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A sugar primer

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I’d like you to buy a copy of Brew Like a Monk, but even more I’d like it if I didn’t have to keep reading “candi sugar” when we’re just talking about plain old sugar, so here’s an excerpt from Chapter 7, with an update following the primer:

To boost alcohol, fermentability, and produce what Belgians refer to as a “more digestible” beer, plain sucrose?the stuff you can buy at your local grocery store?works just as well as clear candi sugar (rocks). The dark, rummy character that comes from caramelized sugar is harder to duplicate, and certainly not by using American brown sugar. Here is a quick sugar primer:

Candi sugar: References to “candi sugar” when Belgian brewers began using such an ingredient most often described caramel syrup, not the clear to dark rocks sold in the United States as “Belgian candi sugar.” The rocks you liquefy by tossing into a kettle are made by lowering cotton strings with seed crystals into hot solutions of sugar. What we really care about is the sugar itself.

Today, when brewers at Westmalle and Orval refer to candi sugar, they specify using it in liquid form. Most other brewers, Trappist and secular, who once used “clear candi sugar” have replaced it with sucrose or dextrose. As well as adding white sugar to the kettle, Rochefort includes cassonade brune in its recipes. While that translates to “brown sugar,” Candico in Antwerp produces something much different than Americans think of in making “candysugar” (its term) andcassonade brune: “granulated crystals, obtained from cooling down strongly concentrated sucrose-solutions boiled at very high temperatures.” Most of Candico’s sales to confectionary producers, biscuit factories, and breweries are “candysugar” in syrup form.

Sucrose: The basic white sugar you buy at A&P comes from sugar beets or sugar cane; both produce the same end product. They are crushed, dissolved in water, and the raw syrup is boiled down to concentrate it to a point where some fraction crystallizes. The remaining syrup is separated from what is now 95% pure sugar. The crystals are further processed several times to increase its purity, eventually yielding the pure white crystals.
Brown sugar: To produce brown sugar in North America, the crystals are left much smaller than for white sugar, and the syrup or molasses is not washed off completely. Many producers have in fact instituted processes in which they make brown sugars by blending refined white crystal sugar with molasses.

Dextrose: The “righthand” version of glucose, a monosaccharide derived from converted starches, much as what happens when mashing malted grain. Dextrose can be made from a variety of cheap sources, including corn, wheat, rice, and potatoes. Belgian brewers used glucose by the nineteenth century.

Invert sugar: Glucose and fructose together make up sucrose. When fructose is “inverted” by hydrolysis, the resulting invert sugar is theoretically easier for yeast to ferment.

Caramelized sugar: Caramelization occurs when a sugar molecule is heated to a high-enough temperature to begin to break down and create the characteristic flavors of caramel. Sugar producers are extremely careful not to subject sugars to temperatures high enough to cause caramelization, because it would introduce these flavors and cause product loss (any sugar that is caramelized is no longer sugar, so it can’t be crystallized). Caramel syrups are sold in Europe, giving brewers a variety of choices not available in the United States. Many American brewers use dark candi (rocks) as a substitute, but while the darkest provide a rummy, unrefined character, they don’t come close to replicating the caramelized flavors found in darker Belgian ales.

The update: Not long after BLAM was published Brian Mercer began importing syrups directly from Belgium. they are labeled candi syrup and candi sugar and, all come from Dark Candi Inc. and are distributed by Country Malt Group.

You’ll find a recipe for making syrup in BLAM, courtesy of Randy Mosher, as well as in Mosher’s own book, Radical Brewing, one that belongs in everybody’s library.

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