Monday, December 14, 2009

Candi/Table/Corn Sugar Belgian Beer Experiment

A couple years back I did two split batch sugar experiments (the original, the sequel).  They focused on the more interesting sugars out there, including unrefined sugars, caramelized sugars, and sugars from plants besides the classic sugar beet/cane (date, agave, and gur).  All well and good, but it left a big gap when it comes to how different plain/white/refined/pure sugars compare when used in brewing beer. The one "plain" sugar I try didn't get the same temperature controls and ended up tasting a bit hot/cidery.

Many Belgian beers, particularly the paler and stronger ones, get dryness (and a boost in alcohol) from the addition of relatively flavorless sugars.  For years Americans brewers (both home and craft) used the expensive and difficult to dissolve candi sugar rocks.  For the most part this changed a few years back when Brew Like a Monk was published with the claim that not only do brewers in Belgium not use candi rocks but also that the rocks are simply recrystalized sucrose (that is to say white table sugar).  As a result candi rocks and tablet sugar seemed like they would make an interesting head-to-head match, but I wanted to try some other options out as well.

A couple years back the company that imports an authentic and excellent dark candi syrup began importing a clear candi syrup that is partially inverted (supposedly making it easier on the yeast to ferment).  It hasn't gotten the same press/hype as the dark syrup, but I thought it was worth a try.  This is apparently what many Belgian brewers are referring to when they talk about candi sugar, so despite the high cost (~20X) compared to table sugar it might be the key to nailing sugar heavy styles like Tripel and Belgian Strong Golden.

Lastly the old priming sugar stand-by, corn sugar (glucose), seemed like a good candidate to throw into the mix.  The claim here is that much like the inverted sugar glucose is easier on yeast because they don't need to employ the enzyme invertase to ferment it.  In addition to these four experimental portions I wanted to leave one gallon as a control without any sugar to see how the gravity and flavor would fare compared to the rest. 

I didn't want to do anything too fancy with the recipe because if there are flavor differences they will most likely be subtle at best.  As a result I went with a base wort made from 100% pilsner malt, and a light hand with some Willamette hops near the start of the boil.  For yeast I went with my old friend Wyeast 3787 (Westmalle), fermented cool at the start and ramping up toward the end of fermentation to ensure complete attenuation.

I brewed in my friend Scott's garage on a snowy Saturday in early December (he was brewing a porter on his system at the same time).  The brewday was relatively uneventful (aside from a tasty bottle of TPS Report, a GABF Gold Medal willing 100% Brett rose petal aged beer, from TriNity Brewing and a flat bottle of Lost Abbey Angel's Share that we had to sic my carbonator cap on).  I want to figure out given the standard homebrewer single-infusion process which sugar makes the best beer, so I skipped a protein rest despite the fact that it might have added some extra nutrition (FAN).  I did add some yeast nutrient as I usually do, which will help to make up for it though.

For introducing the sugar I wanted to balance suggestions to add it before fermentation to replicate the most common fermentation procedure with my concerns that having five separate aerations, pitches, fermentations etc... could introduce too many uncontrolled variables into my process.  I chose to inoculate the entire batch and leave it to ferment for 24 hours before adding the sugars (which I had weighed out so they would contribute the same gravity to each portion of the beer).  While only about 10.1% by weight the sugars (depending on the type) each account for 15.7% by extract, more than enough to get a good impression of impact of each variety.

I'll have a full tasting in a month or two after the beers bottle condition (of course using the respective sugars to add the fermentables for natural carbonation). 

White Sugar Showdown

Recipe Specifics (All-Grain)
Batch Size (Gal):         4.80   
Total Grain (Lbs):       11.12
Anticipated OG:          1.069   
Anticipated SRM:           3.4
Anticipated IBU:          24.0
Brewhouse Efficiency:       73 %
Wort Boil Time:             75    Minutes

89.9% - 10.00 lbs. German Pilsener   
10.1% - 1.12 lbs. Cane Sugar  

1.50 oz. Willamette (Pellet 4.40% AA) @ 60 min.

1 Whirlfloc @ 15 min.(boil)
0.25 Tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 15 min.(boil)

WYeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity

Water Profile
Profile: Washington DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest 60 min @ 149

Brewed 12/05/09 at Scott's.

1.4 qrt starter made the night before with a 3 month old smack pack.  Not much activity as of brew day.

Water was treated with fish-tank chlorine remover, no other water adjustments as mash pH was ~5.2

Collected 6.5 gallons after batch sparge.  Solid boil.  Ended up a bit higher gravity than I was originally aiming for.  Chilled to 68, drove home, shook to aerate and pitched the starter into the 6 gallon better bottle.

I was a bit concerned about the yeast, so I placed the carboy in a pot and put it on the radiator overnight.  No action by the next morning, but soon after that the fermentation took off like a rocket.

