Do You Need Sugar To Brew Beer?

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Homebrewing can be fun, experimental and a rich learning process for all. And while it can be all these things, making slight changes can either make or break a batch. This is where sugar comes in. Let’s discuss the sugar myths in terms of brewing, shall we?.

Do you need sugar to brew beer? It depends. If you’re using sugar for brewing it can be due to two main reasons:

  1. It was planned for the specific recipe you’re working on.
  2. Utilizing it as a stopping measure to recover from an incorrect gravity reading in your all-grain recipe.

If you’re already asking questions in your head, read on to find out more about sugar and brewing beer.

Read Also: Does More Sugar Mean More Alcohol?

Adding Sugar to your Homebrew Recipe: Why & When

As mentioned before, using sugar in your beer recipe can be due to two things. Either you’ve been planning on adding sugar to your particular recipe or you’ve just gotten a poor gravity reading on your all-grains recipe, therefore, you’re using it as a stopgap measure.

Let’s analyze this in detail:

Adding Sugar as Means of Solving a Gravity Reading

If you’ve never this happen before, it may be time to take out your recipe notepad and take note.

It’s important to point out that adding sugar as a solution to a problematic brew can save your batch or completely ruin it. Adding one or two pounds of sugar to the finished product after getting the wanted gravity reading may just be what your recipe needs, and that’s totally fine.

However, there is so much more to sugar additions in beer. Let’s take a look:

If your brew is headed the wrong way, no worries. There can be various reasons for the mashing process to go wrong. Maybe, you’re aiming for a gravity reading of 1.048 but getting 1.038.

And guess what? Adding sugar to salvage can be a cheap trick to avoid bad efficiency in the brewhouse. Therefore, adding sugar (corn sugar is best for these cases) is a practical way to raise gravity-read sugar to where you need it to be.

Depending on how many points you need to raise is the quantity of sugar you need to add.

Usually, a 10 point rise is expected from every pound of corn sugar. In alcohol percentage, that translates to 1% in alcohol per five-gallon batch.

We made an entire post about the impact of sugar on alcohol content. If you want to know more about it, get all the details here.

Disadvantages of Adding Sugar to your Beer

Ok, so you’ve added sugar to salvage your recipe or maybe were planning it all along. What could go wrong? Let’s take a look at a few risks:

  • Every ounce of corn sugar added to your recipe thins beer out.
  • It will raise the alcohol percentage.
  • May or may not add body or flavor to the end product.
  • Adding sugar can throw the recipe out of balance in terms of mouthfeel, hop profile and flavor.
  • Adding too much might lead to an unsatisfactory product.

Sure, you guide your beer towards your desired starting gravity and ABV, however, its best that it doesn’t get out of hand. In some cases, in which sugar additions have gone out of control, the final product gained a cider-like characteristic. Due to this, it is not recommended that you add more than one pound.

Of course, this is not to be too rigorous, you will need to run your fair share of tests in order to figure out your desired recipe.

How to Plan Sugar Additions to your Recipe

Adding sugar to a recipe that needs sugar is one of the most appropriate reasons to take this step in your homebrew recipe. 

In this case, what will change is the specific flavor you are aiming for. This will not only determine how much sugar you need but also, the type of sugar.

For example, corn sugar can be used to thin out beer intentionally. IPAs, are thinned out with sugar. 

This is where you’re seeking a gravity of 1.010 or slightly lower. Other examples are the Belgian Ales, however, these require more complex additions of sugar. For instance, Belgian Candi sugar can be added to create an interesting new flavor profile to your beer.

Too much information? Let’s take a look at some sugar options to clarify.

Sugar Options for Adding to Your Beer Recipe

Other than the traditional corn sugar, there are other sugar types you can implement in your recipes. There are hefty sugars that will create desirable unfermentable flavor profiles that create a unique brew - this is only an example.

