It is possible to brew and condition beers up to a strength of ±16% ABV without resorting to distillation, fortification or freezing out their water content. However, brewing, fermenting and conditioning beers to above 8% ABV involves either compromising their quality or using clever, complicated or time-consuming techniques.
Strong beers fall into two main categories – those brewed with simple sugars for the purpose of intoxication and those of great complexity, often with their origins in specific local traditions or market circumstances. Here we concentrate on the second type.
In the northern hemisphere most of the new grain harvest needs to be malted and then warehoused between August and October. Traditionally this meant that grain stores needed to being emptied of excess old stock, so in many countries, traditions grew of harvest time or autumnal beers of sampling strength, and of Christmas, New Year and winter brews of high strength.
Those beer styles that survived beer’s lean 20th century include many that are among the world’s most distinctive beers. As lager yeast functions but does not impress at higher alcoholic strength, with the exception of Doppelbock, the best of these styles are all ales.