How to Brew American Strong Ale | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Updated: March 26, 2021

American Strong Ale is a style that was created merely by accident. As the legend goes, Stone Brewing Company was making a test batch of a pale ale that became overloaded with their intended ingredients.

The brewers let the beer ferment out and the beer actually turned out to be very drinkable.

As a matter of fact, the beer that was created became known as Arrogant Bastard. 

The Beer Behind the Story

Although the tale behind this beer may or may not be true, the story is still fascinating. The beer is even better than the story behind it. American Strong Ales are malt centric, even more so than a hoppy IPA, yet not as strong and rich as an American barleywine. 

The color range is somewhere between amber to almost brown, with a vibrant reddish hue. The beer has a medium-full bodied, malty, hoppy with complex flavors and aromas. 

Popular American Strong Ales

Some of the well-known beers that fall into this category are as follows: 

  • Arrogant Bastard Ale (including the oaked and the Double Bastard Ale versions) from Stone Brewing Co.
  • Dogfish Head Immort Ale
  • Mendocino Eye of the Hawk
  • Clown Shoes Eagle Claw Fist
  • Great Lakes Nosferatu
  • Rogue Double Dead Guy
  • Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head Life & Limb
  • The Lost Abbey Angel’s Share
  • RJ Rockers Bell Ringer
  • Tommyknocker Imperial Nut Brown
  • Samuel Adams Utopias.

Pushing Tradition Aside

The traditionalist might raise an eyebrow and scoff at the American Strong Ale style overall. Afterall, it is sort of a catch-all style that breaks away from the restrictions of the “normal” BJCP beer style.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of craft beer innovation, the style really allows brewers the creativity and freedom to brew something uncharacteristic.

As for Stone Brewing, I guess their gargoyle is really watching over them and protecting them from the evil spirits. 

Style Profile for American Strong Ale

Appearance

American strong ales are medium amber to deep copper or light brown. There is a moderate-low to medium sized off-white to light tan head.

Due to the high alcohol content, there may be low head retention. Clarity is good. Alcohol level and viscosity may present “legs” when the glass is swirled. 

Aroma

The hop aroma can be high, with mostly citrusy or resiny notes of American or New World hops. Moderate to bold malt presence supports the high hop profile with a medium to dark caramel, toasty, bready backbone.

Light noticeable shades of roast and/or chocolate. Clean to moderately fruity esters. Moderate alcohol aromas, but the beer should not be hot. 

Flavor

Medium to high malt presence with caramel, toffee, and dark fruit flavors taking center stage. Low to medium toasty, bready, or Maillard-rich malty flavors can add complexity.

Medium-high to high hop bitterness. Bitterness will counteract the sweet malt impressions on the palate. The hop flavor will be American or New World hops and consists of such atoms as: floral, citrus, stone fruit, pine/resin, tropical fruit, and melon.

Malt will be clean and have a grainy character with notes of caramel or toasty flavors possible. Some fruitiness is acceptable. Dry to medium dry finish with bitterness lasting to the finish of the beer.

Some light and clean alcohol flavors are acceptable, but it should not be hot. The aftertaste should be malty, hoppy, and a noticeable alcohol presence. 

Mouthfeel

Medium to full body beer with an alcohol warmth, but not excessively hot. Astringency may be present due to bold hop bitterness and should not be harsh on the palate. Medium-low to medium carbonation. 

Food Pairing

American strong ales pair well with bold, robust meals such as sweet, rich caramelized flavors like roasted duck, pork chops, Mexican dishes, smoked brisket, pizza, beef stew, Italian sausage, and finally pasta with a rich marinara sauce. 

Tips for Brewing your own American Strong Ale

Grain

A starting point for the base grain is a 50/50 split of Munich and Maris Otter. Twelve ounces of Victory and Special B will amp up the toasty and dark-caramel flavors that are needed for the style.

Some flaked barley, about a pound, will give the beer a solid mouthfeel and aid in head retention. 

Hops

American hops really should be showcased in this beer. A traditional bittering charge at 60 minutes is a nice place to start with your hop schedule. Something like Chinook or Simcoe will give the beer a nice bitterness.

After bittering hops, the sky’s the limit with how much or little hops you want to add. Cascade, Citra, Columbus, Centennial, Amarillo, Simcoe, Warrior, Mosaic, or Chinook are always a good way to start when thinking about the hop schedule.

Hopping with New World hops like Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin or any of your favorite hops from New Zealand or Australia will work here too.

Dry hopping is very common with the style and encouraged to extract more hop aroma and flavor in your beer. 

Yeast

The yeast for a double IPA should be well attenuating strain with a clean, neutral character. Some options include: While Labs California Ale (WLP001), California Ale V WLP051, Wyeast American Ale 1056 or Northwest Ale 1332.

