9 Simple Ways To Increase Alcohol Content in Homebrew
Sometimes, homebrewers feel like their beer just needs a bit more kick or alcohol to it. So, are there any easy, do-it-yourself ways to up the alcohol content in your brew?
The simplest way to increase the alcohol content in your homebrew is to add sugar. Yeast converts sugar to alcohol, so the more sugar there is, the more substrate for the yeast there’ll be. However, add carefully as too much sugar can drastically change the beer’s flavor profile.
Besides adding sugar, there are a few other simple ways to adjust your beer’s alcohol level. Explore those by reading on until the end of this article.
1. Add Sugar
I’ll start with the most convenient option for the majority of homebrewers – the addition of sugar.
You likely already have some simple sugar at home, like white sugar. This makes this method one of the easiest tricks to increasing ABV.
You can add some of those sugars to your homebrew to kick the alcohol level a notch higher. These are the types of sugar you can add to your beer:
- Table sugar (sucrose)
- Corn sugar (dextrose)
- Brown sugar
- White sugar
- Malt sugars
- Raw/Turbinado sugar
The sugar you’ll need depends on your beer’s volume, target alcohol-by-volume (ABV) level, and flavors.
Moreover, the sugar you’ll use might change the beer’s color. For instance, dark-colored sugars like molasses or brown sugar might turn your beer a few shades darker and impart intense flavors.
I highly suggest you check out one of my articles, “How Much Sugar Should You Put in Home Brew Beer?”. In this piece, I’ve included a table indicating how much sugar you need per gallon to reach a specific ABV.
The table covers the following volumes: 1, 5, and 10 gallons of beer. The ABV varies per gallon level, the highest of which is 59.0% for 1 gallon of homebrew.
However, I’ll emphasize that you should be careful about how much sugar you add. Every pound or gram of sugar may increase the alcohol level, but it will also offset the taste profile.
Too much, and it may become too sweet for you. It may also make the beer too dry and weird to taste.
Too much sugar may also be overwhelming for your yeast. This may lead to poor fermentation, leading to poor quality of beer.
Thus, before adding sugar, research carefully. Use small increments of sugar and dissolve them in water.
Adding in small increments helps avoid off-shooting. Meanwhile, dissolving the sugar in water allows it to better disperse in the brew.
2. Add Yeast
Adding yeast is the next most convenient way to up the alcohol level in your homebrewed beer.
Yeast is one of the most essential components in beer brewing. It is an organism capable of transforming sugars into alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide.
However, there are limits to its capacity. Thus, the less yeast you have, the fewer sugars can be converted to alcohol.
With that, if you want more alcohol in your homebrew, you should adjust the amount of yeast you’ll be adding. You can consider using two rounds of yeast instead of one.
But is it as simple as that?
Not really. While placing more yeast seems simple, not all yeast can tolerate extreme alcohol levels.
Thus, you must use a tolerant yeast, like Saccharomyces cerevisiae or brewer’s yeast. It is known to grow or multiply until it reaches a 13% ethanol content.
Moreover, you must place an adequate amount of yeast. Otherwise, it will get stressed.
Trust me, you don’t want stressed yeast. Stressed yeast can lead to an unfavorable taste profile.
In my article here, you can also learn more about the effects of too much and too little yeast in your homebrew.
On the other hand, you can always use yeast combinations. For instance, you can start with some standard yeasts and then add the more tolerant species towards the end of the fermentation process.
3. Add Yeast Nutrients
As I’ve highlighted above, upping the alcohol content in your homebrew is not as simple as adding some extra yeast. Sometimes you can add a lot of yeast, but if they don’t have the resources to convert sugars to ethanol, it will just be a waste of yeast and beer.
Thus, when adding yeast, you should provide it with all the nutrients it requires. Yeast nutrients comprise minerals and vitamins your yeast needs to survive and proliferate.
Here are some yeast nutrients available on Amazon.com:
- North Mountain Yeast Nutrient. This Amazon’s choice yeast nutrient has a tight seal jar to maintain freshness. It is made from diammonium phosphate and urea (food grade).
- Fermax Yeast Nutrient. This nutrient is designed to boost yeast performance. It contains dipotassium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, yeastade or autolyzed powdered yeast, and magnesium sulfate.
- LD Carlson Yeast Nutrient. This product from LD Carlson contains urea (food grade) and diammonium phosphate. It is designed especially for wine and beer making.
- Homebrewers Outpost Wyeast Yeast Nutrient. This formula contains minerals, nutrients, and vitamins that boost yeast growth. Specifically, it has zinc, nitrogen, phosphates, etc.
4. Add Malt Extract
Another piece of advice from homebrewers is to add malt extract to increase ABV. By adding malt extract, you can avoid making your beer sweeter than you would like, which happens with sugar.
There are three kinds of malt extracts you can add:
- Liquid malt extract
- Dry malt extract
- Hopped malt extract
Dry malt extract raises the gravity reading just slightly higher than liquid.
I’ve also discussed how much malt extract you need to add to your beer in this article: “Does Adding Sugar to Beer Make It Stronger?.” I also talk about the effects of adding more sugar, so this article is an excellent read for your dilemma.
However, keep in mind that like sugar, adding malt extract can change how the beer tastes and feels. Add sparingly to avoid drastically changing the flavor.
