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How is sugar used in brewing?

25/07/2019 By Ben Eastick in Applications Beverages, Formulations

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. To learn more about our products, please contact our Customer Services Team. To see more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn. 

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

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