Understanding Brewing Sugars
If there is a “Rodney Dangerfield” of amateur beermaking
it would have to be non-barley-based sugar. According to the orthodoxy,
there is no place in “real” beermaking for using sugars
based on cane, corn, rice, honey or maple trees. The prevailing
attitude came about as a result of abuse, rather than appropriate
use of other sugars in the brewing process along with some very
entrenched beer snobbery.
Conventional Wisdom is not without some small merit. Any recipe
which calls for adding two pounds (1 kg) of white granulated table
sugar with 3-4 lbs. (1.5-1.8 kg) of malt extract is sacrificing
quality for ease, speed and price considerations. That being said,
sugar also does not deserve to be the pariah of brewing either.
When used in addition to quality malts and malt concentrates (as
opposed to “instead of”) different sugars can impart
complex flavors to beer. It also allows a brewer to increase the
strength of a beer without substantially increasing the body or
changing the flavor profile. Inverted cane sugar is useful when
trying to brew a barleywine, dopplebock or trippel from an extract
base. Lesser refined sugars such as molasses, treacle or turbanado
cane sugar have been used by British breweries in strong ales, porters,
and stouts for years with successful results. Belgian Candi sugar
is considered indispensable for brewing a Trippel. The key to successful
brewing with refined sugars is to understand when, where and how
much is appropriate.
The most common refined sugar used in homebrewing is corn sugar,
also referred to as Brewing Sugar. Corn sugar tends to be more fermentable
and leave less aftertaste than cane or beet sugar. A good rule of
thumb is that the amount of corn sugar you can use without effecting
the flavor of the beer is 10-15% of the total gravity of the beer.
Corn sugar will contribute approximately 1.0085 degrees of gravity
per pound per 5 gallons of beer being made. As an example, if you
are making a porter with an original gravity (gravity pre-fermentation)
of 1.060, and wish to “beef it up” some, then you could
add up to 1 lb. (1/2 kg) of corn sugar. 1.060 x 15% = 1.009 which
is about one pound.
Most homebrewing kits, including Coopers Beer Kits, provide you
with the option of adding either 1 kg of brewing sugar, or 1.5 kg
(3.3 lbs.) of unhopped malt
concentrate. When made with sugar, beer kits will make a beer
that is characterized as being light in body and mouthfeel, much
like a Light American Lager style beer. They tend to ferment very
quickly, and will reach a state of maturity with a couple of weeks.
If 1.5 kg of unhopped malt concentrate is used, the beer will have
more body, more mouthfeel and more “beer” flavor. It
will also take a bit longer to ferment and mature. This type of
production is mostly favored by microbrew and imported beer fans.
Is it possible to make a Light American Lager style beer without
the use of rice and/or corn? No. It is also not possible to make
many Belgian-style ales without the use of corn or beet-based sugars.
And who can deny the pleasure of some of the fine summer-oriented
fruit beers that make liberal use of honey? Experimentation is an
intricate part of amateur beermaking. So, go ahead, try some Real
Vermont maple syrup in that stout beer recipe next time! If you
have any questions about making beer with other types of sugars,
please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.