as the potential risks of some of these methods when it comes to the quality of your beer.
Increasing Your Home Brew’s ABV: How Does It Work?
There are several ways of increasing the ABV (alcohol content) of your home brew beer. The main method, however, is by adding sugar. ABV is the acronym for ‘alcohol by volume’.
Adding more sugar (sucrose) to beer sounds like an easy step, but you need to take great care when doing so because adding more sugar than necessary can significantly impact the quality of your beer.
It might be easier to think about this in terms of baking a cake. If you want the cake to taste right and have the correct texture, you need to follow the recipe carefully.
You might think that adding more sugar to the cake mixture would simply make it sweeter with no negative consequences.
However, adding more sugar to the cake mix than the recipe calls for may also affect the texture of the cake and prevent it from coming together as intended. The same is true for beer.
With that being said, adding more sugar to your beer is the best way to increase the ABV, so if you’re going to do this effectively, you will need to learn how to increase the sugar content without affecting the beer’s overall quality.
This is what we will be covering, along with other relevant factors, in this article.
What To Add To Beer Kits For Higher ABV
The following is a list of ingredients you could add to your home brew beer to increase the ABV:
- Brown sugar
- Table sugar
- Corn sugar
- Liquid malt extract
- Dry malt extract
- Hopped malt extract
Depending on the kind of beer that you are brewing at home, you can add table sugar, corn sugar, or brown sugar to increase the ABV. While all three types of sugars will work, they each have their advantages and disadvantages.
Overall, though, you can expect that adding these types of sugar to your beer to lend a slightly bitter taste to your beer and make the overall body feel lighter.
Interestingly, you can also add other forms of sugar (such as jelly beans, golden syrup, or maple syrup) to your beer for a similar effect.
Although, you will need to take into consideration that doing so is likely to have an impact on the final flavor of the beer.
It’s also worth being aware that adding sugar can affect the color of your beer, making it lighter.
For many people, this is not a real concern, but if you like your beer to look a certain way, you’ll need to think about how much sugar you’re adding from this perspective, too.
LME And DME
LME stands for ‘liquid malt extract’ while DME stands for ‘dry malt extract.’ Malt extract is a form of sugar that has been extracted from malted grain.
The malt extract can be liquid or dry, hence the distinction between the types, although both can be added to beer to increase the ABV.
If you add 1/2 a kilogram (just over 1 lb) of dry malt extract, the ABV of your beer will increase by 0.5%. If you added a full kilogram (2 lbs) of DME to your beer, you would increase the alcohol content by 1%.
Additionally, you may find that DME and LME makes your beer less bitter, with a finish that is more malty.
Honey is a substance that many people use as a healthier alternative to other forms of sugar because it’s so sweet.
Honey can also be added to beer to increase the ABV because it is highly fermentable – in other words, it’s an amazing source of food for yeast.
You can add up to 10% honey to your beer when increasing the ABV. You will need to add a whole pound of honey to the beer in order to increase the ABV by 0.7%.
Adding honey to your beer will give it a very distinct flavor, which some people enjoy, but others don’t, so if you’re unsure where you stand on the addition of honey to beer for ABV purposes, we recommend making a smaller quantity first.
The Risks Of Adding Fermentable Products To Beer
Any product added to beer to increase the ABV needs to be fermentable because this is how alcohol is produced. However, there are risks of adding too many fermentables (including sugar) to your beer.
The first and most obvious consequence of adding too much sugar to your beer is that it will impact the flavor of the beer as well as the finish.
For this reason, experts in beer making usually recommend not adding sugars or other non-malt fermentables to your beer in quantities that surpass 1/3 of the intended ABV.
For example, if your beer’s ABV is supposed to be 6%, you shouldn’t add more sugar than is equivalent to 2% of the total ABV.
If you do want to add more sugar than this to your beer, it’s best to increase the other ingredients proportionally.
Additionally, adding too much sugar to your beer puts a lot of pressure on the yeast. This means that the fermentation process actually becomes slower.
In some cases, the yeast can actually become damaged by the presence of too much alcohol, although this ultimately depends on the kind of yeast that you are using to produce your beer.
You can minimize the effect of excess sugar on yeast in your beer by exposing the yeast to oxygen before you start the fermentation process. You can do this by stirring thoroughly and regularly.
Temperature Regulation With Home Brew Beer
Many factors can impact the fermentation process, and therefore the total ABV, of home brew beer.
One of these factors is temperature regulation, so before you start adding pounds of sugar to your beer in the hopes of increasing the ABV, you should understand how the temperature at which you brew your beer will affect the end result.
The usual temperature for brewing beer is between 41 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is higher, there is more yeast activity, which causes a deterioration of foam stability as well as an increase in fusel alcohol.
In fact, scientific research has suggested that this may contribute to the more negative intoxicating effects of beer.
To summarize, here are the ingredients you can add to home brew beer to increase the alcohol content of the beverage:
- Brown sugar
- Table sugar
- Corn sugar
- Hopped malt extract
- Liquid malt extract
- Dry malt extract
You can also increase the alcohol content of your home brew beer by adding some extra yeast (as long as the other ingredients required for fermentation are also increased) and keeping the temperature consistent.
