Is bigger always better?

Fireworks displays, Sonny Bill Williams fights and cans of energy drink - sometimes things just need to be bigger. Beer is the same. But it isn't always in size of vessel where beer can get bigger. 

I've been a fan of imperial (that's the flash term for 'strong' or 'over 8 per cent alcohol by volume') beer since I got into craft beer, especially imperial stouts. Moa's version is a perennial favourite of mine, while Twisted Hop's Nokabollokov is a close second. There's something about boozy stout which is so comforting on a dark rainy night in the middle of winter. It's almost like chucking on a warm black blanket while drinking a cup of warm milk.

But as good as they are to drink, brewing imperial beers is notoriously difficult. To get beer to imperial strength, every single piece of sugar needs to be extracted from the grains. But that's arguably the easy part. The hardest thing is managing the conversion of those sugars into bubbles and booze.

Yeast, for all the handy work it does turning sugar into booze and bubbles, really is a pain in the arse when brewing big beers. If you give them too much sugar, they go ballistic. They'll create a foam-like substance that will rise up through your fermenting bucket until there is no room left. It's like kids at a birthday party being let loose at the fairy bread; they just go ballistic. While kids will tear around the lawn and destroy your eardrums with their decibel-defying screams, yeast will destroy the careful cleaning you have done.

The first strong beer I brewed was a 9.5 per cent imperial stout. 

To say it erupted would not be an  exaggeration; it blew the lid right off my fermenting bucket. Having to constantly clean and re-clean equipment got old very quickly. So did the stench of partly fermented beer permeating from my hot water cupboard.

So how can you keep your yeast under control? Cool and slow are the two words to remember; start fermenting your beer around the 17-19 degree Celsius area if possible. This will calm your yeast down and stop them eating the sugar so fast, thereby producing less gas and cutting down the chances you will have a blowout.

Brewing big beer comes with all sorts of other issues - long fermentation times, yeast not surviving in high-alcohol environments and leaving a heck of a mess at the end - but the results are worth it. Especially when you taste beers like Ballast Point Victory at Sea. Weighing in at 10 per cent, Victory at Sea has been infused with coffee and vanilla pods for added oomph. Apparent it is the beer that inspired Taranaki brewery Mike's to brew their Vanilla Coffee Porter.

Ballast Point's has some decidedly awesome bottle art - although I think that pirate looks like one of the Rolling Stones in a few years - and the beer inside is just as good. It tastes like a fizzy espresso before the waves sweet vanilla and cocoa powder notes roll across the tastebuds.

While SBW's fight may not have been as big as some expected, Victory at Sea certainly is. So go on, buy or brew some big beer. As they say - bigger is better.

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