It was a cool dark evening, I just posted up to the local bar and began to look at the long list of beers. One caught my eye in particular, It was a Belgian. I ordered it, and to my surprise it was surprisingly light in body, even with its high alcohol percentage.
Adding sugar to a wort boil can increase alcohol percentage while keeping a beer light in body. The best time to add sugar is at flame out in a whirlpool. This prevents scorching and retains the highest level of fermentable sugar.
I recently brewed a Belgian Tripel and was confused when the popular recipe I was referencing had no information as to when the sugar was to be added.
I searched online and to my dismay there was an array of answers and no definitive answer.
Adding Sugar To The Boil
I was using clear Belgian candi sugar to make a Belgian Tripel and started to panic as I had started the boil, then realized there was no direction about when to add the candi sugar. Not even the package had any information on when the best time to add it would be.
This led me to the realization that it really doesn’t matter too much when the sugar is being added, but since many adjuncts are generally added to the end I decided to do that.
I was planning on adding it at 5 minutes before the end of the boil, but then realized I was not going for a caramel flavor and wanted to prevent any scorching.
I decided to do a whirlpool of the Belgian candi sugar.
When whirl-pooling the candi sugar make sure to get a nice spin going of the wort before dropping the sugar in. You can use regular table sugar, since its essentially the same thing.
When dropping sugar crystals in make sure to keep whirlpooling and mixing until the crystals are dissolved.
Adding Sugar at Different Points in the Boil
There are a lot of people who add sugar at the beginning of the boil. It doesn’t seem to change the end product, and if it does it really is only minor.
The danger of adding the sugar at different points in the boil is caramelization leading to unfermentable sugars, and an off taste, that is not as clean as you may want it.
If you are using normal table sugar, the affect on flavor is likely minimal, since most of the sugar flavor comes from yeast eating the sugars.
If you are using flavored sugar you may be better of adding to the end of the boil. The only difference would be if you want there to be a slightly cooked flavor to the sugar you add.
How Much Sugar to Add to Wort
It truly depends on the ABV of the beer you are trying to accomplish and how much malt is in your grain bill.
To make a simple Belgian, you will want to keep the grain bill basic and add a pound of sugar.
The whole reason for adding sugar in the first place is to limit the amount of specialty malts required to hit higher ABV levels. This will make the beer much lighter bodied and more digestible as the monks would say.
It may also be an interesting experiment to add rice for a light body to a Belgian, but then it may not even be called a Belgian anymore.
Ultimately, its the yeast that makes the Belgian, but sugar is an easy way to increase alcohol levels without adding to the heaviness of the beer.
Sugar and Fermentation
The reason you won’t want to add higher levels of sugar, for example 2 pounds, is it may create a purer alcohol taste that is lacking in flavor but not in burning your throat.
We are making a beer, not liquor so its important to balance the malt, with the sugar.
Higher levels of sugar can also make it more difficult for the yeast to do its job. For example if you are adding a massive amount of specialty malts, and tossing in sugar, the yeast could do one of two things.
- The yeast might not be able to digest all the sugars leading to a lower ABV than anticipated and thus a waste of money.
- The yeast might mutate and lead to off flavors.
There is also a fear that adding straight sugar to wort, or even fermentation will make your beer taste like cider. This is untrue and if that were the case then mainstream beer would all be cider.
Adding Sugar In Fermentation
A lot of people like to add sugar during fermentation. While it is a great way to add sugar to your beer it is not necessary unless you are experimenting.
The main idea of adding sugar during fermentation is to control the alcohol level. It can also alleviate some of strain put on the yeast when brewing a beer over 10%.
Think about it this way, you can either double pitch a Belgian, with two packets of yeast or you can add sugar in steps to alleviate the strain on the yeast cells. Its probably cheaper to add the sugar later than to double pitch yeast.
If the beer is not a big beer though than you shouldn’t worry about it too much. There are also some dangers to adding sugar during fermentation.
Dangers of Sugar in Fermentation
When adding sugars directly to fermentation you risk infecting the beer. Some ways around this are disinfecting the sugars before adding to your fermentation.
You can do this by heating the sugar with water and turning it into more of a syrup, or buying sugar syrup and disinfecting the outside with star san. Another way might be to add it to pure unflavored Vodka to kill any bacteria.
Adding sugar during a primary fermentation will also allow oxygen into your beer, this could adversely affect any hop flavors you may have added to the beer. Its likely not as bad if you didn’t use a huge amount of hops, and don’t keep it exposed too long.
Dark Candi Sugar is not Brown Sugar
Brown sugar is somewhat unrefined, and the sugar is not 100 percent fermentable. It also contains molasses. This flavor profile is different from dark Belgian candi sugar since it contains a different amounts of molasses.
So you won’t get the same flavor from brown sugar as you would from dark Belgian candi sugar. There is really no cheap equivalent in America to dark Belgian candi sugar.
Alternatively you could experiment with small amounts of molasses to see what type of flavor you can achieve.
Temperature of Mash and Sugar Conversion
When you add table, sugar or essentially any type of sugar directly to your boil or flame out it can lead to a dry beer. Depending on what you are going for this could be good or bad.
If you don’t want your beer to be a dry Belgian or any other beer you are trying to make with sugar, you need to worry about your mash temperature.
When you mash at the lower end of the spectrum, like 148F sugar is produced that yeast has an easy time of eating up. This will lead to a lack of sugar in the beer at the end of fermentation, making it drier.
If you want to balance out your beer when adding sugar to the boil to make sure its not so dry, you may want to mash at higher temperatures and keep more of that difficult to ferment (for the yeast) sugar in the beer.
Find the Cheapest Sugar the Masses Don’t Care
In the book Brew Like A Monk there was a phrase that explained how the monks really didn’t care about the sugar they were using, they were simply buying the cheapest local sugar they could find.
This is essentially what you need to do when brewing your own beer. Find the cheapest ingredients that still achieve what you want out of the beer. If corn sugar, or high fructose corn syrup gets you the same result, why not just use that instead.
Ultimately its all about the end product. Since the yeast is what achieves fruity esters in a Belgian, why not just focus on sugars that create the same thing.
A Note about Flavor
Maybe you don’t need to add sugar at all, just add specialty malts and use a Belgian yeast. As long as the sugar content is high enough it can reach those higher alcohol levels and have the same flavor.
To be honest, I cant even taste the difference between Coors Light and Miller Light. They are both one in the same to me, so when it comes to sugar, just use it as a boost to your yeast and create the beer you want to create.