Normally, Calagione is quite chatty about his brewing techniques, but he declines to discuss the brewing regimen for his super strong beers. He elaborates, “We do not share our techniques for brewing beers over 12 percent ABV as they took many years to develop—the average tank time for a beer we make over 12 percent ABV is a little over two months, so in addition to the higher ingredient cost, you also have to factor in the lost-opportunity cost that comes with tying up a fraction of your capacity for extended times.”
However, earlier interviews with Calagione suggest that the secret resides in tag teams of yeasts, as well as extremely long fermentation and conditioning times. An article in the December, 2000 Mid-Atlantic Brewing News notes that the original 1999 batch of World Wide Stout employed seven yeast strains, while the 2000 batch used only four: a standard ale strain, a Belgian yeast, a champagne variety and a special type well-adapted to high alcohol concentrations.
This year, Dogfish Head is on target to brew over 3,000 barrels of beers topping 12 percent ABV. Other formidable offerings include Olde School Barleywine (15%) and Fort (18%). The latter, a raspberry ale, is very probably the world’s strongest fruit beer. It’s remarkably spritzy and light on the palate, the beer equivalent of pink champagne (although well above the typical 10-12% ABV content of wine).
Colossus: Beer You Can Nuke
Colossus, from the DuClaw Brewing Co. in Abingdon, MD, is completely different from any of the previously mentioned beers. As independently confirmed by the Siebel Institute in Chicago, it measures 21.92 percent ABV. Brewer Jim Wagner describes it as “beer-meets-mead-meets-sweet wine.”
Wagner brewed a single 22-barrel batch of the beer back in late 2006. “It’s not a beer you can toss your yeast in, oxygenate, and walk away,” he recalls. “It required a lot of TLC and a lot of consultation with Dr. White at White Labs,” which supplied a “super-high gravity yeast strain,” one of four yeast varieties used in the fermentation.