How is sugar used in brewing?

Jul 25 2019

You can’t brew without sugar, so what exactly is its role when producing ales, lagers, porters and stouts?

No alcohol without sugar

When making a drink such as an ale, lager, porter or stout, the basic principle is to extract the sugars from grains (typically barley or malt) that yeast can then turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). To achieve this, grains are first malted (dried out and then heated) before then going through a process called mashing (like porridge), in which they are steeped in very hot but not boiling water in order to activate the enzyme that releases its sugars. After this, the resulting sugar-rich water, known as wort, is drained, boiled and hops are added for flavour.

The next stage in the process is where sugar plays its vital part. Once the wort has been strained and filtered, the brewing is complete, and fermentation can begin. To kickstart this, yeast is added to the wort, after which it feeds on the sugar present, producing CO2 and alcohol in the process. Depending on the desired end product, the wort is now left for a set number of weeks at a specific temperature, before it is bottled, aged and ready to be sold as an ale, lager, ale, stout or porter.

The above can be carried out either by relying on the sugar naturally present in the mashed grain or by adding the sugar as an adjunct directly after the mashing process. There was once a time when the majority of malt beers, those produced without any added adjunct sugar, were seen as a superior product, with the use of any external sugar seen as solely the preserve of large scale commercial brewers. Not only has this stance softened, but it ignores the fact that sugar has been used in brewing for centuries and adds colour and flavour as well as speeding up fermentation.

Brewing sugar is essential to ensuring beers of all styles have the perfect taste and colour and ferment at the correct rate.

What is brewing sugar?

In theory, any sugar can be used in brewing. However, for a superior end product that is rich in both the desired colour and flavour and fermentabilities, we always recommend using a brewing sugar. At Ragus Sugars, these are custom formulated to match our clients’ requirements, meaning that we can offer sugars to suit a wide variety of beer styles.

The main difference between a specifically formulated brewing sugar and ordinary household sugar (sucrose) is that the former is mono-saccharide (one molecule of glucose) while the latter is di-saccharide (a pair of glucose modules). Due to this, brewing sugar causes fermentation to start much quicker and leaves a clearer liquid at the end. As well as this, something like sucrose would have to be split by the yeast before it can begin to feed and ferment, often leaving bi-products and impurities that can give the final brewed product a bitter taste and unappealing appearance.

We offer three main brewing sugars at Ragus Sugars (brewer’s sugars no.1,2 or 3), each of which can be offered as either a fully inverted syrup or seeded into a crystalline block. They are all 95% readily fermentable and have the following colours, as certified using the European Brewery Convention: 25-35 EBC; 60-70 EBC; 120-140 EBC. In addition, we also produce candy and glucose chip blocks. As a result, we can cover all styles of colours and flavours.

As we have seen, sugar is a vital component to ensuring both a highly accurate brewing process and high-quality end products. Order your brewing sugar now using our product finder to benefit from Ragus Sugars’ decades of expertise.

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EU sugar production quotas: a free-for-all in freefall

Jul 04 2019

The removal of EU sugar production quotas two years ago has radically altered the face of the global sugar market. Here we explore what caused this and if anything can be done to reverse the current trend. 

How did the quota system work?

Production quotas for sugar were first introduced in 1968 as part of the rules for the sugar common market organisation (CMO) along with support prices for producers at a level considerably above that of the world market. Through measures such as the recently implemented Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Europe was aiming to become self-sufficient for food production. Support prices and quotas were identified as the ideal incentive to ensure the CAP achieved this goal.

The total production quota was 13.5 million tonnes each year, with this being divided across 20 member states. Any production outside of this was deemed as “out-of-quota” sugar and subject to strict rules regarding its use. It could be exported up to the 1.3 million tonne limit the EU had agreed with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), sold for non-food uses, or placed into storage to be counted against the following year’s quota.