Let’s take a look at a few other examples:

  • Brown Sugar: Brown sugar is basically regular sugar with some molasses in it. This creates a rum-like flavor profile and adds sweetness.
  • Sugar in the Raw: This sugar type is more complex than the one on your table, however, if you find that using brown sugar is too overwhelming, this is your next best choice.
  • Belgian Candi Sugar: You can get many different types of Belgian syrups and sugars. Each will add its own uniqueness to the brew, from caramel, plum, toffee, bread, and other flavors.
  • Honey: Honey is versatile. Depending on the type of honey, you can gain a floral and bright flavor and sometimes even a citrusy profile. You can definitely use honey to shift the profile of your end product, however, it will ferment much slower.
  • Molasses: You can use molasses as well. It is a dark and sturdy byproduct of the sugar refining process. It creates stronger flavor profiles.
  • Treacle: This is a special dark molasse which is even darker and richer. It works best in black ales and stouts.
  • Malt Sugars: Malt sugars are created through the malting process and they work pretty nice in beers. The majority of beers and most strong alcoholic beverages are malt sugar dependant.
  • Maple Syrup & Sugar: Maple sugar derives from the maple tree’s sap and is boiled to concentrate. With about thirty-five to forty gallons of sap, one gallon of syrup can be produced. Maple syrups have been found to work exceptionally well in wheat beers, porters, and blond ales, as well as many others, so try it if you’re curious!
  • Golden Syrup: Golden syrup is made by processing cane sugar in order to break the sugar molecules bonds and allowing a better fermentation. It works well for strong ales, due to the additional fermentable and won’t shift the flavor or color too much.

There are other sugars you can add such as date sugars, fruit sugars, and coconut sugar, however, their use has not been widespread in brewing. Nevertheless, I always like to encourage homebrewers to be curios and get creative with their homebrewing. If you are curious about a certain sugar and how it works, you should definitely try it.

Nevertheless, it’s important that you keep something in mind: Go easy. You don’t want to brew with the wrong sugar too much. One thing’s for sure is that high amounts of fermentable sugars like corn or rice can lead to lousy flavor profiles. Also, it’s a fact that strong sugars like treacle and molasses will overwhelm other flavor profiles in the brew, you don’t want that (or maybe you do).

On the other hand, maple and honey can take longer to ferment resulting in a gooey & sweet beer as well as over carbonation. It’s smart to be cautious but not too rigorous.

When to Add Sugar to Your Beer

Adding sugar is safe during any step of the process. However, if you add in your sugar late, this can turn out very beneficial.

Let me explain more in detail.

First and foremost, yeast gets “lazy” if you offer it simple sugars right off the bat. It will start the fermentation process slower or too early, due to having to convert complex sugars in quantity. To avoid this, add sugar a couple of days after the first fermentation.

If you’ve chosen to add sugar with aroma and flavor, such as honey or Belgian Candi, the initial lot of the primary fermentation will send a lot of enticing aromas out of the beer. 

It’s best if you add them after the first portion of fermentation in order to keep them in your beer while allowing the yeast to act on them still.

TIP: Get creative and experiment with different types of sugar additions and timing. The best way to start testing out sugars is to divide beer into separate fermenters and adding different sugar quantities and types.

Keep your notepad closeby and control each batch closely. This way, you can taste your beer as you go and note any differences or changes for next time.

If this turns out to be successful, you’ll not only have a delicious beer to drink but also gain perspective and an understanding of how each sugar acts in your beer.

Do you want to know more about the use of sugar on beer brewing? Check out this article about priming sugar and get some inspiration.

Final Thoughts

Hey, adding sugar to your homebrew is so much more than just a solution to your gravity reading or ABV. It’s OK to have some fun with your additives. This is why you’re brewing at home in the first place, isn’t it?

However, if you’re eager to try new sugars but still a bit insecure, it might be best to start with brewing sugars instead.

At the end of the day, homebrewing is really just about experimenting and finding new flavor profiles unexpectedly. What you can expect, though, are mistakes and corrections. If you are really passionate about this craft, you’ll learn from your mistakes and end up sharing some excellent brewing tips (as well as some delicious beer) with all your friends and family. Good luck!

Read Also: What Is The Easiest Type Of Beer To Brew?

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