Brew your barleywines NOW for the SFHG Holidaze Homebrew Comp in February 2014!
Seriously, these beers take many many months to mature, like six months (or more for the biggest versions!), which means you should make them now. We’re accepting both English and American barleywines for this comp, with the primary difference being that American ones tend to be much more bitter. This is a tough beer to brew well and isn’t always a good one for a beginner to take on. When making such a big beer, it’s all about yeast health and fermentation temperature control to ensure you’re getting full attenuation and good flavor without producing a ton of sharp fusel alcohols, rubbery phenols, or a syrupy unbalanced beer. Here’s some advice for brewing such a big beer:
1) Make sure you pitch the right amount of yeast, a large amount of yeast! That single White Labs vial ain’t gonna do it for this beer. Even two vials is not enough, you need that much just to make your starter. Make a big starter or plan on using 3 to 4 vials or packets of yeast. Use the yeast calculator for your big brews! http://www.mrmalty.com/calc/calc.html
2) Make sure to properly oxygenate your wort! This is all about yeast health, they need oxygen to divide during the lag phase after you pitch them.
3) Use yeast nutrients. Are you getting the picture? You need to give the yeast every advantage when you’re asking them to do such a big job. You should be using yeast nutrient for all your brews, really.
4) KEEP YOUR TEMP CONTROLLED DURING FERMENTATION! Seriously folks, this strong fermentation is going to raise the temp in your fermentor. When you get high fermentation temps you get crazy fruity esters, inappropriate spicy phenols, and sharp fusel alcohols that will keep your beer from being great. Many homebrewers don’t have the ability to temp control their fermentations, but if you were ever thinking of buying some new gadget to control temps with, now is the time. It’s the easiest way to improve the flavor of your beers! If your temp drops during a barleywine fermentation, your yeast WILL stall out and you’ll have a difficult time getting full attenuation.
5) Use some malt extract even if you’re an all-grain brewer. It makes it easier to hit that big OG without filling your mash tun to bursting if you just throw in a few lbs of extract. And I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t tell if a beer was made with extract (unless it wasn’t fresh extract), especially in a huge flavorful beer like this. Also, mash low, you’ll have enough body without mashing high.
6) Use a blow off tube. Your airlock, floor, and possibly ceiling (and landlord) will all thank you.
7) Don’t try to brew it a few months ahead of the comp. The malt character takes time to fully develop, the hop bitterness needs to mellow, the alcohols need to relax and meld with the beer. This takes a long time. Brew it now!
8) The ABV range here isa wide 8-12%. If you want to keep life a little easier for you and your yeast, don’t go for the 12% version. Try something on the lower end of the style, between 8-10%.
9) I would recommend checking out one of these great Brewing Network podcasts about making a good barleywine
10) To ensure the fermentation continues after the going gets tough and to keep the ABV higher and the body light, don’t shy away from adding a little simple sugar syrup as fermentation begins to slow to kick it back into higher gear.