If there was too little sugar on the market, enough was added to meet the quota; too much, and the quota had been surpassed, sugar was removed. Bringing an end to this system meant that were no limits on the amount of sugar that could be produced or exported. At the time, the European Commission (EC) said this would create a situation in which exports could better adjust to the market price both inside and outside the EU.

EU sugar production quotas gave producers security and kept prices stable. Ever since their removal in 2017, prices have crashed to nearly record lows.

What happened after the quotas were removed?

The situation that has developed in the post-quota sugar market has been a far cry from the EC’s contemporary optimism. Production quotas acted as a cocoon, allowing producers within the EU to operate in an artificial market that was sheltered from the highs and lows of the global sugar market. Once exposed to this fiercely competitive environment, prices and profits almost immediately fell off a cliff and excess sugar began to pile up across Europe, reaching an initial 11.5 million tonnes and soaring ever since.

Less than a year after the quotas were removed, Südzucker, the EU’s largest sugar producer, announced an operating loss of between 100-200 million euros. Removed from a quota-based haven, EU sugar prices were forced to rapidly fall in line with those of the global market, meaning that only a few months after the removal of production quotas white sugar fell to 374 euros a tonne, its lowest price since 2006. As a result, a spokesperson for Nordzucker, the EU’s second largest producer, claimed that “at the current price level, there is hardly a sugar company in Europe that can still produce break-even.”

What made removing the quotas even worse for the EU sugar market was that it coincided with a consumer trend away from sugar being used in food and drinks. Per capita sugar consumption had already been falling for decades and measures such as the UK’s sugar tax merely exacerbated the situation, leading to sugar, wholly unjustifiably, being regarded in almost the same light as tobacco. Only developing countries demonstrated an increase in demand, but, as they already benefitted from cheap sugar prices, this was of little solace to the EU sugar industry.

Having been so instrumental in wanting the production quotas removed, the EC needed to step in and rectify what was rapidly spiraling from a continent-wide to a global crisis. They did not, with prices tumbling and production surpluses continue to pile up even as we speak.

What is the present-day outlook for the EU sugar industry?

Earlier this year, Cristal Union, France’s second largest sugar group, claimed the removal of the production quotas brought about a sudden end to a golden age for the sector. Speaking at the Dubai Sugar Conference, the company’s CEO, Alain Commissaire, said he believes that prices are set to recover, but will never again match those experienced while the quotas were in place. Moreover, Cristal Union recently announced the closure of a further 15 facilities across the EU.

Falling prices have also caused European producers to reduce their beet planting areas every year since the removal of the quotas. Assuming an average yield, EU sugar production for 2019/20 is set to fall to around 18 million tonnes, three million tonnes down from the output in 2017/18, the first season after the quotas were abolished. As well as this, some producers are even turning away from sugar beet altogether and instead relying on more profitable crops that can better support their livelihoods.

The devastating impact of the decision to remove the production quotas is plain to see. Decades of industry has been plunged into a crisis that has no end in sight and could well deepen before it improves. What’s worse from a Ragus Pure Sugars and UK point of view is that the unresolved Brexit situation adds another layer of uncertainty to a market that is still trying to work out its new place in the world.

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Granular detail: golden syrup

Jun 21 2019

Golden syrup is fundamental to a huge variety of foodstuffs across the globe. Here we look at its link to Ragus’ history and what exactly it takes to produce the famous golden elixir.

What is the history of the golden elixir?

Golden syrup’s journey into becoming one of the most easily recognisable and loved sugar products throughout the world begins with Ragus Sugars’ founder Charles Eastick. Spurred on the by the rapidly increasing ubiquity of sugar in British life, he, along with his brothers John Joseph and Samuel, established a sugar analysis practice in 1880. Initially, this was designed to assist with accurate pricing and duty payments, but an importing crisis in 1883 forced the brothers to experiment with turning the molasses-brown treacle-like by-product of the sugar refining process into a palatable product.

