Candi Is Dandy

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - Contents -

Josh Weik­ert delves into the spe­cific func­tion candi sug­ars can play in beer and dis­cusses of just how nec­es­sary candi sug­ars are.

Candi sug­ars are at once an un­der­used and an overused in­gre­di­ent. Here, Josh Weik­ert talks about sug­ars and syrups more gen­er­ally, then delves into the spe­cific func­tion candi sug­ars can play in beer, and wraps up with a dis­cus­sion of just how nec­es­sary candi sug­ars are.

AS THE GREAT AMER­I­CAN poet Og­den Nash wrote, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” I won­der whether Og­den knew that you could of­fer both at the same time? Prob­a­bly so, given that he wrote that fa­mous line dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion.

In any case, candy gave way to liquor in 1933 with the pas­sage of the 21st Amend­ment to the United States Con­sti­tu­tion, for­mally end­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, and brew­ers kept the fu­sion of the two alive. Brew­ers, es­pe­cially those en­am­ored of Bel­gian strong ales, know that candy (or “candi,” as we’ll spell it from here on out) plays a spe­cial and valu­able role in brew­ing.

Beer isn’t liquor, of course, but all al­co­holic bev­er­ages boil down (pun in­tended) to fer­men­ta­tion of a sug­ary liq­uid—the source of the sugar isn’t es­pe­cially rel­e­vant, ex­cept in terms of the fla­vor, color, and body of the fin­ished prod­uct.

And that brings us back to candi sug­ars. Candi sug­ars are at once an un­der­used and an overused in­gre­di­ent, a para­dox that feels right at home in beer styles that are of­ten sweetly es­tery and grip­pingly dry in their fin­ish. On one level, candi sug­ars are just… well, sugar. In their palest forms, they add grav­ity points and not much else. In this

sense, they are some­times an ex­trav­a­gant waste of re­sources for brew­ers who could just as eas­ily spend a frac­tion of their cash on corn sugar (dex­trose) and get the same ef­fect. Darker, caramelized candi sug­ars, by com­par­i­son, can be used to add color to your beers as well as dis­tinct fla­vors, and it’s these that are of­ten ne­glected by brew­ers who tend to get tun­nel vi­sion and think pri­mar­ily about caramel and roasted malts for color and fla­vor ad­just­ment.

Candi sugar is a flex­i­ble and nu­anced prod­uct. It can ei­ther be a throw­away in­gre­di­ent that has vir­tu­ally no im­pact or the key in­gre­di­ent in the pro­duc­tion of some of the best, rarest, and most ex­otic beers in the world. What’s not to love in an in­gre­di­ent with that kind of range? Let’s talk about sug­ars and syrups more gen­er­ally, then delve into the spe­cific func­tion candi sug­ars can play in beer, and wrap up with a dis­cus­sion of just how nec­es­sary these sug­ars are, any­way.

Sugar Is Sugar—or Is It?

Sugar is just sugar. Not re­ally, but let’s start there.

Many ad­junct sug­ars are used as noth­ing more than Abv-builders. They fer­ment off

en­tirely, adding lit­tle to no color and lit­tle to no fla­vor, and they con­trib­ute only to the al­co­hol con­tent of the beer. The sec­ondary ef­fect of that al­co­hol-level in­crease is a thin­ning of the body since ethanol is thin­ner than wa­ter, but that’s about it. Most un­heated cane and beer sug­ars, corn sugar, pure maple and birch syrups, and even many honeys fall into this cat­e­gory.

Piv­ot­ing to the most-in­tense fla­vor con­trib­u­tors, we have sug­ars such as mo­lasses, dark trea­cle, and many honeys (buck­wheat with its strong spice notes, mead­ow­foam with its unique marsh­mal­low fla­vor, etc.). Why do these im­part no­tice­able fla­vors? It isn’t their color per se or the pro­teins found in some of them; it’s that they’ve been pro­cessed.

Nat­u­rally or man­u­ally, some­one or some­thing has worked on these sug­ars, the most com­mon method be­ing by heat­ing. Heat cre­ates Mail­lard and carameliza­tion fla­vors, and this (of­ten com­bined with the pres­ence of some min­er­als, pro­teins, or com­pounds) yields the fla­vors that sur­vive the fer­men­ta­tion process, even when the un­der­ly­ing sug­ars are long gone in a blaze of ethanol and car­bon diox­ide.

