Fermentation Fun From Belgian Candi Sugar to Treacle
Fermentation is the process in which yeast consumes liquefied sugars and excretes ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide in return. In beer, the sugars in question are those that are extracted from malted grain during the mashing process of brewing. These maltose sugars form the base of beer, but they are hardly the only ones that are used in the brewing industry –especially the homebrewing industry.
Any non-malt sugar used in brewing is referred to as an adjunct sugar. These would include the complex carbohydrates derived from corn and rice that are so prevalent in the beers made by Miller and Budweiser, along with most or the large corporate brewhouses around the world.
A Dose of “ose”
Virtually any sugar can be dissolved in water and fermented. Many of these can be found in one form or another in alternative fermented beverages such as wine, mead and hard cider (think fruit and honey). An easy way to identify these fermentable sugars is to look for an “o-s-e” at the end of the word. Here are some of those “oses”:
- Fructose: found in most fruits. The sweetening power of fructose is more than one-and-a-half times that of refined white sugar.
- Dextrose: refined white sugar derived from hydrolized cornstarch. Dextrose is highly fermentable and is most often used for priming homebrew prior to bottling.
- Glucose: derived from starch and many fruits. Glucose has only 50 % of the sweetening power of ordinary table sugar.
- Sucrose: found in sugar cane, sugar beets, sorghum, and malted grain; a compound of one molecule each of glucose and fructose. Table sugar is more 99% sucrose.
- Lactose: found in milk; lactose is unfermentable by beer yeast; whatever is added to beer will remain unfermented. Lactose is a primary flavoring ingredient in sweet stout.
How Sweet It Is
Most often, you find these sugars in processed form, but you can also use some of them in their natural form, as is the case with honey and pure maple syrups. Again, the primary objective in using adjunct sugars is to add fermentables to the beer (which results in increased alcohol levels), and the secondary objective is to imbue the beer with unique flavor. Here’s a list of optional adjunct sugars for flavoring:
- Honey: It is highly fermentable and adds delicate sweetness and perfuminess to your brew (depending on the type of honey that you choose). Light honeys, such as alfalfa and clover, work best in beer because their flavor is less aggressive. And because honey is so fully fermentable it also results in thinner-bodied beers and more alcohol per pound when compared to maltose.
- Rice syrup or corn syrup: Both rice and corn syrup are very neutral in flavor. High percentages use of these processed syrups results in pale colored, lighter-bodied, lighter-flavored beer, such as pale lagers.
- Sorghum syrup: Pure white sorghum syrup has been developed mostly for creating low gluten or gluten-free beers, but this syrup can also be used in much the same way as rice or corn syrup for making lighter bodied and colored brews.
- Maple syrup: Depending on the quality, which is based on the percentage of maple sugar in the syrup, maple flavor may be very assertive in the beer. And maple syrup, depending on the sugar content, is only about 65% fermentable, which means that about 65% of whatever amount you add to your beer will be consumed by the yeast.
- Brown sugar: Brown sugar is derived from unrefined or partially refined sugar and flavored with molasses. The darker brown the sugar, the more residual flavor there will be in the finished beer.
- Molasses: Molasses syrup is produced during the refining of white sugar from sorghum or cane. Molasses is typically available in three colors/flavors — light, dark, and blackstrap. The degrees of color have to do with how caramelized and concentrated the molasses is.
- Treacle: This a brown-colored syrup referred to as refiner’s syrup. Although it is derived in much the same way as molasses, it’s often clarified and decolorized, so it’s not as dark and aggressively flavored as molasses.
- Belgian candi sugar: Caramelized sugar in crystals and granular form are regularly used in Belgian Strong Ales and Trappist beer varieties; usually sold in golden to dark amber varieties. Candi sugar is typically reserved for full-flavored beers to lighten them or enhance their character and alcohol levels.
It’s recommended that you add these sugars sparingly to your brew. One pound or less per 5-gallon batch is typical usage. Avoid using refined white sugars in brewing; when used in quantities of more than 20% of total fermentables, the result is a noticeable cidery smell and taste. Also, white sugars are so highly fermentable that your beer will have a measurable increase in alcohol while sacrificing a measurable decrease in flavor, body and mouthfeel.