# What are the rules of thumb for controlling alcohol level?

I like my beer’s flavor but it clearly is too low on alcohol content – just doesn’t have the bite it’s supposed to. Do I need special equipment that’s not part of the standard kit? How do I find that sweet spot? (was doing the Irish Red Ale from N.B.)

Thanks brewers!

It’s based on your starting gravity points. If you don’t want to affect flavor you can add sugar to your boil to increase. I believe the math is 1lb of sugar 40-46 points.

Use a recipe calculator, like the Brewers Friend calculator, enter the ingredients, then add fermentables to boost the ABV. The calculator will indicate which of the other ingredients need to be added to maintain the balance of the original recipe.

You can use the original specific gravity as a guide for how much alcohol you will get. Roughly, if your original gravity is say 1.060, if you just use the digits to the right of the decimal point, you can figure from the 060 that you will get about 6.0% alcohol by volume. So then if you measure your original gravity and it is only 1.040 but you wanted 6% ABV, you’ll know you need to add something more to the recipe to get more alcohol.

Another quick way to add alcohol: Assuming you brew about 5 gallons per batch, 1 pound of sugar will give you approximately 1% more alcohol. So for the example above, if the gravity is 1.040 but you wanted 6% ABV, if you add 2 lbs sugar, you will get very close to your 6% goal.

Not to be nitpicky but adding sugar will definitely effect flavor. It will be a drier, thinner beer. For a more malt focused beer, I personally would lean more towards adding 1lb of some light dried malt extract. If your beer is more hop focused like an IPA, sugar is a very good option for boosting gravity because you want these beers to be as dry as possible so the hops can be the star of the show.

Though I will caution adding too much extract will result is a much less fermentable wort and in turn a sweeter beer. If you go too far you could end up with something that’s quite undrinkable. For your first few brews I suggest just sticking with the kits as they are designed. If you want a high ABV beer, buy a higher ABV kit. I suggest having a good understanding of the basics of brewing before you start experimenting. Take this advice from someone who decided to design their own recipe after only 2 brews. It was barely drinkable.

If you were doing an IPA, would you recommend boosting ABV with just table sugar? Or should it be a particular type such as turbinado, brown, or invert sugar? And I mean specifically a sugar that will ferment out completely just to add another point or two of ABV, not to sweeten the beer or anything like that.

If you were doing an IPA, would you recommend boosting ABV with just table sugar? Or should it be a particular type such as turbinado, brown, or invert sugar? And I mean specifically a sugar that will ferment out completely just to add another point or two of ABV, not to sweeten the beer or anything like that.[/quote]

Anything that will ferment out 100% will not add any residual sweetness. I always just use table sugar.

If you were doing an IPA, would you recommend boosting ABV with just table sugar? Or should it be a particular type such as turbinado, brown, or invert sugar? And I mean specifically a sugar that will ferment out completely just to add another point or two of ABV, not to sweeten the beer or anything like that.[/quote]

Anything that will ferment out 100% will not add any residual sweetness. I always just use table sugar.[/quote]
If you want to add alcohol bite without affecting flavor, vodka works. :mrgreen:

[quote=“cavemanlawyer15”]I like my beer’s flavor but it clearly is too low on alcohol content – just doesn’t have the bite it’s supposed to. Do I need special equipment that’s not part of the standard kit? How do I find that sweet spot? (was doing the Irish Red Ale from N.B.)

Thanks brewers![/quote]
I don’t think I’ve ever had an Irish Red Ale that had an alcoholic ‘bite’ to it. The style is typically between 4-6% abv. Adding table sugar to a red ale just to increase the abv would definitely change the beer by thinning and drying it. You could brew an imperial red ale. I know I’ve seen recipes for such a beast around the web. If you just go adding sugar or even malt to the NB red ale kit you’re more likely to end up with a beer you may not like, unless you scale the recipe to a higher abv by adjusting all the ingredients.

Maybe you should brew a double IPA, imperial something or a belgian strong ale if you just want a higher alcohol beer.

Not to be nitpicky but adding sugar will definitely effect flavor. It will be a drier, thinner beer. For a more malt focused beer, I personally would lean more towards adding 1lb of some light dried malt extract. If your beer is more hop focused like an IPA, sugar is a very good option for boosting gravity because you want these beers to be as dry as possible so the hops can be the star of the show. [/quote]

Thanks wasn’t aware of the drying factor, was only thinking of the fact it would ferment the sugar out. I would probably do a DME as well to increase.

While on the subject why would a kit use corn sugar over DME, got the Black IPA All-Grain and it comes with 1lb corn sugar?

Ok correct me on this one. But if a have a beer that will finish at 1.010. Now I add 1 or 2 pounds of sugar. My starting gravity will for sure go up but the yeast will not eat up more of the malt so I still should finish at 1.010 or close to it. If I were to substitute sugar for malt then it would finish lower or dry out more.

Exactly right.

Not to be nitpicky but adding sugar will definitely effect flavor. It will be a drier, thinner beer. For a more malt focused beer, I personally would lean more towards adding 1lb of some light dried malt extract. If your beer is more hop focused like an IPA, sugar is a very good option for boosting gravity because you want these beers to be as dry as possible so the hops can be the star of the show. [/quote]

Thanks wasn’t aware of the drying factor, was only thinking of the fact it would ferment the sugar out. I would probably do a DME as well to increase.

While on the subject why would a kit use corn sugar over DME, got the Black IPA All-Grain and it comes with 1lb corn sugar?[/quote]

Because a drier thinner beer is appropriate for that style. If it contained DME, it might turn out to be too sweet due to the decrease in fermentablility.

But I would think its still going to affect the flavor and mouthfeel of the beer. It would definitely taste more alcoholic but I feel like it would still taste drier. It might be an interesting experiment though to try with a split batch. You could even do this after primary fermentation took place, split the batch and add some sugar as a true secondary fermentation.

It’ll finish lower than 1.010 because you’re increasing the amount of ethanol in solution, which has a gravity <1.000. In effect, you’re diluting the non-fermentable sugars so your overall ratio of non-fermentable to fermentable sugars will be lower. I’ve actually done this test, and the beer will be drier, thinner, and higher alcohol.

I don’t doubt it’s true, but flavorwise, that’s got to be very very difficult to detect unless you use a lot of sugar.

I’d agree with that… if you add a half pound of sugar to a standard IPA recipe, it probably won’t be very noticeable. A BGSA with 15# malt and 2 or 3# sugar, though, will be a very different beer with and without the sugar.

So I guess the final answer is… it depends. :mrgreen:

So I never thought of the added ethanol thinning out the final product. Even if it did not move the FG reading much I would think the added sugar would affect the final taste.