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Many of the high-gravity commercial beers I taste end up coming off as boozy. What kinds of ingredients or processes will limit this flavor? I want to brew a big beer, perhaps in the 1.100 neighborhood, but I'm concerned about boozy flavors.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

As alcohol levels rise in a beer, eventually you can taste it. There is just no way around that part. However as a brewer you do have control over some of the less desirable tasting higher order (molecularly complex) alcohols.

The best way to control the levels of these types of flavors is to pitch plenty of yeast, ferment on the cooler side (that also means starting fermentation on the cool side), provide plenty of oxygen up front, and be patient with the process.

The patience probably being an oft overlooked part of the process. It might take a couple months to wait out a proper fermentation.

Your yeast choice is somewhat style dependent, but look for one that attenuates really well, and plan to ferment on the cooler side of its acceptable range.

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Brewchez, as always, is correct. :-) I would also add that high gravity beers need time to come into their own. That "hot" alcohol taste does fade with time. Most high-gravity beers I make age for at least a year before consumption. It really smooths those beers out. – TinCoyote Aug 23 '11 at 14:28
Good point TinCoyote. I think when you also add in the small amount of oxidation that happens over time too, it helps with those flavors. I was thinking of making a big RIS soon, now I am more inspired for sure. – brewchez Aug 23 '11 at 14:47

How do you feel about sour beers? I was just reading on The Mad Fermentationist that sour beers often mask their alcohol content with their other pungent aromas and flavors. And since they attenuate more than a normal brew, you get more alcohol for the same starting gravity, so take that into account as well. A 1.080 sour that gets down to 1.005 should be about the same alcohol as a 1.095 normal beer that only gets to 1.020

Beyond the sour idea, I'd suggest massive oxygenation, cool fermentation and stepped simple sugar additions. So buy an aeration system, make sure you can ferment in a controlled environment, and add simpler sugars after the primary is down with malt to get that last percent or two of alcohol without stressing out the yeast. Oh, and use a high-gravity strain of yeast as well, like WLP099 or Wyeast 3787 Trappist.

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FWIW, I have found WLP099 to under perform and not make a great tasting beer. And 3787, while a great yeast I use frequently, is a Belgian yeast that is not appropriate for all high gravity styles. Nearly any yeast will ferment a beer up ti maybe 12% ABV if you pitch a large number of healthy cells. – Denny Conn Aug 23 '11 at 15:33

The fusel alcohols that you perceive as making the beer "boozy" will eventually age out into esters. Give the beer time and the "boozy" quality will subside to a greater or lesser extent.

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