Beer is beer…right? Grain, water, and yeast?
While those who favor craft beer often deride the big brewers for skimping on grain and using fillers such as rice and corn to achieve alcohol and thinner bodies, fillers can be used to ad wonderful characteristic to beer. Belgian candy sugar, for example, can be used to up the ABV of a beer while keeping the body thin (sugar from malt thicken the body of the beer) and adding some delicious caramel flavors. The result is a very smooth beer that goes down easily.
As a home brewer who has a affinity these styles of beer, I frequently find myself loading up on Belgian candy sugar at my local brew shop. Two things irk me as I throw the one pound packages in my cart. First, is the price. One half pound costs $4.99. Second, I realize that someone else made the candy sugar. one of the many enjoyable aspect of home brewing is the sense of ownership you feel as you sip on one of your creations. Each step of the process that I can take away from a manufacturer, the better I feel about my brew.
Recently I designed an imperial recipe that called for $50 worth of grain. Ouch! In addition, it called for 3 pounds of Belgian candy sugar. With my wallet wincing, I decided that the additional $15 from the Belgian candy sugar was just too much. So I decided to make my own.
Believe it or not, Belgian candy sugar is easy to make, and cost a fraction of the cost of the finished store product. In fact, I made 4lbs of the sweet stuff for only three bucks! Here is the simple procedure:
First I made a thick syrup using 4lbs of sugar and hot water. I didn’t measure my water, just added until I could see that the sugar was dissolved. I wanted a darker finished product, and thus needed a longer boil, so it was on the thinner side. I added a little bit of citric acid too, which makes the candy more fermentable. Then I brought the temp up to about 250 degrees. I kept it at this temperature for about an hour by adding water when the temp seemed to be spiking (which happened frequently as the water in the solution evaporated). When the solution got dark brown/red, I let the temperature rise to about 275 degrees, pulled it of the burner, poured it onto some wax paper, and stuck it in the freezer.
I was very pleased with the results. It tasted great, with orange and caramel notes, and looked beautiful! The true test of quality was the presentation to the candy expert, my six year old son. As he snuck a few pieces when I “wasn’t looking” I knew I had passed. The only thing I will do differently in the future is avoid using wax paper. Where the paper was creased the candy enveloped it and I had to run the candy under hot water to remove it. A greased or Teflon pan may be a better choice.
Dissolving my creation in a pot of bubbling wort (soon to be beer!) was a joy…and so was saving $13! I would heartily recommend to the advanced home brewing sacrificing a couple of hours to put on his/her chef hat and undertake this culinary adventure…your home brew will thank you for it!
Sounds like a fun experiment. Can’t wait to hear how it comes out.
“Each step of the process that I can take away from a manufacturer, the better I feel about my brew.” great line. Made me think about when brewers used to be the maltsters as well.
@Nate: I tasted some last night when i took a hydrometer reading. Tastes great. 14.7% ABV and rising.
@Hopfen Treader: Thanks! Good point. I have this notion that when our house finally sell I’ll buy a place with a few acres and brew a beer with only homegrown (and malted) ingredients.
Nate, that’s pretty cool! A creative (and fun) solution to a very real problem!
Thanks for the tip. Now a question: what flavors in the beer does candied sugar provide over basic granular sugar?
@Scott: Thanks! Saving a few bucks always is a very real problem…
@Big Tex: The flavor was quite unlike table sugar. The beer is still fermenting, but my preliminary tasting seems to demonstrate caramel notes that go beyond the caramel malt I used. But flavor of the candy isn’t the only reason for using candy sugar over granulated: Left un-candied, table sugar is made up of fructose and glucose, bound together (sucrose). Your yeast has to work extra hard separating these bonds to digest the simple sugars they use for food. The citric acid in the candying process breaks these bonds, giving a more fermentable sugar with less residual sweetness in the finished beer product.
For some reason, I thought boiling the sugars helped in breaking down the sucrose into fructose and glucose.
Yeah I think that is right. But it isn’t going to do a complete job with out the citric acid, which would take large amounts in a 6 gallon boil…as opposed to just a pinch in a 1/2 quart candy boil.
Let it be known though, I am not an expert on this…just done some reading.
You know you’re a hardcore homebrewer when…
That’s really cool and very resourceful, Nate. It reminds me of when my wife makes peanut brittle. I wonder if you could smash some of that stuff into a brew as well. Peanut Brittle Porter. Hmmmm….
I think I might try this same thing with some Raw sugar some time. I’m sure you could also find granulated beet sugar to make this too. At any rate, a lot of experimenting could be done with this concept.
I’ve been wanting to experiment with other sugars too. Turbinado comes to mind.
Yeah! I thought about palm (coconut sugar) and a couple others. Of course, that one has some oils for which to account.
I make peanut brittle every year and it is super easy, this looks to be almost teh same with out the peanut and butter. When cooling it I used these “rubber” mats. I don’t recall what they were made out of, but they were non-stick and worked wonderfully. I think caflon makes them for about $14 for and 11×14. Granted that eats up your $13 dollar saving rapidly, but it’s the process and pleasure… right?
[...] from brewing with extracted malts to extracting the sugar from the malted barley ourselves, making our own candy sugars, or even extracting own sugars from carrots. As a brewer, the more you own the creative process [...]