5. Add Syrups, Honey, or Exotic Sugars
Instead of using sugar to increase alcohol levels, you can also use syrups. They will provide substrate for the yeast while contributing unique flavors.
If your recipe uses syrup initially, you may find this more suited than sugar to retain the flavors. They may also dissolve better than solid sugars.
These are some syrups you can use:
- Corn syrup
- Rice syrup
- Maple syrup
- Golden syrup
- Agave nectar
There’s actually a type of beer called honey beer. It’s an ale made with honey to create a brew with a distinct profile.
Learn more about honey beer, what makes it unique, and how it’s made through this article: “What Is Honey Beer? & (How it’s made!).”
Like sugar, dissolve these syrups in water before adding them for easier dispersion.
Besides syrups, you can also use exotic sugars, like
- Belgian Candi sugar
Most of these alternative sugar sources make the beer taste dry after addition. Thus, experiment a bit and see what amounts can help maintain the beer’s excellent quality.
Although syrups and exotic sugars are suitable substitutes for simple or common sugars, artificial sweeteners are not. Yeast cannot use those to make ethanol, so they won’t increase your beer’s ABV.
6. Add Brewers’ Crystals
You can also use brewers’ crystals to increase alcohol levels in your beer. They’re a lot similar to malt extracts, specifically barley malt extracts. As you may recall, malt extracts help increase ABV.
These crystals are made from corn syrup instead of barley. They also contain glucose solids.
Unlike sugars and sweeteners, the flavor profile of your homebrew isn’t modified when using brewers’ crystals.
You can purchase brewers’ crystals online.
On Amazon.com, these Hobby Homebrew Brewers’ Crystals are sold by the pound. They’re a great way to give the beer a stronger kick without tweaking the flavors too much.
7. Adjust Temperature
You don’t have to physically add something to make your homebrew more alcoholic. Sometimes, it’s just about adjusting certain factors like temperature.
When brewing beer, the temperature is an essential factor. It affects two components in the beverage: yeast and enzymes.
Temperatures can be sometimes unstable and spike up or down. When that happens, it could affect your yeast and kill it.
If you set the temperature too hot or cold in the first place, it would also kill the yeast later.
Thus, establish and monitor an optimal, or at least viable, temperature. It is preferred that you maintain cool or low mashing temperatures. Too hot mashing temperature conditions could make your yeast sluggish.
Beer grains are actually made of large molecules called starch. Starch is made up of many sugars.
To use the sugars, the starch must be broken down into its constituent sugars. To do that, you need enzymes.
Thus, enzymes in beer brewing help convert starches to simple sugars, which the yeast will use to make ethanol. Some enzymes include amylase, protease, and peptidase.
These enzymes perform at specific optimal temperatures. Usually, a temperature of 152°F (67°C) makes for the best conditions.
You can read more about enzymes and the effects of temperature adjustments on beer quality through my article: “How Warm Should You Keep Your Mash? Facts and Info.”
8. Adjust Time
As they say, the best things can take some time. Although I know you want to crack open your beer as soon as you can, letting it store longer helps increase ABV.
But why is that so? It’s because, over time, water in the beer evaporates. As it evaporates, it may escape its container as gas.
If the water vapor successfully escapes the container, this leaves the remaining mixture, the beer, less diluted.
The less diluted the beer is, the more concentrated the alcohol content. However, this will only happen if the storage conditions are warm, specifically 55°F to 60°F (13°C to 16°C).
However, you cannot expect much from this method. The ABV level may rise, but only by slight points. Thus, if you are looking for a significant difference in alcohol levels, it may be better to try the other methods above.
However, if you are only looking to tweak the ABV very slightly and are patient enough for it, this would be a good option.
These are some considerations you have to keep in mind if you will adjust the time your beer is kept:
- The process works best for high alcohol or strong-flavored beers. Usually, barrels are used to keep beers. The barrel wood transfers some flavor to the beer over time. Such flavors best compliment high alcohol or strong-flavored beers.
- The process can take a year. There is no fast-forward to aging a beer. You’ll need at least a year to have a beer that tastes good and has slightly higher alcohol levels.
- Choose your barrel wisely. As I’ve said, the barrel wood can transfer flavors onto the beer. Try picking used barrels so you can experiment with flavors.
You can read more about aging beer, how the process affects ABV, and how it should be done through this article: “Does Aging Increase Alcohol Content? The Facts Explained.”
9. Add Flavored Liqueur
My last suggestion for increasing alcohol content is to add alcohol itself in the form of flavored liqueur. This way, you give your beer an extra kick while also wholly transforming it into a new and better drink.
Here are some of the best-selling flavored liqueurs on Amazon.com:
- Limoncello d’Italia Marcati Gagliano. This lemon-flavored liqueur provides bright citrus notes and an irresistible aroma to your favorite homebrew without being too sour. It contains 28% alcohol.
- Amoretti Coffee Liqueur Type Syrup. This liqueur from Southern California boasts bold, caffeine flavors that give your beer a kick and a punch. It’s packed with 20% alcohol and is made from Arabica coffee beans, rum, and vanilla.
Increasing alcohol levels using liqueurs, sugars, alternative sugars, brewers’ crystals, and more takes a bit of experimentation. You need to do research and trials to see how much you should add before throwing off the beer’s quality and taste profile.