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Friday, September 24, 2010

The Adjunct That Dare Not Speak Its Name

On yesterday's post, Average Bill (aka Bill Schneller, famous local homebrewer) added an important caveat to my observation that adjuncts are back in vogue. They are, he agrees, except for a biggie:
One big adjunct is missing from your list: sugar. It's still underutilized and reviled as a "cheap" ingredient by too many brewers and craft beer drinkers. The biggest flaw in most US made "Belgian" beers is the lack of adequate enough amounts of sugar which is why the US ones tend to be sweeter and less attenuated than the real thing.

And even though the early models of most US craft beers were English beers, most US brewers have never bought into using sugar in English styles. But, according to Ron Pattinson's research, English beers between 1880 and 1960 averaged about 15% sugar. And it wasn't done as a cost cutting move (since during the Wolrd Wars that 15% sugar cost as much as the rest of the entire grain bill). It was used both for flavor and to ensure consistency since malt varied from year to year. Sugar manufacturers actually made specific products just for brewing. But ask most US brewers about sugar in a standard strength beer and they'll look at you like you're crazy.
This is totally true: sugar continues to carry the taint of an unwholesome ingredient. Looking at other beer drinkers, I think there's another element to it, though. Many American beer drinkers don't cotton to sugared beers. There's something about the lightness of body or the attenuation Bill mentions--it rubs them the wrong way. This is less the case with robust Belgian ales, though even there, the flavors sugar alcohol contribute seem to delight American palates less than the heavy, malt-sugar flavors from all-barley strong ales. Beer is local, of course, and it seems like sugar is a bridge too far. Habaneros, okay. Sugar? Nuh uh.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Perhaps if the US brewer embraced sugar as adjunct, we wouldn't have so many double IPAs that are such sweet, sticky, cloying messes.

    you would think the way saisons have caught on, the regional palette would be starting to attune to beers that are a bit more dried out... see Upright. their house yeast attenuates the shit out of their wort, and people seem to love them.

  3. FWIW, Pliny the Elder is made with a significant portion of sugar in the grain bill, so at least when it comes to hoppy beers people seem to love them a bit drier.

    I don't think it's the be-all and end-all of hoppy beers, but the light body and "hop candy" (perceived sweetness without the accompanying sugar) effect definitely set it apart from just about everyone else's IPAs.

  4. Sugar. Sugar is an interesting thing. When Mashing the Barley you are extracting sugars from the barley. The meat of the barley is a complex starch that can be broken down by the heat of the mash water. Depending on temperature of mash, you break the starch into small and long chain sugars. These sugars (Maltose) are still more tightly chemically bonded than regular Table Sugar (Sucrose), Honey or Molasses. The stronger the bond, the harder it is for the yeast to break them down into alcohol. If not broken down, these sugars remain in beer as..... Sugar.

    For most all-grain Brewers, these are the tinker toys of mashing process.

    Under Fermented, sweet, worty, gooey mess are adjectives I've used many times while judging or evaluating Home brews and craft brews.

    Under-fermented beer is a continuous bane of craft brewers. It leaves the beer sweet with unfermented sugars and/or long bonded dextrins from high mash temps.

    Historically in homebrewing we were told brewing with sugar will make your beer CIDERY. Of course, this is not true, but seems to still live in many homebrewing text.

    The use of simple sugars can actually help increase the fermentability of the wort; i.e. Why some English and other countries use or used simple sugars. It's easy to ferment.

    Vinnie at Russian River used Corn sugar in Pliny to increase fermentability which in turn produces a drier beer and less cloying sweet with unfermented sugars.

    Belgian brewers have been using simple sugars like Candi Sugar (rock Candy), honey and other simpler bonded starches (Wheat starch, Corn grits, etc).

    While American brewers have embraced the All-MALT beer concept, we may have been ignoring the advantages of using Sugar.

    The Doc always preaches that we need to embrace the classic brewing concepts. Sugar is a perfect example.

  5. Bill Schneller (aka Average Bill since my cover is now blown)2:34 PM, September 24, 2010

    Jeff, thanks for giving this its own post.

    Wow, the Doc and I actually agree on somethings. Point of note: as a general rule the candi sugar in Belgian brewing isn't a rock format but is actually a liquid. But whatever, it's a minor point.

    While I would say that many homebrews are "under-fermented" (I prefer under attenuated, but, again, whatever) in that the yeast didn't ferment out all the sugar it could. I don't think most sweet craft brewed Belgians are "under-fermented" in that sense. I think they've fermented as completely as their recipes allow. It's not a flaw in execution; it's a flaw in the recipe (ie, not enough sugar).

