Monday 1 June 2009

Refined sugar vs invert sugar

This is a good one. I've seen it argued by homebrewers that brewing sugars are a waste of money. The line of reasoning goes that you may as well use table sugar as this will be inverted in the wort by invertase excreted by the yeast. Sounds reasonable enough.

But hang on a minute. Why the hell do breweries use invert brewing sugar if it's just the same as cheap refined sugar? Isn't sugar just sugar?

No, it isn't. Brewing sugar isn't just inverted refined sugar. It's inverted raw cane sugar. This contains more than just sucrose. And it's these "impurities" that provide the flavours brewers are looking for.

"Invert sugar made from refined sugar lacks the lusciousness and other characteristics desirable in a brewing sugar, so that raw cane sugars are generally used. In addition to invert sugar, uninverted saccharose and water, therefore, commercial invert contains from 0.2 to 0.7% of albuminoids, from 3 to 6% of unfermentable organic matter and from i to 3.5% of mineral matter, the latter being partly derived from the raw material and partly introduced as calcium carbonate to neutralise the acid used in effecting hydrolysis. Sulphuric acid is generally employed as hydrolyst because the comparative insolubility of calcium sulphate makes it possible to eliminate most of the mineral matter introduced for the purpose of neutralisation.

Raw beet sugar could not be used for the production of brewers' invert, on account of the objectionable flavour of the secondary constituents. No such objection would attach to the use of hightly refined beet sugar, but highly refined sugars are not used for the reasons already stated. Occasionally invert sugar is made from a mixture of raw cane sugar and high- grade raw beet sugars (first runnings) and the origin of such invert sugar is not readily detected by the palate or nose. It is, however, desirable to exclude it from the brewery, and this can usually be done by limiting the permissible percentage of albuminoids, which is higher in beet than in cane products. Brewers' invert is supplied in three grades, and it is reasonable to require them to contain less than the following percentages of albuminoids: No. I, 0.3%; No. II, 0.5%; and No. Ill, 0.75%. A good No. Ill will comply with the standard here set up for No. I, so that the above limits cannot be unduly stringent."
"Allen's commerical organic analysis", 1917, pages 7-8.

Inverting the stuff you buy in the supermarket to sweeten your tea won't give you brewing sugar. You need to start with a less refined sugar. Something like demerera sugar, I guess.


MentalDental said...

Interesting stuff.

Certainly Ragus' No 1 Invert sugar has a quite pronounced taste. A blend of golden syrup (unsurprisingly) and honey. It certainly adds more flavour than sucrose.

Ron, when I spoke to the nice people at Ragus, after consultation with "Fred" who is one of these figures who has been with the company forever, they believe that their No 1 is identical with Martineau No 1, which seems to appear in the Whitbread logs quite often.

Ron Pattinson said...

It doesn't surprise me that Ragus' No.1 invert sugar is basically the same as Martineau's. All four standard brewing sugars appear to have had a standard composition. You see different manufacturer's sugars used interchangeably.

Tim said...

Interesting that they claim beet sugar to be unacceptable. Dark Candi, Inc sells brewing sugars made from just that and I've had excellent results brewing Belgian inspired beers with their syrup. But at $9 per 1.5 lb I would still argue that its a waste of money even though I've been underwhelmed by homemade invert sugar from refined sugar. I will have to try using raw sugar and beet sugar.

Sugar is a great topic, keep it up.

Matt said...

Golden syrup = brewing sugar #1.
I think I can source golden syrup here in the States.

Any idea as to an equivalent for #3or most imporantly #3.

Alan said...

That is why when I was brewing I always used honey for this function as it is invert with all sorts of other interesting properties. Never enough to make the beer a braggot so much as to get the other effects.

MentalDental said...


Golden syrup in partially inverted cane sugar and Brewer's number 1 is fully inverted. The specs can be found on the Ragus web site ( Tate and Lyle's Golden Syrup is a product owed by Ragus, I think, so they should know.

Getting hold of Brewer's sugar is difficult in the UK too but golden syrup is a reasonable substitute. They have similar flavours but to my taste there is an additional honey taste in the brewer's sugar.

Mark Wooleridge said...


I would agree. Many of the clear brewing syrups do in fact result in a honey-like flavor in light Belgian ales like Golden Strong and Triples. In the States there is now Candi Syrup, Inc. (arguably a much superior brewing syrup to Dark Candi products, at least based on BJCP awards won to date and their reputation in the US among craft and home brewers).

Mark Woolleridge

Andrew Elliott said...

I just stirred up a hornet's nest in my club asking about beet sugars. I meant to search your blog later but the argument became heated :)

Local Pro Eric Warner (wrote the Hefeweizen book) made a statement at the recent Dixie Cup competition to the effect that table sugar and Belgian Candi is the same stuff. After research into the sugar processing methods, it seems he is very correct. The difference in the British brewing sugars is the use of unbleached cane sugar. Love the impurities!

You kick butt Ron, and you've made an indelible impression on me, such that now your blog is one of the first resources I go to for research. Thanks for all of your hard work!

Unknown said...

Hi, is there a reason why so many of the old recipes used invert sugar as opposed to another source (eg as opposed to just more malt?). I'm trying to understand why it used to be common practice - so many of the recipes in the lets brew sessions seem to use it. I presume it must have been cutting down on the use of costly malt? I wonder if people nowadays would like the idea of syrup in their beer (i guess people are used to seeing honey beers), so how faithful a modern version of say an AK would be if the invert sugar was replaced with malt.

Ron Pattinson said...


sugar wasn't used because it was cheaper than malt. It wasn't always. The fact that several different sugars might be used in one beer make it clear that economy wasn't the only reason. If it had been, they would just have used the cheapest form of sugar.

Using all malt, you won't get the same flavour. Brewing invert sugar has a surprisingly complex flavour.

There are plenty of beer today with sugar syrup in them. Where do you think the colour comes from in dark Abbey and Trappist beers?

Unknown said...

Thanks Ron, I guess I was thinking about typical UK beers and the bitters/pale ales - I asked the question as I saw the use of syrup in a low abv AK beer (the Russells 1911), so it struck me as odd that that would work - I can see how it works in heavier Belgian beers. Perhaps it is wide spread in the UK and i just don't realise! I'd assumed it was a practice that had fallen out of favour here. I've just read one of your posts that mentions it was actually used to keep the body light (whereas intuitively I was expecting it to make a beer richer - but as you've said, that's really a feature of flavour, as opposed to body). I'll have to try brewing with it - thanks anyway for all the info.

Kevin said...

I know it's been four years since the last comment, but for the archive ...

An article was published in the August 1922 edition of The Journal of The Institute of Brewing on the subject of invert sugar. The author was, even at that time, speculating as to why invert sugar was preferred over raw or refined sugar.

The most promising theory suggested that it was not the impurities in the sugar per se, but rather the effect of the excess acid required to invert the sugar in the presence of those impurities. This had the side effect of producing a range of unfermentable compounds - including sugars, caramels and malliard products. This is supported by Briggs (Malts and Malting, p560) which suggests Type1 Invert is typically 95% fermentable and Type3 is typically 91% fermentable.

The upshot of all this is that brewer's invert will have the effect of adding non-fermentable sugars (and their derivatives) to the beer, whereas pure invert sugar will have the opposite effect of diluting those non-fermentables.