As a result, Charles devised the formulation for golden syrup. First sold in its now iconic metal tins just two years later, it has since been officially recognised as the world’s oldest branded product. Having made this breakthrough, Charles would then go on to develop unique methods for making brewers’ saccharum and other inverted sugars.

Fast forward to the 1920s, and it was the identification of another gap in the UK’s sugar market that would lead to the foundation of the Ragus Sugars. During this decade, very small amounts of specialised sugars were being imported into Britain, largely due to it being economically unviable for the larger manufacturers to produce these themselves. Having noticed this, Charles set up a factory on the brand-new Slough Trading Estate dedicated to the production of, among other things, golden syrup, with this being the predecessor to the state-of-the-art facility Ragus Sugars has today.

Golden syrup produced by Ragus, one of the world's leading pure sugar manufacturers, from its advanced manufacturing site in the UK that also produces a range of pure sugars, blends and glucose products

Golden syrup was first formulated by our founder, Charles Eastick, in order to deal with a sugar importing crisis in 1883

What products is golden syrup used in?

As with most full or partially inverted sugar syrups, golden syrup is primarily used when manufacturing products in bulk either as a humectant, to prevent crystallisation, or for its distinct flavour profile. It is also able to withstand higher baking temperatures, making it ideally suited for biscuits, cakes, cookies, and flapjacks. Our clients may produce these goods on an industrial scale for international retail, but recipes for how to reproduce their results on a domestic level can be found here.

What makes golden syrup so ideally suited to these applications is its properties. Not only does it possess a sweetness value approximately 20% greater than straight sucrose (white sugar), but it also has a subtle golden colour that gives many products their distinct appearance. Complimenting this is golden syrup’s mellow and instantly recognisable flavour.

The current rise in veganism has also seen golden syrup increasingly utilised as a substitute for honey in a variety of products. While in a technical sense one cannot be swapped straight for the other, the two possess enough similar characteristics to make golden syrup a passable vegan alternative in this context.

How is golden syrup produced at Ragus Sugars?

Golden syrup production at Ragus Sugars today is the perfect fusion of our storied heritage and present-day expertise. We have developed the initial formulation devised by our founder Charles Eastick and combined this with our cutting-edge manufacturing facility, resulting in a superior product that is used in foodstuffs the world over. As well as being explored in more detail in a previous blog, the below video details our golden syrup manufacturing process in full, from sourcing to delivery.

To order the original golden syrup for your application, contact us now. 

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Global sugar market report 2019

Jun 07 2019

Droughts, monsoons, and the world’s biggest vote – it’s been quite a few months for the sugar market across the globe.

Global sugar market position

Last year saw extraordinarily good weather for growing sugar crops globally, resulting in record crops and stocks. Global sugar prices, therefore, dropped below 10 c/lb for the first time in ten years. Sugar prices are now starting to recover slightly, currently at 12 c/lb, which is approaching the 15 c/lb we saw in our last report at the end of January, but still nowhere near the level needed to turn a profit.

The top 20 global sugar companies reduced production in 2018/19 and world production is estimated to fall to 187.3 mln tonnes in 2019/20 from 201.2 mln tonnes in 18/19. Low sugar prices have seen profits reduce across the industry, leading to losses and rising debt levels for production mills. A continuing contributing factor to these falling global prices has been India’s domestic support to cane farmers and its subsidies to sugar exports. A further impact of this has been reduced production in Brazil, Thailand and China.

On the other hand, European producers have multi-year agreements with beet farmers, meaning sugar beet production will remain high for 2019/20, keeping prices low and impacting on producer margins. Global sugar production for 18/19 is estimated at 185.7 mln tonnes with global consumption at 184.9 mln tonnes, up from 183.3 mln tonnes in 17/18. The minimal global surplus compares with a surplus of 7.8 mln tonnes in 2017/18.

