Beer is beer…right?  Grain, water, and yeast?

Not always.

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!