At ~24 hours racked to secondary adding:
Clear Candi Rocks 101 g (1.045)
Table Sugar 101 g (1.045)
Clear Candi Syrup 142 g  (1.032)
Corn Sugar 120 g (1.038)

Sugars dissolved in 8 oz of water, heated in the microwave to dissolve and sanitize.

12/12/09 Put back on radiator to ensure fermentation finishes up, temp ~75F.

12/17/09 Took off radiator to give time to settle before bottling.

12/19/09  Bottled with the sugars below, dissolved with water to make ~10 tbls of liquid.  Should provide about equal carbonation... hopefully.
Clear Candi Rocks - 28 g same
Table Sugar - 28 g same
Clear Candi Syrup - 39 g same
Corn Sugar - 33 g same
None - 46 g DME

3/10/10 First tasting.  Very similar, although the candi rocks came out a bit over-carbed.


jjp said...

I made a recipe very similiar to this back in June. Pilsner/candi syrup/3787, bittered to about 30 IBU's with saaz. I made my own candi syrup using directions found here: Mine ended up being somewhere around the amberish colors.

I also added an ounce of roughly crushed coriander with 5 minutes left. It just took 2nd place in the belgian ales category at a recent event. Reviewers said they were able to pick up faint hints of caramel and vanilla, which must have come from the syrup, as well as some slight citrus from the coriander. You should have a pretty tasty beer on your hands.

Josh said...

This was/is a huge pissing contest on Beer Advocate. If you really want to stir it up, post this over there. I would be interested in your work both in lager format and in ale format. My personal experience is that the table sugar in an ale goes to "cider" real quick, while in a lager it seems to be missing whatever the "cider" chemical is. Possible because lagers are kept much longer than ales before they're drunk. Who knows.

Unknown said...

I applaud the effort! Excellent approach. You are controlling for every variable possible and doing as fair a head to head contest as possible - I am extremely eager to hear your results.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you use foil wraps on top if of you mini fermenter? Have you ever had a problem with that? I've always been afraid not to use an airlock

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Foil is no issue during primary fermentation because so much CO2 is being produced. For secondary I always use airlocks.

I've used cane sugar at up to 20% of the fermentables in a Tripel and didn't get any cidery flavors. As long as you have a controlled fermentation it doesn't seem to be an issue.

Thanks for the encouragement, fermentation seems about finished.

Unknown said...

Two things:

1. I recall an article in BYO about the best sugar for a belgian. Think it was specific to tripels. Have you read this? I will see if I can dig it up.

2. Have you tried and of the Soft Candi Sugar products? I have not used them yet because they are relatively new but have heard they are much more authentic. Here is a link on Northern brewer

Unknown said...

To clarify my last comment in #1. The article specifically did controlled experiments with like 5 different sugars and evaluated them over time. The interesting part about it was how different the results changed over the age of the beer.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I have not read that article, it will be interesting to see how my results compare (what were there results in a nutshell?)

The soft brown candi sugar has been around for awhile, I used it in the original candi sugar experiment ~3 years back. It was fine, but didn't give nearly the character/color that the syrup did.

maskednegator said...

Thanks so much for doing this. You're really doing the community a big service.

Also, my first couple batches had a gross plastic off-flavor. My most recent does not. I attribute this to chlorophenols, as the most recent batch had orange rind added to it, and ascorbic acid (vitamin c) kills choloramines in tap water. Have you used aquarium dechlorinator in the past with success? I had considered using this in my next batch, but was unable to find anything in a google search that would indicate that this would be a successful venture.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

This is my first time using the aquarium drops, but I have never had a beer with a cholophenol issue from Scott who has been using it for years. I normally use a carbon block water filter, but this seems like a better technique than campden tablets to me (which have given me fermentation issues in the past).

I had never heard that ascorbic acid gets rid of chloramines, but there are several webpages that suggest that. I have heard of brewers using it to reduce oxidation in the mash or at bottling.

Honkymagic said...

If I remember correctly, in the BYO sugar article (was it BYO or Zymurgy?), the most interesting thing was that the brown sugar Tripel started off tasting the worst, but by six months had moved into second place or so.

Honkymagic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin LaVoy said...

I'm really glad to see someone doing this. In addition to BLAM, I saw today that Randy Mosher says in Radical Brewing that the "candoi sugar" sold at the homebrew store is a waste of money, so it's going around for sure.

I didn't really experiment with multiple sugars so much, but I did use table sugar over the summer in a Dubbel and a Tripel. I used Mosher's recipe for making a syrup on the stove, and just cooked it to the darkness that I wanted. It worked really great. I got nothing cidery from either batch. Maybe it has to do with the Maillard reactions from "cooking" the sugars, maybe because I add the sugars during the boil. My two cents.