Beet surpluses and insecticide bans continue to cause issues in Europe

The European sugar sector has suffered an unprecedented change since the abolition of EU sugar quotas in 2017, distorting the market during this transitional period. Germany’s Südzucker saw sugar beet production reduce by 1.2 mln tonnes, Tereos of France suffered from oversupply on the EU market, and AB Sugar of the UK also suffered with profitability, with this blow being somewhat softened by a weak British pound. Nordzucker of Germany and Cristal Union of France both saw beet sugar production fall by 400,000 tonnes each.

These low sugar prices, combined with a continuing ban on the use of neonicotinoid, have seen beet planting across Europe for the 2019/20 crop down by 6%. The ban was introduced to protect the harming of bees from the use of the insecticides found in neonics. However, with no suitable alternative, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Rep, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are exempt from the ban. As well as this, the population count of Aphids is increasing across Europe, particularly in Belgium, Netherlands and the UK.

The reduction in sugar production from the 18/19 crop has seen a reduction in exports and an increase in sugar imports. Predictions for the 2019/20 beet crop are up slightly at 18.6 mln tonnes compared to 18.2 mln tonnes in 18/19, due to an expected yield recovery which was affected by drought last year.

Sourcing is at the heart of Ragus' business: it sources sugar beet from Europe and travels the world from Africa to the Caribbean to South America and the Pacific countries to find the best, most reliable, and sustainably produced, sources of cane sugar. The sugar is manufactured by Ragus at its UK plant into a range of pure sugars, syrups and special formulations

Weather disrupts sugar beet planting in Ukraine and Russia

Having been delayed by a cold, wet spring, sugar beet sowing is almost complete in Russia. Ukraine has experienced heavy rains which may result in lower beet yields and decreased extraction rates, although the total area sown has more than doubled compared to this time last year.

Indications for the 2018/19 harvest is Russia producing 6.5 mln tonnes, down from 7.1 mln tonnes in 17/18 and the Ukraine producing 2.0 mln tonnes of sugar. Factories will continue producing sugar from beet syrup from the 18/19 crop until the end of this month.

Brazilian currency fluctuations could affect world sugar prices 

Above average rains helped cane development of the 2019/20 crop. Harvesting began in April and continues at a good pace but is still behind last year. The volatility of the oil market and the Brazilian currency is not favouring an ethanol orientated sugar mix resulting in VHP sugar prices above that of hydrous.

Longer term this could affect the world sugar prices, with the market not needing any additional sugar from Brazil. The reality though is that 101 mills will not operate this year (23%) due to depressed sugar prices, so the likelihood is that the cane will be used for ethanol production at around 63.5% of the share, reducing sugar yet again to 36.5%.

The end of the 2018/19 harvest in Brazil was disrupted by heavy rains, sugar production reaching 26.5 mln tonnes, which was 13.9 mln tonnes less than 17/18 production. Cane used to produce sugar fell to an all-time low with mills unlikely to switch back to producing sugar until prices recover to over 13 c/lb.

Dry weather leads to good cane harvest in Thailand

An early start to the harvest with continued dry weather gave the cane a high sucrose concentration, resulting in good yields. Analysts predicted an early finish to the 2018/19 crop later this month. The tail end to this year’s crop is strong and will be close to the record 17/18 harvest which produced 15 mln tonnes of sugar, meaning exports will hit an all-time high as the country tries to reduce its stocks. For 2019/20, the deregulation no longer allowing government subsidises for cane growing during times of low world market prices is likely to result in less sugar being produced.

No signs of sugar industry subsidies ending as India re-elects PM

Early bullish predictions for the 2018/19 crop had to be altered as the crop evolved due to weather and pests impacting on the cane development, however the crop recovered and now at the tail of the harvest, estimates have increased to 35.9 mln tonnes. A historical high level of stocks (25.5 mln tonnes) is being stored by the Indian mills, so the newly elected government is likely to extend export subsidies into the 2019/20 season in order to clear this glut of sugar and help prop up local prices.

Australia, Brazil and Guatemala are trying to halt India via appealing to the WTO, stating that the government is granting more than the agreed 10% subsidy. With high payment arrears, many farmers are switching to other crops such as soybean and pulses. A poor monsoon, which is already delayed, in the months of June to September from the El Niño effect will also contribute to a reduced 19/20 crop.

