Brewing Sugars

Making Caramel for Beer Brewing

Those of us who have been homebrewing for many years will remember the days when recipes contained an absolutely ridiculous amount of corn sugar, up to 50% in some cases. The idea of sugar in beer seems ridiculous to some, however when used correctly in appropriate quantities it can make a beer stand out from the rest. Belgian strong pale ales, abbey Dubbels, and Tripels all utilise sugar to freshen the palate, providing these beers with a devilish drinkability.

Some beer styles use caramel syrup to enhance the coloured malt. This process goes back to the late eighteenth century, when English brewers coloured their porters with a variety of burnt sugar known as essentia binae. In the nineteenth century, Flemish oud bruins were also coloured like this, and the common form of lambic, known as faro, was enhanced and coloured with caramel. These days caramel syrup is still used by Belgian brewers. Chouffe and Rochefort employ no coloured malts in their recipes; their delightful caramel flavours are formed from caramelised sugar.

The phrase candi is used by Belgian brewers to refer to sugar and can be confusing, I recommend that you avoid it. There are two varieties of sugar which can be referred to as candi: large rocks of crystallized beet sugar and caramelized sugar syrup. Usually, sucre candi (kandij zuike) denotes the caramelized sugar syrup. However when homebrewers use the term, they are typically referring to the rock sugar, see what I meant about confusing?

However striking it may appear pale rock sugar is always just refined sucrose; even the darker forms are only slightly flavourful. There’s nothing to it. Rock sugar is formed from beets and is used in Belgian beer only because it’s cheap there. If you want to use beet sugar for whatever reason (I wouldn’t personally recommend it) you can find it at your local supermarket at very good prices. Lots of somewhat refined sugars have exciting flavours which can contribute a lot to beer. Plenty of plants have luscious, sugary sap which can be boiled into thick syrup or further concentrated into solid sugars. Regular white sugar is formed through carrying out this process to the limit; what is extracted from the pure sugar is turned into molasses. Raw sugar can be provide sophisticated flavours and can work well in lots of different beer styles; numerous have historical validity too. You can find them in ethnic supermarkets stores.

Sugar can also be added to the boil kettle. To aviod scorching, ensure it is well dissolved before applying a lot of heat.

These sugars provide a range of rich, complex flavours that can make great additions to many beers, particularly strong ones in which sugar can improve drinkability.

Making Your Own Caramel

Caramelized sugar contributes rich flavours to beer which are a different from any kind of malt, like all sugars, they thin out the beer, which is particularly useful in the stronger beers. They are most linked with Belgian traditions and are utilised in lots of famous beers includng as Rochefort and LaChouffe. It can be creatd at home without too much trouble.

Due to its biochemical and electrical qualities, caramel cooperates well with other ingredients. There are four forms of sugar used in food stuffs with different pH, alcohol, sulfites, and other ingredients. Class III is the one which is stable in beer.

This may sound quite technical, but I assure you that the process is pretty straightforward. First, you have to invert the sugar, breaking up the sucrose into its glucose and fructose elements. To achieve this, add 455g of cane sugar and 475ml of water into a heavy saucepan, along with 0.5g of citric acid. Cook on a medium/high heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the ingredients and allow the mixture to warm. Boil for 20 minutes, this will split the sugar. Next, add 7 g of ammonium carbonate, which can be found in Middle Eastern supermarkets. If you cannot locate any, diammonium phosphate (sold as yeast nutrient) does do the job just as well. Once the water has boiled away, the temperature will increase and the sugar will start to darken. This is the business end of the process; caramelisation can be very swift once it’s begun. You can assess the flavour as you go by placing tiny drops of it onto a sheet of aluminium foil, where they cool quickly. It’s important to assess your caramel by flavour and colour.

Once you’re happy with the caramel, turn off the heat and cautiously (watch out for steam and splashing) stir in water to transform the consistency back to that of honey. This consistency is easier to use for brewing, the caramel will keep in the fridge for many months.


The practice of adding honey to fermented beverages certainly predates beer. Washing the sugars off of honeycombs produces a dilute solution that our ancestors would have been unable to avoid fermenting, and so the first mead was made.

Structurally, honey is a mixture of different sugars in water, usually around 18 percent water to 80 percent sugars, with the remaining 2 percent taken up by enzymes, minerals, amino acids and some bacteria and wild yeast. 455g of honey added to a 19-L batch will provide between 1.0070 and 1.0075 (1.7 to 1.8)°Plato.

Honey is extremely fermentable, consequently, honey beers can have particularly low finishing gravities and high attenuation, producing a light beer. If you want to add honey flavours to your brew, alter the remainder of the beer recipe, making it richer and underattenuated, this can be achieved a few different ways, by adding more crystal malt than normal does the job by balancing out the thinning effect provided by the honey.

Similar to sugar, honey can merely be added to the kettle, however, due to its delicate aromatic nature, there are better ways of utilising honey. Boiling dampens and removes honey aromatics; the energetic escape of CO2 gas in fermentation take away even more, resulting in very little benefit from a particularly expensive ingredient. The majority of mead experts believe that boiling, or even pasteurizing at lower temperatures, is unnecessary. It’s not completely sterile, but the bacteria in honey are designed to live in honey, not beer and so rarely survive.

In measures of 20 percent or lower, honey presents no threats, but at higher amounts, brewers need to keep a few things in mind. Firstly, honey holds a very small amount of the free amino nitrogen required for yeast health. There is no definite boundary where adding yeast nutrition is required, but when you reach 30% I’d advise you use some yeast nutrition. Honey has an enzyme known as glucose oxidase which splits up sugar molecules and causes the release of small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, which can damage the yeast and cause problems for fermentation.

The other thing to keep in mind about honey is that yeast essentially prefers honey’s glucose to the maltose sugar extracted from the malt. As a result, if the yeast grows and matures in a situation where simple sugars teem, then the enzymes required to ferment maltose aren’t developed. This is often a problem if you’re using honey or sugar at or above 20%. The way around this is to begin the wort fermenting without honey, and then insert into the wort once the primary fermentation has slowed. This guarantees sufficient fermentation of the maltose. The aroma produced from this technique is brilliant too. Honey’s flavour echoes the flowers from which the bees obtain the nectar, as a result there is a massive variation in the results from the use of different types of honey. Some are exotic; whilst others such as clover honey, are what you’d expect. Some honeys such orange blossom, possess the aromas of the flowers and plants and pass this onto the completed beer. The brewer should try to be match the correct honey to the recipe, using the honey correctly can add amazing character to a beer.

Below is some basic information on some different honeys, used by brewers.

Acacia – Originates from the black locust, low acid levels and very pale

Chestnut – Deep, and rich with a large mineral content

Clover – Very common, but coarse and harse, with grassy tones

Cranberry – Bright with fruity flavours

Fireweed – Subtle yet fruity. Pear-like notes

Heather – Dark and jelly-like, with rich toffee flavours and a smoky profile

Leatherwood – Strong and floral, with a piney characteristic

Macadamia – Buttery with caramel creaminess

Orange Blossom – Formed from mixed citrus; powerful and floral, rather perfumy

Thyme – Resinous, herbal, spicy/peppery