Imperial Yeast’s selection of yeasts are also a good choice. A18 Joystick, A20 Citrus, A24 Dry Hop are only a few of the wonderful yeasts produced by Imperial Yeast

American Strong Ale the By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 7 – 19 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.062 – 1.090 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.014 – 1.024 FG
  • IBU Range: 50 – 100
  • ABV Range: 6.3 – 10.0%

Martin Keen’s American Strong Ale Recipe

Grain

  • 76 %            13 lbs.             2-Row   
  • 12 %              2 lb.               Biscuit Malt
  •   6 %              1 lb.               Flaked Barley
  •   6 %              1 lb.               Special B

 Hops

  • 1.00 oz         Chinook – Boil – 60 min
  • 1.00 oz         Amarillo – Boil – 10 min
  • 1.00 oz         Chinook – Boil – 10 min
  • 1.00 oz         Simcoe – Boil –  10 min 
  • 1.00 oz         Amarillo – Boil – Flameout
  • 1.00 oz         Simcoe – Boil – Flameout

Yeast

1.0 pkg   American Ale II Wyeast #1272

Directions

  1. Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins
  2. Boil for 60 mins 

Transcript: Really cranking up the weight today because this is American heavy.

My name is Martin Keen and I’m taking the Homebrew challenge to brew 99 beers and 99 weeks. And yeah I have got a whole bunch of cool equipment to show off in the next few videos starting today with this tap cooler.

This is a counter pressure bottle filler. And I’m going to show how I can use this to fill bottles directly from my beer taps.

But before we get to any of that, let’s get on with the beer style of the day, which is American strong ale.

Now with every brew system I’ve ever had I have noticed that once you get to the higher gravity beers, you typically see a bit of a drop in efficiency. And I’ve been seeing that as I’ve been doing some of these stronger beers this time out as well.

So what I wanted to try is that given that this system that I’m using this claw hammer system is brew in the bag. I want it to look at maybe having a finer crush on the grain and seeing how that affects my efficiency.

So what I’ve got here are grains that have come straight from the Homebrew store. So this is straight out of the mill at Atlantic brew supply. Um, and this is what I just normally go with.

Uh, now I have a monster mill here that I’d set to in 0.045 of an inch is my mill gap, which is like the standard sort of credit card size. You could just stick a credit card down there. I’m going to try adjusting that to 0.03 inches. I’m going to do that with my feeler gauge. So here is a total of naught point naught three one inches. That’s close enough. I’m going to adjust my mill to that.

Okay. So I think this will give me a much finer crush. Let’s give it a go.

Okay. So what we’ve got here, definitely, it’s definitely a finer crush at this point. I’m going to give this one a try. It definitely feels different. Stirring it in, it feels a lot more pasty. I like you’ve added a lot of powder into water and you’re trying to give it a stir and it’s really stiff. Um, I’m mashing here at a temperature of 150 Fahrenheit, 66 Celsius. Um, so fairly low and slow with this.

All right. I think I’ve got the clumps out. Now lets recirculate.

So what does this style of American strong ale equate to? Well, as it’s rather generic sounding name suggests it is a bit of a catch-all for a lot of different styles.

Now strong does refer to the alcohol strength. There should be a fairly strong beer around 8% is normal, and I’m going with an original gravity of 10 76. So yeah, I’m expecting to get about 8% out of this. It’s also going to be pretty, highly hopped, but we’re not building like just an Imperial IPA here because we are going to add some flavors that really accentuate the malt and a little bit of toffee flavor as well.

So my version of this beer is built on a two row pale malt that makes up 76% of my grist. And then I’m adding 12% of biscuit malt. In addition to that, I’m adding 6% of flaked barley and 6% of a special B.

Okay. Demo time. Do you like my, do you like my new setup here? I’ve got this table on the side and my overhead camera here as well. Um, what I’m demoing today is a counter pressure bottle filler. So you’ve got beer in a keg and you want to get it into a bottle.

You could just pour the beer in from the tap into the bottle. You’re going to get a ton of, eh, so any beer that you put in there is not going to be good for very long. So counter pressure fillers are very nice way of being able to reduce the amount of oxygen. So I have this one that was provided to me by great fermentations.

So here is the tap cooler and it just fits into any forward seeling beer tab. So Perlick, or NUKA tap or enter tap any of those forward seeling taps, or you just put this in and then connect it to some gas and then you can use it as a counter pressure filler.

There’s a bunch of little gadgets here. Uh, basically this needs to go in the tap and then this side needs to get some gas. There is a little barb here that you can insert and then connect that in to some gas, but quite fantastically, there is this little guy which gives you a, a ball lock connection to this. So I can plug this in, connect it to my gas. And there we go. I got gas into this super quick and easy, right?

I do have my keg here. Um, and I’ve got this cool little gadget here, which is a, um, beverage quick disconnect and a Perlick tap. So I’m going to stick this on my keg. Okay.