Drought recovery boosts Africa’s production levels

Due to several countries’ recovery from severe drought conditions, African cane sugar production is expected to rise to 10.3 mln tonnes in 2018/19 compared to 9.4 mln tonnes in 17/18. However, domestic sugar prices have strengthened in Africa as a result of flooding in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe after cyclone Idai hit the region in April. Mauritius is expected to produce 325,000 tonnes of sugar from the 2018/19 crop, an increase on earlier predictions but down on the 355,000 tonnes produced in 17/18 and continues the country’s sugar decline from the 600,000 tonnes produced in the early 2000s.The country is looking to increase exports of speciality sugars to 180,000 tonnes by 2023.

In South Africa the government may consider support measures to help restructure the sugar industry. Sugar production reached 2.1 mln tonnes in 18/19, compared with 1.9 mln in 2017/18 after the recovery of the cane yields. In Swaziland good rainfall levels have seen sugar production rise by 14% to a record 800,000 tonnes.

Nordzucker makes move for Australia’s Mackay Sugar

The 2019/20 harvest is starting up and it is predicted that the sugar produced will fall to less than 4.6 mln tonnes as a result of too much rain in the north and not enough in the south. The Australian 18/19 harvest came to an early end in December, dry weather leading to a drop in yields with the country producing 4.7 mln tonnes, the same as in 17/18.

Nordzucker of Germany is looking to purchase 70% of Mackay Sugar, which needs restructuring and funds to invest in its deteriorating mills. The company has not made a profit since 2014 due to falling sugar prices. Farmers back the offer as it would secure their future crop and give them a 30% stake in the company.

Mexico rises while the USA falls

Wet weather delayed the start of the 2018/19 Mexican harvest, but a strong sucrose yield and increased acreage planted saw 6.2 mln tonnes sugar produced in 18/19. More than 700,000 tonnes of sugar have been diverted onto the world market due to the reduction in the US quota, making Mexico one of the biggest exporters in 2018/19.

The US beet crop will be the smallest since 14/15 at 4.4 mln tonnes due to cold weather in the harvest season, resulting in lower extraction rates. The cane crop, however, is expected to reach a record 3.7 mln tonnes. US stock levels are high resulting in the reduced Mexican import quota.

China increases its cultivation area

China has increased its area under cultivation for sugar crops in 2019/2020 by 5,000 hectares compared to the 18/19 season. The sugar purchasing price has remained stable with continued enthusiasm for the crop over lower prices for alternatives. China’s sugar production for 19/20 is estimated to be 10.88 mln tonnes, an increase of 150,000 tonnes over 18/19. Sugar consumption remains unchanged at 15.2 mln tonnes. The need for imported sugar in 2019/20 will be 3.04 mln tonnes, which is an increase of 140,000 tonnes from 18/19.

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The importance of ethical sugar supply chains

Apr 25 2019

Ethical supply chains mean all actors are paid fairly for their work. At Ragus Pure Sugars, this approach is embedded in how we operate.

What is an ethical supply chain?

 

An ethical supply chain or ethical sourcing refers to a supply chain in which all operators are paid and treated fairly.

Current UK law designed to enforce this is vague at best. The Modern Slavery Act dictates that all companies must write a yearly statement detailing policies, due diligence and the steps carried out to assess and manage risk. Although this is then backed up by global human rights laws, a clear and obvious piece of legislation guaranteeing that the goods we consume are the product of an ethical supply chain is lacking.

 

Why do Ragus Pure Sugars source raw and white sugar ethically?

 

At Ragus Pure Sugars, we believe that sourcing raw materials from an ethical and sustainable supply chain is not just the right thing to do but the only option. Every actor in a supply chain should be treated fairly, benefit from a high quality of life and receive an adequate income. This approach to sourcing has defined our 90-year heritage.

