Glucose, sucrose, fructose, maltose, verbose and more – sugar is sugar, ain’t it? While that may be true for others, brewers need to have an accurate knowledge of the different types of sugars and how it impacts the flavour of the brew.
Here, in this guide, you can find all the answers to your queries about the different types of sugars used in brewing. We cut to the chase and give you clear-cut answers to all your sugary questions.
Before, we get into the actual role of sugar in brewing, here’s the general break down of different types of sugars.
Derived from starch, glucose undergoes quick fermentation. In the brewing world, glucose is commonly referred to as “dextrose.”
Derived from milk, lactose has a sweet flavour and is non-fermentable, if using yeast. However, it undergoes fermentation’s with certain strains of wild yeast. Adding lactose to stouts form “milk stouts.”
Naturally occurring in malt, maltose undergoes slow fermentation.
This is another sugar found in malt. It undergoes rapid fermentation with beer yeast.
Now, that you know the basic types of sugar, let’s take a look at its role in brewing.
Gravity Vs. Fermentability
While adding sugar to your brew, one of the first questions you have to address is whether the sugar you’re adding contributes to the flavour, body or alcohol content of the brew. (Sometimes it’s all three).
Not all sugars are the same. Generally, they can be divided into the following four types:
- 100% fermentable
- Mostly fermentable
- Partially fermentable
100% Fermentable Sugars
Most of the commonly used sugars are completely fermentable. Adding this type of sugar to your brews will add to the gravity points. This is because every gram of sugar you add to the brew gets converted by the yeast into alcohol. Examples of 100% fermentable sugars include – table sugar, maple syrup, Belgian candi syrup, and corn syrup.
These sugars don’t add body to the brew. On the other hand, they only thin out the brew. Post fermentation, the sugars are completely converted into alcohol. They may add some flavour, but don’t add proteins or other types of residual carbohydrates.
Mostly Fermentable Sugars
As the name implies, these sugars undergo fermentation ranging from 75% to 95%. Examples include honey, rice solids, and light molasses. These sugars add small but significant amounts of minerals, and proteins to the brew.
Use of these sugars will add to the potential gravity of the brew.
These sugars undergo fermentation as little as 40%. These include black treacle and darker molasses. While it’s true that both treacle and molasses are sugar products, they are both by-products of plant sugars, hence not completely fermentable.
The darker the product, higher is the concentration of plant derivatives. This results in more intense flavours and lower gravity points.
Least Fermentable (in some cases, unfermentable)
This includes sugars like maltodextrin and lactose. You can consider them as the polar opposites of the 100% fermentable sugars. They add gravity points to the brew but don’t contribute to the alcohol content.
These sugars are complex products that cannot be fermented by brewing yeasts. While you can add other enzymes to break down these sugars, if left alone, they don’t add to the body.
Coming to the Big Question – Do all Sugars Taste the Same?
Tasting sugar before you add it to the brew is a sensible idea. But, how can you be sure that – the pre-fermentation flavour and post-fermentation flavour remain the same?
The sugar you add is going to undergo a dramatic change in composition. So, what you taste before is going to be totally different from the flavour observed post-fermentation. So, how do you figure out the right sugar based on taste?
Additionally, you have to remember that conversion of sugar into alcohol doesn’t remove the entire sweetness. This is because alcohol is sweet along with other flavours like peppery and perfume-like.
Sugars from a Flavour Perspective
By adding sugars like candi syrups, cane sugar, rice solids, corn sugar, un-carmelized beet sugars, you don’t add impact the flavour of your brew. While colour doesn’t indicate flavour accurately, here’s a rule of thumb – light sugars mean the flavour is minimal.
Sugars that are highly fermentable like Golden syrup and dextrose add to the ABV but don’t impact the flavour in any way. However, remember that excessive use of sugar could lead to an unpleasant flavour.
If you’re looking to add flavour, then honey is the way to go. Lighter honey like clover honey adds a mild flavour, while stronger ones like dark buckwheat honey contribute a heavy flavour. However, remember that the flavour imparted isn’t connected to the source of the honey. For instance, raspberry honey tastes nothing like raspberries.
When it comes to honey, you have plenty of options like meadow-foam honey (marshmallow flavour), Orange blossom honey (floral notes), Tupelo honey (rich, intense flavour) and more.
Another type of brewing sugar to use is natural syrup (or saps). Some examples include agave syrup, jaggery, maple syrup, birch syrup, treacle, molasses, and more. Remember that darker the syrup, more intense is the flavour.
Working with syrups is a bit tricky. The key here is to experiment with different flavours and pick the ones that you love.
Sugar, Sugar, and Sugar Everywhere
One final note on experimenting with different types of sugars – Remember that the sugar you taste before adding to the brew may be completely different from the final flavour, post-fermentation. However, remember that most sugars are completely fermented, and impart only the subtlest flavours. The key rule of thumb to remember here is “Darker the colour, more intense is the flavour.”
Be bold and experiment with different types of sugars. Brewing is a pretty robust process, and there are minimal chances for you to mess up. And, even if you brew a batch that is undrinkable, no worries, it’s all part of the learning process.
Go ahead and toss in different sugars, and watch the fireworks. Happy brewing!
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