And make sure that the tap is closed before pouring anything. One second. Now I’m going to take my sanitized bottle. This is telescopic. So I’m going to put it out, put my bottle into this. And then the first thing you want to do is flush the oxygen out of the bottle. It’s the way that I do that is I press this button here.

That’s sending CO2 into the bottle and pushing out the oxygen. Then when I’m ready to fill, I’m going to push this up to the top and turn on the tap. And you’ll see that the beer begins to fill into the bottle.

Now pretty quickly it’s going to stop because the pressure has equalized. So we’ll just need to bleed off some pressure. And it’s now filling up nice and slowly. And wouldn’t you know it, I kicked the keg. Okay, well, I’ve kicked keg, so I’m not going to get a full pour out of this. So assume this bottle is completely full. Um, what I want to do now is as I bring it out, I can just use this button again, to flush the remaining CO2 in there.

And then at that point I can tap the beer.

And there you go. Yeah, this works better if you haven’t kicked the keg, but this is just such an easy way of getting beer out of your keg through your tap and straight into the bottle and making sure that you’re doing that without introducing too much oxygen into the beer.

Well, the mash seemed to go pretty well. I ended up bumping up the temperature to 168 Fahrenheit, 76 Celsius. Did a preboil gravity reading. BeerSmith said I was where I should be.

So drained down, now I’m getting ready for the boil. And yes, this is a hoppy fear. I’m going for an IBU of about 86 with this. So we’re going to start off with a bittering hop and that is going to be Chinook. That is what I will put in at the start of the boil.

And then I have two other hop additions, one at 10 minutes, and then one at flame out. So with 10 minutes to go, I’m going to add Chinook, Amarillo, and Simcoe in to the boil. And then at flame out Amarillo and Simcoe again are going to go in with zero minutes to go. And they all smell these hups…. So delicious. Should be good.

Ended up with a final gravity of 10 75, which was about what I was aiming for. Did the finer mash end up making much of a difference? Well, I don’t know. I ended up hitting my usual efficiency numbers, but I did only have to mash for an hour.

And often I find that I do need to mash a little bit longer than that. If I want to hit my numbers with some of those high gravity beers. So maybe it helped a little bit. Okay.

The yeast for this beer. I’ve got it sanitizing here. This is American ale II. That’s Wyeast 1272. And I’m going to pitch this one straight in now because I have got my temperature in here at about 68 degrees. That is 20 Celsius. And then I’m going to give this one a few weeks and give it a try.

Cracked out the old English bitter glasses for this one. Yeah. It’s been a while since they’ve had these, it, it hasn’t, you know, actually this does look a little bit like an English bitter in, in terms of color. I see that, but it’s a bit stronger than British bitter. Yes.

Sorry. I was looking, I was like, I can’t really see through it. It’s very, um, like hazy. Yeah. Pretty hazy. Pretty cloudy. Let’s see if we get anything on the aroma here. Well, smells actually quite like a pretty bitter as well. A very malty, what do you think? It also smells a little bit on the sweet side. Yes.

Yeah. Just very like subtly, like, you know, those marichino cherries? It kind of smells a little bit like that. Yeah. Now maybe I’m not getting cherry, but I’m getting sweet, but for sure those are sweet cherries. They’re not real cherries. They’re fake. So yeah. So fake sweetness is what you’re getting. Just yeah, smell. How does it taste? Like, alright. Cause I don’t like this. I hope it’s not going to taste like cherries too, because real cherries. Yeah. But something went horribly wrong if it tastes like cherries. Okay. Let’s find out.

Okay. This does not taste like English bitter. No, not at all. Cherries? A little bit of maraschino in there really doesn’t mind a little bit, but it might have just been the smell and playing tricks on my taste buds. There is a fruitiness to this beer. I think there is something sweet and fruity combined with the very strong malt pallet to this.

Have you ever had, I know you have those chocolates that you have at Christmas, but I like the, to have a little bit of liquer in them, you’re like, it’s like a dark chocolate with a little fruity look, your that’s kind of what I taste like. It doesn’t taste like chocolate or anything like that. But the, the feeling of those chocolate look yours. Hmm. Yeah. I know what you’re saying, but it’s hard to pinpoint. Yeah. It’s not like Chloe sweet. Uh, it is a little fruity though.

It is a very malty. Yeah. I think it’s actually pretty, pretty pleasant. It’s it’s already quite complex and this is another one of those beers that are even better if they age a little longer. I think this, this has come up pretty good. Um, yeah. Complex is what we’re going with. Right? Like complex and a little bit of everything.

So if you’d like a go at brewing, this complex beer yourself recipe is in the description as is a link to Atlantic brew supply for the beer kit. Uh, next week we are going to go with another strong beer. Okay.

But something a little bit different. So until then, cheers!

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.