Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Brewing sugar

They were very concerned about costs during WW I. That's great for me, because the price of each ingredient is right there in the brewing logs.

That's how I noticed something counterintuitive. That sugar was sometimes more expensive than malt. Brewers weren't necessarily being cheapskates when they used a proportion of sugar in their grists.

Here's an example. This is a PA brewed by Whitbread on February 2nd 1917:

72 quarters malt total cost 4,574/-, cost per quarter 65.34/-
20 quarters No. 1 invert sugar cost 1,496/-, cost per quarter* 68/-

This Mild brewed June 7th 1918 is more extreme:

140 quarters malt total cost 12,250/-, cost per quarter 87.5/-
33 quarters No. 3 invert sugar cost 4,059/-, cost per quarter 123/-

Caramel was an even crazier price: 140/- per quarter

I've got a question for you home brewers. Do any of you ever use sugar in British-style beers? And if so, what type of sugar? Is it possible to buy proper brewing invert sugar?

I ask this because it seems that sugar was a vital part of all the recipes from 1880 to 1960 that I've seen. Especially darker beers. Mild was always coloured by No. 3 invert sugar and/or caramel. It's rare to see any dark malts in the the grist. I'm wondering how possible it is to make certain styles authentically without the right sugar.

*I'm taking 224 pounds of sugar as being the equivalent of a quarter of malt.


Oblivious said...

Tate & Lyle golden syrup is used, but since yeast have invertase table sugar can be substituted.

As far as I am aware Ragus don't sell to homebrewers so there is limiter access to the brewing syrups and sugars.

Carmel is commonely available and now Belgian candy syrup is been used by home brewers

Bill said...

I made an invert sugar by boiling plain table sugar, a small bit of water and cream of tartar until it became mahogany color. Used it in a mild. I also have used brown sugar but don't find it as tasty.

MentalDental said...

Ah Ron,

Due to your evil influence and, in particular, the Whitbread 1923 PA I have sourced some brewers sugar.

When I brewed the PA I used golden syrup because that's all I had. Since then I have spoken to Ragus (very helpful people). As Oblivious says they do not sell to homebrewers although their distributor will (but there is a one off joining fee of £100 because they are some weird co-operative). The invert No 1 costs about £26 per 25kg. Delivery free!

Anyway, Ragus have supplied me with a 25kg paid-for "sample" of invert No 1 (not delivery free :-( )and I will be using this in some upcoming recipes. That 1923 PA again for sure. I will report back.

I split the 25kg sample with a member of my homebrew club which helped reduce the cost.

If their are any home brewers in the UK who would like some to try at cost (£1.68 kg exc postage) please feel free to contact me. I am in Wiltshire so, if you are local, we could arrange to avoid postage costs.

It has a distinct taste, certainly similar to golden syrup but with honey-ish undertones.

The Professor said...

I haven't had access to specificaly brewing sugars, but I have used sugars in the brewing of some British style beers. I have used Tate & Lyles Golden Syrup, as well as some demerara and/or turbinado sugars, as well as the occasional dose of Bre'r Rabbit Molasses or Tate & Lyles Black Treacle.

I do try to keep the quantities of these sugars down in favor of malt, but the sugars do add good character to some beers. None have resulted in too-thin body or introduced any off-flavors in the quantities I use.

Many home brewers I know are dead against using sugar and grain adjuncts (some are almost militant about it), however when used correctly, I feel that these ingredients do have a place in quality brewing.

Matt said...

I would love to try proper brewing sugars but I don't find them here in the States.

I would love to get my hands on No. 3 invert sugar. I want to see what it does in a mild. I have always wondered if there was a reason that it seemed so popular in making commerical milds in the UK.

My milds never seem quite right.

alastair wallace said...

Bee Candy used by beekeepers is basically No1 Invert Sugar. Most beekeeing suppliers have it in stock in all sorts of wights & volumes. Google "Thornes" or "National Bee Supplies" or their websites for more info.

Bill in Oregon said...

In English style beers, I've used some unrefined sugars like demarrara and jaggery and have also tried making invert sugar in various color grades. I've also made caramel syrups in different shades using dextrose. Personally I like the flavors that they add, althoug I've had some judges in competitions complain that the flavor is objectionable to modern drinkers (apparently I'm not a modern drinker).