    Pliny is perfect example of what sugar does. Pliny is incredibly drinkable, but many others, on the other hand, seem to have one foot in IIPA and one foot in Barleywine. And neither foot seems to have landed soundly.

    Don't get me started on then whole myth of sugar=cider. It's rubbish, poppycock. I've yet to find a scientific source (ie, not a homebrew book, but something with actual research) that actually proves it. When pushed on the AHA listserve, Charlie P replied "I don't know where I got it from but I know I found it when researching my first book." Brilliant science....

    And if you've never made real English Mild with dark invert sugar, you haven't really made Mild. Most English milds use dark sugars for color, not roasted malts like in US recipes. In 10 years, GABF will have to split Mild into two categories: US mild which uses roasted grain for color, and English Mild which uses dark sugar. A new style is born, all because brewers refuse to use sugar.

  6. @Bill

    Liquid Candi Syrup is the most current incarnation and now commonly used. It's a great product! Belgians and Monasteries used to use the Rock form on a regular basis, but I think all have converted to the Liquid form. I guess I'm old school and refer to all of it as Candi Sugar. I forgot to mention liquid form. Sure is more expensive than the old Rock stuff.

    Thought ATTENUATED might be to lofty a term for the average reader. Trying to keep it simple for all readers. ;-}

    Low attenuated brews could be a mashing mistake if to high of a saccrification rest is used creating to many dextrins and not enough starch breakdown. Too many hard to ferment chunky long chain starch and sugars. Recipe could equally be culprit. So could low pitching rates.

    Didn't want to throw Charlie into the mix, he wasn't the only myth source... but one of them. :-O

    Speaking of English ales and sugar. I have created quite a few great English ale recipes over the years using Invert, Demerara, Muscovado, Turbinado sugar and even that weird Lyle's syrup. Demerara is my Sugar of choice! Adds a little treacle flavor and dries out the beer to English standard very nicely, but had success with all those sugars.

    Date Sugar in Belgians works extremely well too. Ever notice most American belgian styles can NEVER acquire the attenuation and crispness that's so common in the beers motherland?

    I was a homebrewer many years before a cranky old beer fart personality. ;-}

  7. Bill....

    BTW, I think Affligem Dubbel is one of the best in the world. ;-}

  8. Lyle's is an invert sugar. I normally use Turbinado or Demerara to make darker inverts for Milds and Stock Ales/Burtons. In a pinch, organic cane sugar will work as well.

    As for US Belgian-style beers, I still think the biggest issue is the percentage of sugar. I don't think it's a matter of mashing too hot. That's a basic that all craft brewers know. I think most are shy about using 20% sugar because that's so far outside the norm of other types of recipes.

    "Attenuation" is a lofty term? Really? C'mon, we're all beer geeks here. Not a layman around for miles...

    RE: Affligem Dubbel, has someone been Googling me?

  9. It was my understanding that this myth came out of prohibition, when people's desperation for drink led them to under pitch and under oxygenate their attempts to make beer in unsanitary containers in temperatures not suited for their fragile yeast. They added sugar, seeking a greater kick. Somehow, sugar took the blame for the cidery results. Hey, Duvel brings their signature beer from 1.055 to 1.069 with can that be a bad thing?

  10. Bill, I hope you're not too cross at me for mentioning your name. I have mentioned you on the blog before, after the DIPA judging. Plus, I figure your Collaborator beers also put you in the public eye. Plus I think you SHOULD be in the public eye. But that last bit is not for me to decide. In any case, I always appreciate your comments, here and on the Brew Crew listserve.

    Doc Wort and I have been in remarkable agreement for the past week or two, which means something--dunno what. I'm with both the Doc and Bill on Sugar, though, and regret not using it on my Black Monk Imperial Stout. I love a hefty stout, but perhaps just a bit less body would have been nice. But anyway, it's in the carboy, so we'll make that judgment later.

    The two things that make sugar a winner for me are attenuation. Two because I like what sugar does to strong ales and because all-malt strongs are often too much to take. Interestingly, barrel-aged strongs are better; I suspect this is because they've slaked off some liquor, adding pop but thinning body. This is one exception that most US drinkers tolerate. Maybe we should just start making beer with sugar and tell people it's barrel-aged.

    By the way, just had FS Lupulin at East Burn, and man, is it a fine beer.

  11. @Bill

    I remember reading a few things you said about Belgian beer. So, yes, I Googled. ;-}

    BTW, we've met before... :-O

  12. Jeff no worries on mentioning my name. I was only joking.

    Doc, yes, I know we've met. We've judged together if I recall correctly.

  13. @Bill

    Now you're really gonna get emails!