Other ways to increase your beer’s ABV include oxygenating the yeast well prior to fermentation, using a strain of yeast that responds well to increased fermentation, and adding yeast nutrients to help the yeast during the fermentation process.
As you can see, a lot goes into increasing the ABV of home brew beer, and it’s not just a question of increasing the sugar content until the desired alcohol content is achieved, as many people mistakenly believe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Is My Home Brew Low Alcohol?
There are several reasons why your home brew may have less alcohol than expected.
First, the amount of alcohol in your beer is determined by the number of cells in each yeast cell. The larger the cell size, the more alcohol per gram of yeast.
There are different types of yeasts used in the production of alcohol, and they differ in their ability to make large amounts of alcohol.
Some strains of yeast can only make small amounts of alcohol, while others can make large amounts.
Second, the type of sugar you use may also play a role in determining the final alcohol content of your beer.
Sugar is added to beer during the initial stages of fermentation. It provides energy to the yeast cells, which helps them grow and multiply.
However, when too much sugar is present, the yeast cells become stressed, and they begin to die off.
As a result, fewer yeast cells remain alive after the fermentation process has been completed. These dead yeast cells contain very little alcohol, thus resulting in a lower final alcohol content.
Does Adding More Yeast Increase Alcohol Content?
Yes! Adding additional yeast increases the overall alcohol content of your beer because the extra yeast cells help ferment the sugars into alcohol.
However, this is only the case if there is also enough sugar for the yeast to feed on.
If you don’t put enough sugar in your beer, there is no point in adding more yeast because the fermentation process won’t be able to take place.
How Do You Test ABV Without A Hydrometer?
If you want to know what the exact percentage of alcohol is in your beer, you need to measure it using a hydrometer. This tool consists of a long glass tube that contains a specific gravity scale.
In order to determine the alcohol content of your beer, you simply pour some of your home brewed beverage into the tube, wait until the liquid reaches its target density (usually 1.000), then read the numbers on the scale.
You can also use a refractometer instead of a hydrometer. A refractometer measures the degree of transparency of a solution.
When you compare the measured value with a standard reference chart, you can easily calculate the percent of alcohol in your beer.
How Do I Fix Stuck Beer Fermentation?
If your beer is not fermenting as it should, this will be detrimental to the final ABV of the beer. When fermentation stops, this is called stuck fermentation.
The most common reason for stuck fermentation is insufficient aeration. Yeast needs air to breathe in order to survive.
If there isn’t enough oxygen available in the environment where the yeast is growing, the yeast will stop multiplying.
To fix this, you should make sure that you are stirring the beer regularly and keeping it in an environment where it is exposed to enough oxygen.
Another reason for stuck beer fermentation could be the temperature of the environment.
As we mentioned earlier, the optimal temperature for brewing beer is between 41 and 60 degrees.
If the temperature is too far below this, fermentation will not occur properly and your ABV will suffer as a result.
You should use a thermometer to check the temperature of your beer brewing environment.
If it is too cold, either move the beer to somewhere warmer or increase the room’s temperature if you can.
How Long Does Beer Take To Ferment?
This depends entirely on how many yeast cells you add to the wort. The amount of yeast cells needed to produce one gallon of beer varies from strain to strain.
Some strains require less than 10 billion yeast cells while others require up to 100 billion.
For example, American Ale yeasts usually have around 50-100 billion cells per liter of beer. However, these cells multiply at different rates.
For instance, WLP001 has about 80 billion cells per liter after 24 hours. Other ale yeasts like WY1056 and US05 have even fewer cells.
On average, though, general guidelines state that it takes about 2 to 3 weeks for most beers to ferment. Therefore, you should ferment your beer for at least 2 weeks.
With that being said, most of the fermentation happens in the first 3 days of the process, with the remaining week(s) being more about letting the beer settle than actually fermenting.
We still wouldn’t advise drinking beer that has only been fermented for 3 days, though, especially if you’re aiming for a higher ABV, which is best accomplished by allowing for longer fermentation.
How Do I Know When Fermentation Has Stopped?
The best way to tell when your beer has stopped fermenting is to take a gravity reading.
This is basically a measurement of the density of the beer, and it’s the most accurate way of seeing where your beer’s fermentation process is currently at.
Measuring beer’s gravity is usually done with a hydrometer. Use the hydrometer to take a sample of the beer and measure the gravity about 10 days after you have pitched the yeast.
Wait another 2 days and take another reading. If the reading is the same, you can be certain that the fermentation process is complete.
This article has covered the main methods of increasing the alcohol content of home brewed beer. You now have all the information needed to successfully create higher-alcohol beers at home.
Remember, increasing the ABV of your home brew doesn’t just involve adding the alcohol-boosting ingredients listed in this article. You will also need to monitor factors like the temperature and yeast content.
We hope that you found this page helpful, and I wish you good luck in brewing your own high-alcohol beer!