If you’ve ever brewed one of the Port 66 beers or ciders, you may have noticed we recommend using dextrose as the fermenting sugar in the instructions. As a widely available and affordable sugar, it is often considered the best option when creating a quality homebrew beer.
But what about the alternatives? For this blog I’ll be testing 3 x different fermenting sugars and analysing the outcomes via blind taste tests, whilst also considering ease of use, cost and availability too.
The three sugars to be used in the experiment are dextrose (as recommended in the Port 66 instructions), sucrose and dry malt extract (DME). Firstly I’ll explain a little about each sugar:
Dextrose is considered a better quality sugar to use than your standard table sugar (sucrose), whilst remaining affordable and fairly convenient to purchase. It is a monosaccharide (one sugar) which means it doesn’t need breaking down for fermentation, unlike sucrose which is a disaccharide (two sugars) which require the yeast to break it down. Dextrose doesn’t produce off flavours and is sometimes considered to create a better bodied beer than sucrose.
Sucrose. There is a negative reputation surrounding sucrose in that it can create a sulphurous flavour bi-product. Opinions vary on this however as there are several quality trappist breweries who use up to 18% sucrose in their fermentations with fantastic results. Sucrose requires the beer yeast to produce an additional enzyme in order to break down the molecule and it is this process which causes the undesirable off-flavours in the beer. On a more positive note, sucrose is cheap and more widely available than dextrose.
Dry Malt Extract is considered a very natural sugar source to use in beer production as it is made from malt. For this reason it should produce a fuller bodied beer with additional malt character. It is more expensive and less accessible than dextrose or sucrose however. It can also be difficult to work with because as soon as it is exposed to air it will start absorbing moisture and can clump, making it difficult to dissolve.
For the brewing process, I made 3 x Port 66 premium continental lagers at the same time, using exactly the same method as outlined by the Port 66 instructions, just changing the sugar for each.
Using the dextrose and sucrose was straightforward as expected, they both dissolved in the water quickly and there was no clumping. Using the DME proved slightly more difficult, clumping when it came into contact with the steam from the boiling water. This meant it took a bit longer to dissolve, but wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.
For the remainder of the brewing process, there were no obvious differences except when taking the specific gravity readings. The DME lager readings were higher than the dextrose and sucrose lagers, meaning the final ABV was about 0.7% weaker than the dextrose and sucrose.
With preconceptions surrounding the Body, Flavour, Aroma and Overall Quality that the three different sugars produce, I held a blind taste test marking each lager in these areas.
Six tasters were asked to taste each of the three lagers without knowing which sugar was used in each. I then asked them to mark each category out of 10.
I then took an average score from each category and noted any comments made by the tasters. Here are the results:
The lager made with DME is the clear winner, scoring the highest in all categories, with an overall score of 8.8 out of 10. With dextrose coming in second with a respectable overall score of 8.4 out of 10. The sucrose was some way behind this with several tasters commenting on a slightly off or unappealing aroma and sulphurous aftertaste.
One notable negative mentioned by several of the tasters was the haziness of the DME. Although appearance wasn’t accounted for in the above scoring, this could have cost the DME variant some points – I have included a picture below to show the three beers against the light.
One objective of the sugar experiment was to see whether the preconceptions about each sugar was true, or if these may just be based on reputation.
The blind taste results would suggest they are true as there were no big surprises. The only unexpected finding was the haziness of the DME lager. Though we have previously blogged about how this type of haze can be reduced – http://www.port66.co.uk/brewing-clarity/.
If you want to do some further experimentation of your own, there are several other sugars that are popularly used by brewers including:
- Belgian Candi Sugar
- Liquid Malt Extract
- Invert Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Maple Syrup
- Rice Syrup Solids
Goes without saying this is a huge subject in beer and brewing with loads of potential for experiments some good further reading articles are linked below.