2014 has been a bit of a rough year so far. In the middle of some complicated circumstances, I decided that I wanted to make a really big beer. It started because I felt like I needed something big to take on the issues at hand (or at least a big distraction). Something that could stand up to anything, something that was 2014 PROOF.
Then it became a challenge for myself. Could I pull off a huge ABV beer that was drinkable? Something that would be reserved for special occasions, celebrations as well as hard times. I thought I could, but I needed PROOF.
I love big beers. I don’t really drink distilled liquor, but a beer that is pushed close their level of strength holds a great appeal to me. This beer wouldn’t be measured in ABV, it would be measured in PROOF.
My Old SMaSHy Barley Wine, which I have yet to write about was the last truly big beer I made and maybe the only one that I’ve been truly happy with. As the name implies, it is a SMaSH beer, meaning it has only one type of malt and one type of hops. I love barley wines that I love, but there are just as many that I’m not a fan of.
My most frequent problem with barley wines is that they’re too sweet. In my opinion, there is not really any reason to add Crystal malt to a barley wine. The alcohol and high terminal gravity negate the need for Crystal or Caramel malts. There will be plenty of body and sweetness, Crystal tends to make it syrupy.
This explains my reasoning for making an all Maris Otter barely wine, but we’ll get to Old SMaSHy in another post. I love that beer but now my concern became how to differentiate PROOF from it. First of all, it needed to be bigger. The twenty five pounds of malt in that beer already hit the limits of what my mash tun could hold, so now what?
My first idea was the easiest. Sugar. At this point, I was reminded of the widely circulated clone recipes for Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA. These recipes call for a ridiculous amount of corn sugar to be added in small intervals to the fermenting beer on a daily basis. I already use the idea of adding any sugar after fermentation is already in full swing rather than adding it during the boil. The reason for this being that the yeast may decide to ferment that simple sugar first then get tired and decide to sit out for the complex malt derived sugars.
So anyway, yes, I will add a bunch of sugar during fermentation. How about brown sugar instead of corn, though? That should make things slightly more interesting. Somewhere along the way I decided that 20% ABV (or 40 proof) seemed like a good goal. I will add the sugar in six ounce increments as the 120 Minute clone calls for, but I’m not setting a number of additions ahead of time. That will depend on my original gravity and how the yeast is performing. The plan is to add the sugar once a day as long as fermentation stays active until it looks reasonable to reach 20% ABV.
I don’t want to add as much sugar as that recipe calls for, though so how can I raise the original gravity beyond what twenty-five pounds of malt will get me? This is where I think I have a fairly original idea. It has all been done before and I’m sure that holds true for this, but I’ve never heard of anyone doing it and I’m going skip researching if that is true and finding out how well it works.
Here is my idea: simultaneous to the main mash going on in my cooler mash tun, I’ll perform a BIAB mash in my kettle with another twelve pounds of grain. When the BIAB mash is complete, I’ll use the wort as sparge water in the other mash. What kind of efficiency will this lead to? I have no idea. How much wort will I end up? I’m not exactly sure. Will this be a fun experiment? Absolutely.
After my double mash, I’ll take about a gallon (maybe less if I end up with less wort than I think I will) and boil it separately on the stovetop. I’ll start boiling the main portion of the wort as soon as it’s all collected and boil for two hours. The smaller part will be boiling a bit longer because it should reach the boil very quickly. Hopefully, it will add some depth to the beer. I’ve heard of similar methods being used in strong Scotch ales.
What about hops? I bought a pound of Columbus hops for this beer. I like Columbus (aka Tomahawk aka Zeus aka CTZ aka “they’re all actually different!”) but the main reason I went with them is because at 16.3%, they had the highest Alpha Acid of any hops available in pound bags at my local homebrew store. I’m not bothering with much in the way of late hops because this beer is going to be aging for quite a while. All I need for now is a ton of bitterness to balance what will be a ton of sweetness (real from high FG or perceived from a ton of alcohol). I’m going to give it a small first wort hop, basically just for kicks, then a huge addition at ninety minutes and one more close to the end of the boil (which is probably not necessary) and then I plan to dry hop the bejeezus out of it months down the road.
I don’t know how much sugar I’ll be adding, I don’t know how much or what kind of dry hop I’ll be conducting, I have no idea what kind of efficiency to expect. This could very well be a disaster, but it will be a lot of fun.
The next step, probably most important for a beer this big, is of course fermentation. I got a vial of White Labs’ San Diego Super Yeast. After chilling the beer, I’ll be adding a quart of it along with that vial to a growler and hoping it will take off. The rest of the beer will go on top of the recently formed cake of Nottingham yeast from my last batch, Galaxy IPA. Once the growler has fermented for a few days, using my best judgment, I’ll add it back to the main batch. When I do that, I’ll begin the sugar additions.
I reached just over 1.100 for Old SMaSHy. I’m hoping to be significantly higher this time. Anything beyond that, I don’t even want to guess. Check back tomorrow to see how that all works out. I’ve written out the notes below for myself tomorrow. I don’t normally do this, I normally just follow various brewing software, but with my double mash, double boil brew day, it seemed best to just work it out for myself. The plan is to just keep notes with time stamps tomorrow while brewing and post that. It will be a bit different from my normal posts, but hopefully it will work because this is going to be different from my normal brew day.
100% 25 lb Pale Malt
25 quarts at 166º for 154º mash temp, 75 minutes (or until sparge is ready)
Batch sparge with Mash B
58% 7 lb Pale Malt
42% 5 lb Light Munich Malt
25 quarts at 160º for 154º mash temp, 60 minutes
Remove grains and raise temperature to 185º
Remove 1 gallon of collected wort and boil on stovetop until Boil B is complete, then add back during chill
All the rest of the wort
1 oz Columbus FWH
120 minute boil
4 oz Columbus at 90 minutes
Irish Moss at 15 minutes
Add wort chiller at 15 minutes
2 oz Columbus at 5 minutes
Add Boil A at flame out
Remove 1 quart and add vial of WLP090
Rack the rest onto Nottingham cake from Single Hop IPA #4: Galaxy
Add WLP090 with starter back to main fermentation on day 3
Begin adding 6 oz of brown sugar with the yeast starter
Continue adding brown sugar daily until… it seems like time to stop?
Rack beer when fermentation stops and age… a while?
Begin dry hopping with… a lot of hops?
Add champagne yeast and wait to see if fermentation begins again
If not, bottle and again… a while again?