In this blog post, I’m going to talk about high gravity brewing. Is it considered craft? or is it something strictly for the mega lager brewers?
About High Gravity Brewing
When considering High Gravity Brewing in your brewery operation, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of it, in particular with respect to beer quality.
Can smaller breweries use High Gravity Brewing to increase production output without increasing capital costs and if so, what options and techniques are available to breweries to increase output without increasing capital costs significantly.
High gravity brewing is is often used by large breweries as a way to maximise brewery throughput, as in the amount of beer that you can make, without actually having to go and add more tanks, I.e. decreasing capital costs.
But is it something you would consider to be craft? Well, there’s two ways to approach the problem, so let’s have a look at those.
High Gravity Brewing Method 1 – Wort Dilution
Firstly, one way in which you can high gravity brew is through wort dilution.
That basically means is that while you’re on brew day, you might brew a wort that’s slightly higher than the target gravity for the particular beer that you’re making, and dilute it in, say, the kettle, or the whirlpool down to your target Original Gravity prior to pitching yeast.
There’s some calculations around that, and I’ve made a video about that before.
I actually like the method of high gravity brewing of wort and diluting the hot side prior to knocking out your wort into the fermentor.
The reason I like it is it makes sure that you can always hit your target gravity for the product, and hitting your specification means that you’re going to hit alcohol. So, that’s really important.
Wort dilution is also really easy to manage, because you can very quickly take a sample, run a quick dilution, and dilute the amount that you need, and then you’re just simply done.
It’s easy to adjust for bitterness, because you can go and simply get a really quick test in your lab, or a third party lab, and you can just go and ensure that your IBU’s are also on spec.
Typically, a dilution of around 10 to 30% is OK, and from my personal experience the outcomes with respect to the product itself such as the beer’s body is negligible.
In fact, it has been said that using wort dilution can actually have a positive impact on a beer’s perception of body.
The other thing that I like about high gravity brewing is that from a business perspective it allows you to be more efficient.
Perhaps you’ve got a fermentation vessel which might take three brews to fill. Done properly and with the right calculations you can actually fill that tank in two brews instead of three.
That’s a major time saving!
When you’re high gravity brewing you get to completely fill the tank up to its maximum capacity.
From a business perspective, a half full tank is only making about half the money that you could make from filling it with wort which is eventually going to become beer that you can sell. So, making sure that the tank is as full as possible means that you’re maximizing the amount of beer that you can make for the same amount of labour. And that can be a pretty significant cost saving.
An empty tank, on the other hand, doesn’t make you any money, so it’s important as a brewer and a business owner that your tanks are being turned over as quickly as possible.
High Gravity Brewing Method 2 – Beer Dilution
The other way that you can high gravity brew is like the major mega brewers do, and that is beer dilution.
To give you an example of how that works, what the mega brewers do is they will brew maybe a seven, eight, or nine percent beer, and often it’s not hopped.
They will ferment it out, and then on the way to the packaging line, or perhaps a Bright Beer Tank, they actually dilute the beer with water.
This is in contrast to diluting wort with water.
Now, this has some gotchas that you need to know about.
Beer and dissolved oxygen don’t mix, the tolerance for dissolved oxygen in beer is extremely low.
Regular tap water contains a lot of dissolved oxygen. So, by diluting with regular tap water you can actually ruin your beer with dissolved oxygen.
What the mega brewers usually do when they’re diluting beer is they’ll have what’s called “de-aerated liquor plant” aka “DAL Plant” in the brewery.
Water is heated and is then carbonated and cooled back down again to remove the dissolved oxygen, from the water itself.
So, then when you dilute the beer, you’re not actually adding any dissolved oxygen into the beer itself.
But what the mega brewers do then is they’ll take this high alcohol beer and they’ll dilute it down with de-aerated liquor down to its target alcohol, let’s say 5%.
They’ll also add in line some color correction, so that might be something like Weyermann Sinamar, or some sort of caramel color. And they’ll also add Tetra hop, or some sort of Iso hop extract into the beer in line to give the beer it’s required IBUs.
And then here’s the really fancy stuff that they do, they can actually measure and validate the alcohol color and IBU’s in line on the way to the Bright tank!
It’s some pretty neat technology, but it’s certainly very industrial technology as well.
Is High Gravity Brewing And Being Efficient Considered “Craft”?
What do I think about high gravity brewing, and is it craft?
In my opinion – it is!
As small producers we need to be efficient, because we’re inherently horribly inefficient anyway. A lot of us are also small business owners, and it’s really important that we maintain that efficiency and at the same time.
Provided we maintain our quality, then that’s all that matters – because that’s what our consumers are paying for.
Is High Gravity Brewing Right for a Small Brewery?
For smaller producers, wort dilution is far easier and far less expensive to implement than beer dilution. So, there’s really nothing wrong with wort dilution on brew day.
In fact, that’s what I recommend to a lot of my clients, is overshoot your gravity by about 10 to 30%, dilute down, and you make yourself very time efficient, raw materials efficient, and you fill your tanks up as much as you possibly can.
But beer dilution isn’t really accessible for smaller brewers because the equipment costs around having a Dissolved Oxygen meter and DAL Plant are rather prohibitive.
I don’t really have anything against beer dilution either, it’s just about being efficient and making the best beer you can. Both are totally compatible.
If you have a professional brewing question, feel free to contact me and let me know.