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Strange Brew - Article

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4 years 11 months ago - 4 years 11 months ago #554 by shedbrewer
shedbrewer created the topic: Strange Brew - Article
Strange Brew - A cold, hard look at the unusual secrets to crafting high-alcohol beer

By Christopher Null Sunday, September 30, 2012

Craft snobs and homebrewers aside, who ever thinks about the alcohol in beer? Budweiser’s piddly 5 percent alcohol by volume (abv in the trade parlance) is about typical for mass-produced stuff. At 3.5 percent abv, Amstel Light is barely more alcoholic than a Diet Coke.

Things ratchet up as you move into more Old World styles. Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout is 7 percent abv. Chimay Tripel hits 8 percent.

Amateur hour, all of ’em.

A small but psychotic subset of the brewing industry is intent on pushing that number as high as it will go. With deference to the craftsmanship behind the madness, this is not a quest for flavor or nuance. It is a forced march toward the limits of brewing science, to see just how much alcohol a beer can contain.

High-alcohol beer isn’t easy to make. Traditional fermentation methods can really only push a beer to about 15-18 percent abv. Any more alcohol and the yeast doing the fermentation can’t survive. This is the same science behind wine fermentation. The yeast simply kill themselves when the fermentation is finished.

But a little kitchen magic lets brewers find a way around this natural limit. The technology required is a walk-in freezer.

Because alcohol and water freeze at different temperatures, you can take a low-alcohol beer, put it in the freezer, and wait. What freezes is lower in alcohol, what doesn’t is higher in alcohol. Remove the ice and what’s left will be substantially stronger — not pure alcohol, but more alcoholic than before. The process is called “fractional freezing.” The resulting beer — its origins are debatable and lost to history, but are believed to have emerged from Germany in the 1890s — is called “ice bock” or “eisbock.”

Ice bocks can quickly double in alcohol. Urbain Coutteau of Germany’s De Struise Brouwers, says the trick is making an ice bock that still tastes like beer. He says it took three years to solve this problem and create a drinkable high-booze beer that is “willful, cussed and nappy.”

It didn’t take long of course for brewers to realize you could do the fractional freezing process more than once. Freeze a 12 percent abv beer, remove the ice and you’ve got a 20 percent beer. Again and maybe you’ve got a 30 percent beer. How far can it go?

That was a hard-fought battle between two extreme brewers, Germany’s Schorschbrau and Scotland’s BrewDog, which fired back and forth in 2011, boastfully outdoing one another with beer after beer, each with a slightly higher alcohol level. BrewDog’s The End of History hit 55 percent abv. Only 12 bottles were made, at a price of $765, each bottle embedded inside the carcass of a stuffed rodent.

But Schorschbrau ultimately won the battle. At 57.7 percent abv, Finis Coronat Opus may be as boozy as beer can get. The record still stands. BrewDog has bowed out of the contest.

Not all high-alcohol beers are made with fractional freezing methods. Research into yeast strains that can survive in higher-alcohol levels has been progressing. And in fact, beer such as Samuel Adams’ Utopias is made with extreme yeast but traditional brewing methods. Jennifer Glanville, brewery manager at the Boston Beer Company, has been working on the 27 percent abv Utopias, an occasional release from the company, for a decade. She says the goal with Utopias, is not to try “to make something stronger every year, but to try to understand the flavors that can come through in a beer.”

Utopias is one of the few high-abv beers made in America, and that’s because if you perform the fractional freezing process in the U.S., you can’t legally call the resulting liquid “beer” any more. (The “ice beer” craze of the ’90s was an exception since these beers were watered back down to 5 to 6 percent abv.)

That’s why if you go hunting for these extreme brews (it ain’t easy), you’ll find they almost all hail from Europe… and cost a small fortune.
Last Edit: 4 years 11 months ago by shedbrewer.

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Drunken Ramblings

Finnroo's Avatar Finnroo - Thu 18 Jan - 14:07

Hello all , hope your brews are outstanding. Bottling day for me tommorrow. Should be good. cheers. :D

Finnroo's Avatar Finnroo - Thu 4 Jan - 14:22

Brew day tomorrow, should be good, one sleep to go ,cheers. :D

Finnroo's Avatar Finnroo - Sun 31 Dec - 08:03

Happy new year brewers, ;)

Finnroo's Avatar Finnroo - Sun 24 Dec - 08:22

Merry Christmas Brewers, Have a good one. :D

Finnroo's Avatar Finnroo - Wed 13 Dec - 11:59

Nice new font. lol

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