Five Tips for Fermenting Big Beers


Here are 5 tips for a better big beer fermentation, for certain values of 5.

Fall is almost here and now is the time to start brewing your big beers to have them ready for the cold nights this winter. One of the biggest keys to brewing a good strong beer is to conduct a healthy fermentation. Today I’ll post the top 5 keys to doing that, and tomorrow I’ll post the next 5.


1.) Pitch an Adequate Amount of Yeast

Pitching enough yeast will result in your fermentation getting a good, quick start. A fast start to fermentation limits the potential for contaminants to get a foothold in your beer. In a big beer, that may be aged extensively, this is a big benefit. Consult a yeast pitching rate calculator to determine how much yeast to pitch.

2.) Pitch an Adequate Amount of Yeast

OK, let me start by saying that you’re a clever person. Of course you’ve noticed that this is the same tip as #1. I’m not trying to pull one over on you. I just think that pitching rate is important enough to be mentioned twice. Pitching enough yeast will result in your beer finishing at a reasonable final gravity (FG) and not being sickly sweet. This is one of the most common faults found in big homebrews and you can avoid it by making an adequately-sized yeast starter or buying enough dried yeast packs.


3.) Pitch an Adequate Amount of Yeast

Look, some points are important and deserve to be emphasized. We’ve still got plenty of tips to go. We’ll get to something new. I just really feel that I’m not adequately impressing on you the importance of pitching enough yeast unless I mention this — pitching enough yeast ensures that they don’t produce excessive amounts of esters, or “fusel oils.” Ester production is already increased in high-gravity beers. Pitching an inadequate amount of yeast just exacerbates the problem. And if you have excessive “fusels” (alcohols with more carbons than ethanol), you beer will give you headaches. You should control the levels of esters in your beer by selecting an appropriate yeast strain, not stressing your yeast through underpitching.


4.) Pitch an Adequate Amount of Yeast

Before you think I don’t understand the difference between emphasizing a point and haranguing the reader, let me just say that we’ll move on after this. I’d just like to point out that pitching an adequate amount of yeast will also make it likely that your fermentation will proceed to completion without sticking. Unsticking a fermentation can be a pain the butt. And, after all the time and resources you put into your big beer on brewday, don’t you want it to have the best shot psooible at being great? If so, pitch an adequate amount of yeast.


5.) Control Your Fermentation Temperature

Many things are important when fermenting a big beer. For example, you should — as I have mentioned — pitch an adequate amount of yeast. In addition, controlling your fermentation temperature also has its benefits. Fermentations generate their own heat, and fermenting a high-gravity beer generates more heat that a lower-gravity fermentation. As the wort heats up, the yeast will begin producing more esters and fusel oils (and the levels of these are already elevated in high-gravity beers). In extreme cases, quick temperature rises can stress the yeast, causing them to stop fermenting. So, keep an eye on your fermentation temperature and keep it within the recommended range. Be especially watchful around the time fermentation begins, as this is when temperatures can rise the quickest.

Near the end of fermentation, you may want to raise the temperature to the top end of the yeast’s recommended range (or even a few degrees higher) to help finish things off. This can be a big help when fermenting a very strong beer.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the next 5 tips . . . and I promise I won’t repeat 1–4.


  1. Mark McCabe says

    So,… What are your thoughts on pitching rates?

  2. What about aeration?

    • Chris Colby says

      See the next post in the series. Aeration is indeed important. I just wanted to stress the pitching rate thing. I don’t know if that came across 😎

  3. I’ve got it! 😀

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