High Gravity Beer Brewing with BeerSmith Software

by Brad Smith on July 22, 2022 · 0 comments

This week I cover some of the changes you need to make to brew a high gravity beer using BeerSmith software. High gravity beers (generally over 1.060 or so) do require some minor changes to your recipe and equipment profile as well as some process changes for brewing.

High Gravity Brewing Considerations

I’ve written a few articles now on some of the problems you will run into when brewing a high gravity beer. These include this article on high gravity beers, and this interview with John Palmer.

Here are the major concerns when you step up from a regular beer to a high gravity beer:

  • Lower Brewhouse Efficiency: Because you are using roughly the same amount of water with a lot more grain in the mash you will get a lower brewhouse efficiency than a standard batch. To compensate for this you will need to use even more grain in the mash (i.e. a lower efficiency number) when building the recipe.
  • Will The Grains Fit in the Mash Tun?: All mash tuns have a limited volume, and most are designed around brewing a standard gravity beer. Your high gravity beer will need a lot more grain which may not fit in the mash tun at all. You may be forced to add extract in the boil to compensate
  • Yeast Considerations: Every yeast strain has a limited alcohol tolerance, typically around 5-8% alcohol. For a high gravity beer, you will need to select a yeast strain with a higher alcohol tolerance so it can survive the higher alcohol levels and finish your fermentation.
  • Fermentation and Aging: High gravity beers may require an extended period of maturation and aging to reach their peak flavor because of both higher order (fusel) alcohols and other off flavors.

Handling High Gravity Beers in BeerSmith

Here’s how to handle each of the above considerations using BeerSmith:

  • Brewhouse Efficiency: To compensate for the lower efficiency you will achieve in a high gravity beer and force the program to use more grains, you need to lower your brewhouse efficiency number in your BeerSmith equipment profile by 5-15%. The easiest way to do this is to create a second equipment profile (from Profiles->Equipment view, make a copy with a different name) just for high gravity beers and adjust the efficiency in that profile. That way you can easily select the “high gravity” profile when making high gravity beers.
  • Will Grains Fit in the Mash Tun? Once you have built your recipe, you need to check if you have enough space in the mash tun for all the grains needed. To do this for a regular brewing system, click on the Mash tab and look under the “Mash Volume Needed” heading for both the “Mash Volume Needed” and “Mash Tun Volume”. If the volume needed is greater than the volume of your mash tun, you will likely overflow the mash. In this case you may need to reduce the grain used until it fits and then add dry or liquid malt extract in the boil instead to raise the gravity of the finished wort up to your desired level.
  • BIAB Grain Limits: If you are using a Brew-In-A-Bag (BIAB) or All-in-One system you may need to mash with less water and do a conventional sparge with separately heated water. This may not be possible with many all-in-one systems as it requires a separate lauter tun. If your system does not support a separate lauter, you can use less grain and add liquid or dry malt extract to the boil instead. To do a separate lauter you will need to change the recipe mash profile from your BIAB mash profile into a regular mash profile in the software which will put a limited amount of water in the mash and give you the volume needed to heat and sparge separately. You can adjust the water to grain ratio by editing the first mash step (double click on it) in the regular mash profile to get as much water as possible into the main mash. You should not reduce this number below 1 quart/lb (2.2 l/kg), however as it would make the mash too thick.
  • Yeast Considerations: If you are using BeerSmith 3 or above, the majority of the yeast ingredients in the system have been updated to reflect accurate alcohol tolerance levels as shown under the “Alcohol Tolerance” field for any yeast (this is under the “Details…” dialog if you double click on any yeast from within a recipe). This alcohol tolerance also feeds into the Final Gravity estimate for a recipe so if you see your ABV stuck at 10% (or less) then you need to choose a different yeast that has higher alcohol tolerance to support your high gravity beer. You can also go to Ingredients->Yeast and then select View->Customize Columns on the desktop version if you want to show the Alcohol Tolerance field as part of the yeast listing to make yeast selection easier.
  • Maturation and Aging: High gravity beers often require a longer maturation and aging period. This can easily be done by selecting a fermentation profile that has longer periods in it. You can also go to Profiles->Fermentation and create your own fermentation profile that has extended periods for fermentation and aging.

Above are the basic adjustments you need to brew a high gravity beer. On my system, for example, I have a separate equipment profile with lower efficiency I use just for lower high gravity beers and also keep a close eye on the mash volume needed to make sure the grains all fit. If they don’t, I will reduce the grains used and instead add some DME or LME to the boil to raise it up. Finally, I make sure to use a high gravity yeast and extended aging profile.

Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast for more great tips on homebrewing.

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