Friday, 29 May 2009

Brewing sugar again

It's sugar week here at Barclay Perkins. A bit weird, coming from someone who hasn't eaten any for almost 40 years. But here I am, doing my bit to restore brewing sugar to its rightful place. Right at the heart of British brewing.

For many years, I shared the general prejudice against the use of sugar. Why? Because I didn't know any better. As I've learned more about brewing, it's become clear that sugar isn't some nasty, cheap ingredient, but a valuable weapon in the brewer's arsenal.

Yet sugar's role in British brewing has largely been ignored or glossed over. Homebrew recipes for British styles are usually all malt, despite very few commercial beers being made that way. Why is that? Is it just some subliminal effect of the Reinheitsgebot that has turned homebrewers against sugar? And surely the Brewers' Association's definition of a traditional brewer doesn't help:

"A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of it’s volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor."

Time for a table. One that shows the steady presence of suger in postwar British brewing:

Around 15% was the average amount of sugar in grists. That's very similar to what I've seen in brewing records. It must be true.

Now where can I find out more about the composition of proprietary brewing sugars?


Tandleman said...

I'm sure that these nice people will tell you all you need to know.

PS. No sugar for 40 years? You don't eat anything then?Or drink anything?

Anonymous said...

I don't know where you can find those informations, but I really hope you can get your hand on them. It's curious, the same situation was also true for belgian beer. Homebrewers would brew Double, Tripel or other types without anything else than malt, but in Belgium, the high gravity darker type are always brewed using Dark Candi Sugar (syrup) as coloring and flavouring agent, it why the are so flavorful but light on the palate nonetheless.

Ron Pattinson said...

No refined sugar. It's easy enough to avoid.

Barm said...

I think the homebrewers' aversion to sugar is due to so many of them having started with kits that involved adding a kilogram of Tate & Lyle to the wort and made by all accounts pretty horrible beer.

Bill in Oregon said...

Great table for us table geeks.

I hope you can find out more about the proprietary sugars as well. I'm curious what the darker products from older brands like Garton's were like. I'm also curious if some of these darker sugars fermented out as completely as things like dextrose or invert syrups.

Gary Gillman said...

Excellent recent article by brewing technical consultant Daniel Cooper which should answer a lot of questions:

Mike said...

I am one of those home brewers who shied away from sugar after making a couple of Boot's beer kits. I used to replace the sugar with LME. Sometimes it worked other times the end result was a really chewy beer.

Just to digress slightly, being a Brit I know what a cwt. is, but I wonder if our American cousins and our Euro neighbors who are metricated do? I don't know if you covered this before so; cwt is shorthand for hundred weight; it refers to a measure of 112lbs, which is one twentieth of a ton (2240lbs.)

Bill in Oregon said...

Gary, that's a really informative article. The bit about sugar being used to reduce nitrogen levels is interesting. Yes, yeast need free amino nitrogen (FAN), but if the FAN levels are too high it leads to fusel alcohols and potential microbial instability in the finished beers. So adding sugar can help reduce fusel alcohol and increase shelf stability. It makes sense but I never thought about it. Nor did I think about how sugar is a much more consistent product than malt, so using sugar allows the brewer more control over keeping the beer consistent from year to year.

It really explains why a brewer would pay a premium (as Ron discovered) to use sugar.

Ted Danyluk said...

I've been led to your site and I'm glad. Very nice.

I've always wondered why my British influenced ales weren't coming out right. Then after introducing a little sugar, they are beginning to take shape. I'll be paying more attention to this special ingredient in the future.