The products we source have often come from areas with historical human rights issues, where labour laws are not as strict as the UK. As such, guaranteeing that we are part of an ethical supply chain is even more crucial, with our decades of experience meaning we have formed supplier relationships in these areas with fairness at their core.

Promoting human rights, anti-bribery, corruption best practice and environmental and social sustainability in these areas is not only the right thing to do but should be commonplace for all businesses.

How do Ragus Pure Sugars ensure an ethical supply chain?

 

For many years, Ragus Pure Sugars has taken steps to be transparent with our customers and we work hard with suppliers to ensure responsibility standards are being maintained.

Alongside the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and SEDEX accreditations, we often visit our suppliers. This includes mills, plantations and supplier brokers, with each being assessed to ensure they all share the same high standards and responsibility values that define operations at Ragus Pure Sugars.

Participating in these food standard accreditation schemes and promoting the profile of the new policies on human rights, modern slavery and bribery outlines our commitment to sustainable and ethical sourcing, meaning that every sugar product that leaves our factory is exploitation and corruption-free.

Contact us to learn more about our approach to CSR or visit our page on the 10 pillars of CSR.

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What is Ragus Sugars’ approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

Apr 05 2019

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a core component of Ragus Sugars’ business. Recently we reviewed our strategy and how responsibility underpins our brand.  

 

In 2011 we developed our first CSR strategy that drew together multiple threads of responsibility-related systems and processes already woven into our business operations, marketing and decision making. This led to the creation of our Eight Pillars of CSR, covering core values and activities such as health and safety, quality and sustainability.

Since then we have completed regular reviews of our CSR, seeking always to identify improvements. Our latest 2018/19 review highlights new policies and policy updates that reinforce our ongoing commitment to being responsible.

These include the Bribery Act and anti-corruption initiatives, human rights, anti-slavery and trafficking measures. They ensure every aspect of our supply chain is fair and ethical. As a result, our position on CSR has now become the Ragus Sugars Ten Pillars of CSR.

The most important finding of this review is that responsibility has become so embedded in our business, its strategy and decision making, operations and supply chain that it no longer requires special treatment. For us, being responsible is just business as usual.

 

Ragus Sugars’ Ten Pillars of CSR

 

CSR is fundamental to the Ragus brand and how the business operates, so much so that a separate CSR strategy is no longer needed.

However, we have retained and expanded on our original Eight Pillars of CSR, adding anti-corruption and bribery and human rights as we have created and adopted new policies in these areas. The result is the Ragus Sugars Ten Pillars of CSR:

  1. Health and safety of all our stakeholders
  2. Quality
  3. Employees
  4. Sustainability
  5. Customers
  6. Supply chain
  7. Society
  8. Risk management
  9. Anti-corruption and bribery
  10. Human rights

 

Having embedded responsible and sustainable strategies and practices in our business, we continually monitor our performance. This allows us to identify where further improvements can be made.

 

What CSR accreditations does Ragus hold?

Our internal standards are high, but we don’t measure ourselves. We have invested in gaining multiple international standards and accreditations to ensure we are constantly benchmarked against demanding third party standards, including our customers.

The advanced plant in Slough, England, where we produce our sugars holds accreditations for ISO 9001, ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001, ISO 50001, BRC, HACCP and FEMAS.

In addition, Ragus’ quality control systems have been accredited by UN FAO Sugarmark, and Bonsucro, alongside other leading industry bodies. We are also recognised by SMETA (SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audit), and are Institution of Occupational Safety and Health qualified, for the health, safety and ethical treatment of all employees.

During 2019, we will evaluate CSR guidance frameworks ISO 26000 and the Global Reporting Initiative, to determine if there are benefits to using reporting frameworks that may better inform our stakeholders about our CSR activities.

Alongside this, CSR is an agenda item at all board meetings, reviewing our whole business from a responsible perspective.

Contact us to find out how you can benefit from our responsibly produced sugars.

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