Every homebrewer knows that yeast is important to the brewing process, but some might wonder if using more yeast during fermentation will make more alcohol. While you might think adding more yeast would result in more alcohol, in yeast’s case, less is more.
Using more yeast does not mean more alcohol when homebrewing beer. Yeast serves as the catalyst that helps convert sugar into alcohol during fermentation. If you want a higher alcohol content in your homebrew, you need to add more sugar instead of more yeast.
But why does adding more yeast not create a higher ABV? If you’d like to know, keep reading as I dive into the mechanics of yeast in homebrewing and the true method to increase your alcohol content.
Will adding more yeast to homebrew make more alcohol?
Yeasts are unicellular fungi that ferment sugars into CO2 and ethyl alcohol under anaerobic conditions. Anaerobic means the absence of oxygen, if oxygen were present in this process we would be making bread instead of beer.
Yeast + Glucose = Alcohol (Ethanol) + CO2
During fermentation, yeast metabolizes the sugar present and produces alcohol. This means that the more sugar available to be ‘eaten’ by yeast, the more alcohol can be produced. Be careful though; there is a limit to how hard your yeast can work.
Because alcohol and carbon dioxide are considered waste products by yeast, if they are allowed to build up inside your homebrew they will eventually kill your yeast. The alcohol and CO2 become toxic, that is why you never see a beer with an ABV of 80%.
What yeast makes the highest alcohol content?
If you have any experience in homebrewing, you might be aware that there are different types of yeast. Different types of yeast have slightly different properties – though the fermentation process always stays the same.
Yeast that is used in traditionally darker beers produces the highest alcohol content, this yeast is known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Two main types of yeast are used in brewing beer. Lager yeast (Saccharomyces carlsbergensis) and Ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae.) Lager yeast is considered a bottom-fermenting yeast, meaning exactly what the name says. The fermentation happens at the bottom with all the materials settling on the bottom of the container resulting in a clear beer.
Fun Fact: Lager yeasts are responsible for more than 90% of the beer produced worldwide.
Ale yeast, on the other hand, is a top-fermenting beer. This type of yeast can float resulting in a cloudier beer. While Ale yeast is not as widely used as Lager yeast, its top-fermenting process tends to result in a higher alcohol content. Think stouts and porters.
- Top-fermenting: cloudier, darker, higher ABV
- Bottom-fermenting: clearer, brighter, more widely used
Temperature is also an important distinction between the strains, as lager yeasts tend to work best fermenting in colder temperatures. At the same time, ale yeasts ferment best in higher temperatures. Though most strains can handle a wide range of degrees, be sure to check what range works best for the particular yeast you decide to use.
There are many different strains of these two types of yeast, and while top-fermenting yeast typically achieve a higher ABV, there are numerous other factors that contribute to your final results.
How to increase the alcohol content in homebrew beer
Now that you have a better understanding of the fermentation process; let’s look into how to actually increase the alcohol content in our homebrew beer.
While adding more yeast may not contribute to a higher ABV, adding more sugar will. Sugar is the compound that yeast converts into CO2 and Alcohol, so more sugar equals more product. By increasing the amount of sugar, we will see a direct correlation to the amount of alcohol created.
However, as you may recall, I mentioned earlier that there is a limit to how much alcohol yeast can make. If you produce too much carbon dioxide and ethanol, they will become toxic to your yeast cells and kill them. This ruins your homebrew. That is why beer can typically never exceed an ABV of 16%.
If you want to have a more intoxicating beverage without ruining the whole batch, make sure to follow the recipe you’ve chosen and don’t overload on the sugar. Different types of sugar will also add different percentages of alcohol.
- 1 lb. DME will add about .5% alcohol
- 2 lb. DME will add about 1% alcohol
- 1 lb. Brown Sugar will add about .9% alcohol
- 1 lb. Maple Syrup will add about .7% alcohol and will add flavor
- 1-2 lb. of honey will add about .7% alcohol and will add flavor
Depending on what brew you want to make and the flavors you want to add, you have a lot of choices when it comes to sugar.
Add corn sugar to your homebrew recipe
Corn sugar is a simple solution to add to your brew if you’ve yet to experiment with sugar additives. Also known as glucose, corn sugar is derived from corn and hydrolysis of corn starch by acids or exogenous enzymes. There are many additional benefits to adding corn sugar besides raising the ABV.
Corn sugar is a simple sugar that ferments very cleanly. It can be added when you find yourself with a poor gravity reading for a quick fix. However, a downside to this is there is little to no flavor in corn sugar and it can thin your homebrew out. A careful balance is key.
Other sugars possess additive flavors as shown in the previous passage. Often used as priming sugars, these alternatives can give you that extra boost without the lack of flavor. An easy guideline to follow is that for every 5 gallons of beer you’ll want to add one of these:
- 3/4 cups (4 ounces, or 113 grams) of honey
- 3/4 cups (4 ounces, or 113 grams) of corn sugar
- ⅔ cup (5.3 ounces, or 150 grams) of table sugar
- 1 ¼ cups (181 grams) of light dry malt extract (DME)
As shown in the previous section, depending on the type of sugar you will see varying levels of alcohol content. For example, if brown sugar is used there will be an average .9% increase in alcohol.
A good rule of thumb when starting to work with sugar additives though is to look for recipes that directly call for sugar. This will allow you to get more comfortable with how many pounds and what type of sugar you may want to add.
Choose a homebrew beer recipe with more alcohol
Curious to know which beer recipes have the most alcohol? As previously mentioned the two main types of yeasts are ale and lager, with ale yeasts being the more alcoholic. But there are many types of beer that use ale yeasts.
The recipes that are going to easily produce more alcohol are stouts, porters, and IPAs. Their use of top-fermentation coupled with added sugar allows for higher ABV potential. That is not to say you cannot increase your alcohol content in lager-style beers, rather, to easily achieve your goal it’s better to start with a recipe that is made for a high ABV.
Here are some recipes I’ve found to check out:
Finding the style of beer you love best and searching for a recipe with the highest ABV is easy. You can also experiment at home with the usage of different yeast strains and types of sugar you can add.
Fun Fact: One of the highest known ABVs in a beer is 67.5% by Brewmeister Snake Venom. However, many do not consider Snake Venom a real beer, and rating sites often do not count it.
I recommend experimenting with additive sugar and different recipes to see what works best for you. It is possible to increase the alcohol in your homebrew but always be careful to not overstep or you may ruin your batch.