Dec. 11th 2010
Did you brew a couple of batches and think it was time to make yourself a Barley Wine or Imperial Stout? I just like the names of those beers. They're Large and in Charge. Just the idea of them is enough to keep me awake at night thinking about them. I decided early on that I wasn't going to wait long before I made myself one of these beasts. I barely had 30gals brewed before I set in motion the "Cabin Days Barley Wine." Fun to drink hard to brew. this one was a monster and on top of it you'll be tempted to keep sparging your mash. Why not, that stuff still has sugar water in it. Word to the wise. Don't collect more wort than you can boil. Your first runnings will have 1.090 specific gravity, and what makes it worse is that you'll still be getting 1.030 when you have to toss away your used up malts. I still haven't tried this but I've heard that you can make your High Gravity brew first then after you get done brewing collect some more wort off you mash and brew a lighter second brew. Huh? What? That sounds pretty good. You know caz you have to let that Barley Wine sit around for at least 6 months in the bottle before it starts to taste alright. If you made a lighter second batch you'd be drinking that in 3 week! Three weeks? Yeah 1 week primary, 1 week secondary, and 1 week bottle. You can even shave 5 days off if you keg. That is any normal gravity beer, and even that is rushing things. Personally I like do have the each batch spend at least 2 weeks in primary. If it's still actively fermenting then I leave it for another few days.
With the Barely Wine one of the things that I had a hard time with was the question about how much time it needed to spend in fermentation. I read about it everywhere. I read anywhere from 2-8 weeks for primary and 2-8 weeks for Secondary. I just want to emphasis this. There is a really big difference between 2 weeks and 3 weeks. So when I read that you can keep it in for 8 weeks, I'm a little cautious. I fear the Autolysis. It's the Sulfur taste that will happen if the yeast starts eating itself. Yeah cannibal yeast! The last time an animal ate another we got Mad Cow disease. I just don't want to think about that or taste sulfur while drinking my beer. So if you have a conical fermenter your ok, because you can dump valve all day long, however if your like me and using plastic buckets or jugs or whatever you can get you hands on that works, then your going to have to find that magic in-between time where it's time to transfer to your secondary. This will help with that nasty Autolysis.
Primary fermentation is just that, it's when most of your fermenting will take place. Also it comes first... The yeast only cannibalizes it self after all the fermentable sugar is gone, or at least until it is mostly gone and the yeast is surrounded by other yeast and cannot get to the sugar. So there's the problem. If you still see bubbles then autolysis should not be occurring, except for maybe at the bottom of the yeast cake in the bottom of the fermenter where the yeast don't know that a few inches above them they could be happily metabolizing some tasty dextrose. With normal beers it's easy because there's a lot less of everything including yeast, so you don't have to worry so much about autolysis if you transfer within 2-3 weeks. Barley wine is different because we have brewers out there keeping their beer in primary for 8 weeks! Disastrous risk. All that time spent in brewing. Let me tell you the mash on a barley wine is enormous, and the boil is like a sun spot. (watch out for the UV's) So the last thing you want to do is ruin this thing in primary.
So I was up late thinking about making a Barley Wine and I was up late fermenting this stuff. I just couldn't win. It turns out that you can treat the Barley Wine the same as the regular gravity beers. They will stay in primary longer, but just wait for the activity to slow down to about 1 bubble every hour and you should be ok. Once it's in secondary then you can just leave the stuff. Go 8 weeks if you want. It doesn't matter. but there is one draw back to this. As in wines the yeast will all be dead. Depending on the yeast's alcohol tolerance and also just because when they run out of food they will want to go dormant but can't unless you drop the temperature to below 60F. So if you plan to bottle which you should on a 10% or better ABV Barley Wine. (It's dangerous to keep that stuff in you kegerator. You could lose a couple months of your life, and never get them back. Ever. As I was saying you need to add more yeast just before you bottle. This is a very good idea. also if you want to increase you ABV a percentage point then add it to the secondary about a weeks before you plan to bottle the stuff. You have to have yeast and sugar to get carbonation in your bottles so go ahead and add some priming sugar to the batch before bottling.
I've heard different places that you can just rely on the residual sugars in the brew to get you the carbonation you need, however I'm a firm believer in not taking chances. I add priming sugar to all my beers before bottling. I tend to add less to my heavy brews. About 1/2 cup per 5 gallons. Lets go back to the whole yeast that you need to add in secondary. There are choices out there. If your a purest then use your London Ale #1028 or American Ale #1056, you know the one that you used originally, but personally I consider the reason I'm adding more yeast... to ferment the residual sugars and carbonate the priming sugar in the bottles. The London Ale yeast has a tolerance of 11% ABV. We're probably encroaching on that % already. Pretty close to it anyways. There are yeasts out there that can happily get those remaining fermentables however they will taste a little different. Can you taste the difference? I don't know. I probably can't, I like to use a lot of Chocolate Malts and a whole lot of Hops in my recipe, so Champagne yeast fermenting 1% of sugar is going to very minimal. The yeast itself doesn't have a huge impact on the taste, it's what types of sugars and how it ferments the sugars that makes the difference in taste. so it really is only about 5% of the taste. Tough call. I use it because it's alcohol tolerance is 15%. I can just feel safe knowing that my yeast isn't going to get alcohol poisoning. Just think of your London Ale Yeast to be the light weight at the party, There's nothing wrong with that, it's just that the real ugly smelly Champagne yeast can put down a few more shots. London Ale is peacefully sleeping on the sofa with a couple of dildos sharpied onto his forehead, while Champagne yeast is hitting on London Ale's girlfriend. Who am I going to trust to finish out the night. Hmmm.
Before I go any further I should post my recipe.
Batch Size 14 gallons -
(I have a 15 gal brew kettle and I had a couple of pots with wort going on the kitchen stove at the same time. I like to make a lot, and I made the mistake of collecting more wort than I could boil).
36 lbs of Pale Malts (Any of then will work, go ahead and try it.)
2 lbs of Chocolate Malts (I like Chocolate Malts a lot)
4 lbs of Crystal 60
4 lbs of Honey
4 oz of Amarillo
4 oz of Cascade
4 oz of Simcoe
4 oz of Willamette
2 of Wyeast #1056 American Ale
I arrived at a 1.085 Starting Gravity and a 1.014 Final Gravity. 9.3% ABV.
I really didn't like this beerat first. 3 weeks after it was bottled, I opened one up. It was so bitter and sweet that I couldn't drink it. It didn't blend the flavors together at all. My mouth felt like it was being attacked on the sweet and bitter at the same time. It was very unpleasant. However 2 months later I opened up another after Kevin stated how good it was, and I found that the flavors had melded together a little more. You should never underestimate the effect of bottle conditioning on beers. The beer keeps getting better and I plan on leaving it for at least 6-12 months before really getting into again. It was such a bad blend of tastes at first that I almost took the beer for a loss. So I guess that in the end I learned this lesson: Never judge your brew too soon. If you don't like the taste give it 2 months and taste again. Conditioning will also break down some of the hoppy alpha acids. giving a much smoother drink. Of course the great thing about making a 9.3% ABV beer is the buzz after the first one. That's a nice benefit.