I think the flavors from different types of sugar or homemade invert sugar and caramel are great and you can't get them from malt alone. Homebrewers who don't use sugar are missing the boat but there's still a lot of anti-sugar sentiment in the homebrewing community because people like Charlie Papazian have said it adds cidery flavors, but I've never found that to be the case if you have plenty of healthy yeast. It's more homebrewing pseudo-science that gets passed around as fact.

Interestingly, Papazian, when pushed, couldn't site a source for his opinion, but said he recalled reading it when doing "research." I've never found anything to support it, and its heavy use in English brewing would seem to discredit Papazian.

MentalDental said...

Hey! Bill in Oregon.

"Charlie Papazian have said it adds cidery flavors, but I've never found that to be the case if you have plenty of healthy yeast. It's more homebrewing pseudo-science that gets passed around as fact."

There is plenty of pseudo-science in homebrewing, like so many areas!

The "cidery" taste would probably be acetaldehyde. This is produced by yeast during fermetation but subsequently metabolished to ethanol (usually) or acetic acid (hopefully not), again by yeast. It is usually present in objectionable levels if:
1. The beer is inmature (and hence the yeast hasn't had enough time to remove the acetaldehyde.
2. The yeast is removed, by various actions, from the beer too early with much the same effect.
3. Bacterial infection.

I am sure the connection with sugar in beer goes back to the bad old days of poorly designed kits using lots of sugar with useless yeast and worse instructions. And perhaps with some bacterial infection, just for fun.

As you say, it's all about yeast management. Get that right and your beer will taste like beer, not cider. Unless you get a bacterial infection, of course.

And yes, I can cite my reference:

Brewing Science and Practice; Briggs, Boulton, Brookes, & Stevens; Woodhead Publishing Ltd; Cambridge UK; 2004

Ron Pattinson said...

I've really enjoyed this discussion. I used to think that using sugar was a cheap and nasty way of brewing. But the more I've read, the more I've seen the place of sugar, particularly in British brewing.

In many of the older recipes the sugar bill is much more complicated than the malt bill. I can't believe that they used 3 or 4 types of sugar without good reason.

Yet looking at homebrew recipes for British styles, they're usually 100% malt. It can't be possible to produce beers like most commercially-brewed UK examples, which almost universally use sugar. Homebrew Mild recipes seem to prefer chocolate malt for colour, but I don't think I've ever seen a log that included it. Invert No.3 was the standard way of making Mild dark.

Though I can understand why it's difficult to use invert sugars, if they aren't usually available to homebrewers. Do any commercial US breweries use invert sugar?

MentalDental said...

Ron wrote: "Yet looking at homebrew recipes for British styles, they're usually 100% malt. It can't be possible to produce beers like most commercially-brewed UK examples, which almost universally use sugar."

I think there are several reasons why the use of sugar is seen as "not proper".

1. The influence of CAMRA, especially from those early year when they were very vociferous about the nefarious activities of commercial brewers, especially the use of adjuncts which they considered to be wrong, wrong, wrong...
2. The Free Mash Tun Act, or rather the negative comment that ensued from it about the use of just about anything you can imagine as an adjunct. I get the impression that brewers got quite defensive about the contents of their mash tun at this time and I believe that attitude has continued ever since.
3. Various books ( eg The Real Ale Almanac)published with clone recipes for commercial UK beers tended to exclude the adjuncts (usually because the brewer would not admit to them) which gave the impression that most commercials beers were all malt.
4. The view, amongst some sections of the beer drinking public that anything other than malt, hops, and water put into their beer must be an example of the Brewers Watering the Drinker's Beer, the bastards!

And I'm sorry Bill, no references this time, just good old blinkered opinion. :-))

Oblivious said...

For those interested Basic brewing have an interesting videocast and podcast about making Proper Belgian candy syrup.


Bill in Oregon said...

Ron, not only do homebrew recipes use chocolate malt for color, but a lot of (most?) homebrewers in the US consider the chocolate malt part of the profile. (There is that dreadful part of the BJCP that says that many milds are like low alcohol brown porters.)

With this kind of style drift, I wouldn't be surprised to see American Mild and English Mild as new categories at the Great American Beer Festival. The American would require chocolate malt and the English would require dark sugar. And then all the Americans would bitch about the English Milds and say they weren't to style. Uggh, here we go again....

Ron Pattinson said...

MentalDental, some valid points there. Funny, isn't it, the bias against sugar.