Sugar is sugar right? That may be true for other things but for brewing, that could not be further from the truth. When brewing beer, you need to know what you are adding because different types of sugars will give you different results, some wanted and others unwanted. Before we get into the different specific types of sugars we should do a pretty general break down.
Fructose aka Levulose
A very rapid fermentable sugar. It comes from a wide range of different types of starches. When something says, “High in fructose”, that does not necessarily mean that it is 100% fructose, it is more likely that it is blended with Glucose, usually the blend will be something on the lines of 40% fructose and 60% glucose.
A very fast fermentable sugar. It is derived from starch. Glucose in the brewing world is also called, “Dextrose”. On a molecular level they are the same, Dextrose though comes from corn specifically and is also called, “Corn Sugar”.
This is a non fermentable sugar when using beer yeast, it can be fermented with different types of wild yeast. The flavor is sweet and comes from milk. Adding this to beer will make your stouts, “Milk Stouts”.
This is a fermentable sugar but just considered a slower fermentable sugar. It naturally occurs in malt and other sweeteners.
Rapidly fermentable by beer yeast. It is a natural fermentable in found in malt. As a brewer you can invert this type of sugar.
For Homebrewing What Does That Mean?
Now that we have a pretty general understanding of the different types of sugars out there, let’s get into the specific types and what effect they will have on your beer.
This is used with Belgium beers and strong ales as well. It is slowly crystallized sucrose. They can be either amber, brown, or white. The darker the color just happens based off of how much is has caramelized. The way which they are used is to lighten the beer body but it increases the alcohol which is produced. Lots of times you end up using less than 20% of your total fermentable sugar.
Cane & Beet Sugars
These are common table sugars which are 100% sucrose. If you use more than 20% cane sugar or beet sugar in fermentation you run a risk with having a cidery tasting beer. Using white sugar really does not add any significant flavor to beer and is generally not recommended. You can however invert cane sugar or beet sugar and it will help with eliminating all or most unwanted flavors. We do have a post about how to do that process. It is possible for an inversion of sucrose to occur if you add 100% sucrose to boiling wort. For what ever reason, Mr. Beer will tell brewers that you need to prime your bottles with table sugar. I would NOT do that at all. Every time you are going to get a cidery flavor from it.
A refined corn sugar is also known as dextrose. Dextrose is considered glucose. It will lighten the body of the beer at the same time contribute a higher ABV%. Also corn sugar can be used for priming bottles or causing natural fermentation in the bottles which will carbonate your beer. The standard ratio is use 3/4 cup of priming sugar (aka dextrose or corn sugar) to a pint of water (.5 liters) and it will be good for a 5 gallon batch.
Since lactose is a non fermentable sugar if added it will help with the body as well as residual sweetness. Lactose does not dissolve easily in beer either. It should be added in small amounts to the beer to help it dissolve faster. Most of the time that this is added in beers, it will be for a, “Milk Stout” beer. It leaves a bit of an increased mouthfeel as well.
Palm sugars are sap from tropical palm trees which causes a yellow color. It is often found in specialty food markets and pretty common in Asian markets as well. Personally, I haven’t seen to many beer recipes call for this, I’ve seen it more with wine recipes.
These are uncrystalized sugars and impurities that are removed from refinement sugars. Adding molasses to beer will change the color and the flavor. It’s flavor will add a buttery, toffee-like flavor. There are 3 different types of molasses: 1)Light 2)Medium 3)Blackstrap. If you wanted to prime bottles with it instead of corn sugar, use 1 cup of molasses for every 3/4 cup corn sugar. I would be careful when it comes to using molasses. Every time I have used it I can always taste a rum like flavor.
This is similar to light brown sugar. It has a very small amount of molasses to its color, but as far as character goes – it’s essentially the same as cane or beet sugar. Since there a small amount of molasses in it you will find a slight rum flavor in your beer. In the past I’ve used this with some Scottish beers I’ve made or even a few Ambers.
This is a sweet juice that is from Mexico that is used to make tequila. Normally homebrew shops don’t carry it but always fun to experiment with in your homebrews. Personally I’m not really sure if it is a fad or not, but a lot of people seem to add Agave to their wheat beers. Personally I have never used it before nor have I tried one with it in it so I really lack any further incite on it.
Actually maple syrup in homebrew is one of my favorites sugars to use. My favorite Pale Ale that I make uses maple syrup in it and also it is used for priming instead of corn sugar. The effects of it always remains the same when people open it, “it smells like breakfast”. If you want to jack your ABV really high use it before you pitch the yeast, if you want the smell as well as the taste of maple syrup then use it when you get to the bottling process.
Rice syrup is a combination of sugars that are taken from a modified malting process. It is used mainly in American lagers. It will leave a crisp flavor to the beer.
There are a ton of different possibilities of the types of fermentable sugars you can add into your beer. Depending on what you are trying to achieve it should narrow your choice of what you would add as a fermentable.