So, where does this leave Bel­gian candi sug­ars? In­ter­est­ingly, in both cat­e­gories. The light­est Bel­gian candi sug­ars find them­selves in the “lit­tle im­pact” boat: they will im­part vir­tu­ally no fla­vor and are es­sen­tially just an ex­pen­sive form of sim­ple sugar. Some ar­gue that they can iden­tify a sub­tle fla­vor con­tri­bu­tion from them, but given the com­plex fla­vor pro­file they’re be­ing dropped into, the claim is hard to take at face value. By con­trast, the am­ber and dark candi sug­ars—which have been heated—will still be com­prised of en­tirely fer­mentable beet sug­ars but will im­part sub­tle but no­tice­able fla­vors when used in suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties (usu­ally be­tween 5 and 20 per­cent of the grav­ity points in the recipe).

The Taste and Feel of Candi Sugar

Candi sug­ars are avail­able in sev­eral forms and col­ors. They can come in rock form (a crys­tal­ized sugar) or syrup, which is gen­er­ally eas­ier to work with. Be cau­tious, though: Tomme Arthur, COO and co­founder of The Lost Abbey shared a hor­ror story in­volv­ing “adding syrup too early and hav­ing the sugar caramelize on the bot­tom of the ket­tle. That sounds aw­ful.” No ar­gu­ment here, Tomme! Be sure to fully dis­solve added sug­ars in the ket­tle and con­sider adding them at whirlpool to avoid this risk! Both forms are com­pletely fer­mentable, but they are also scaled for color. It’s in this color dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion that we find the real, prac­ti­cal dis­tinc­tions to be drawn.

Candi sug­ars are scored in much the same way as caramel malts, with SRM rat­ings for color. These color rat­ings are gen­er­ally in­dica­tive of more in­tense fla­vors as they in­crease along the scale. At the lower end are the palest, at 1–5 SRM, and these are es­sen­tially just sim­ple, di­gestible sug­ars that will add hardly any fla­vors.

As color in­creases from col­or­less-to-gold through am­ber and dark brown, fla­vors in­crease. As Phil Lein­hart, brew­mas­ter at Brew­ery Om­megang ex­plains, “These sug­ars can im­part smooth, pleas­ant caramel, tof­fee, and raisin/date notes with­out the po­ten­tial roasted qual­ity that high dried or roasted malts can bring.” This is, per­haps, the great­est ad­van­tage that candi sug­ars of­fer. The fla­vors they pro­duce can be had through other means—crys­tal 120 or 150 malts, choco­late rye or pale choco­late malt, Carafa and Carafa Spe­cial malts—but do­ing so runs the risk of adding more than

As color in­creases from col­or­less-to-gold through am­ber and dark brown, fla­vors in­crease. As Phil Lein­hart, brew­mas­ter at Brew­ery Om­megang ex­plains, “These sug­ars can im­part smooth, pleas­ant caramel, tof­fee, and raisin/date notes with­out the po­ten­tial roasted qual­ity that high dried or roasted malts can bring.” This is, per­haps, the great­est ad­van­tage that candi sug­ars of­fer. The fla­vors they pro­duce can be had through other means—crys­tal 120 or 150 malts, choco­late rye or pale choco­late malt, Carafa and Carafa Spe­cial malts—but do­ing so runs the risk of adding more than just the rich tof­fee and pit-fruit fla­vors that dark candi sug­ars can pro­vide.

just the rich tof­fee and pit-fruit fla­vors that dark candi sug­ars can pro­vide.

Re­mem­ber, though, that these are sub­tle fla­vors: They in­crease with color and per­cent­age, so if you’re swap­ping in candi sugar for crys­tal malts, it’s best done in a recipe that can han­dle a big dose of ad­junct sugar.

That sugar comes with a side-ef­fect in terms of body, how­ever. It will make the beer thin­ner. Ad­just­ing body through the use of sim­ple sug­ars is a not un­com­mon trick of the trade among brew­ers ev­ery­where, but it’s es­pe­cially use­ful in and in­dica­tive of the tra­di­tional Bel­gian strong ales.

Ed­ward West­brook, founder of West­brook Brew­ing Co. of South Carolina dis­cusses this dual-pur­pose func­tion­al­ity: “You can lighten the body of the beer and get lots of dark fruit/choco­late fla­vor at the same time,” as West­brook does in sev­eral of its beers. If you’re go­ing to in­crease the ABV any­way, might as well put that sugar to work on more than one char­ac­ter­is­tic! It is also very much in keep­ing with the beer and brew­ing phi­los­o­phy of tra­di­tional Bel­gian brew­ers. “Out­side of the color/fla­vor im­pacts of am­ber and dark sug­ars/syrups, the pri­mary rea­son for us­ing dex­trose or su­crose is to re­place some of the malt/ grain in a recipe with a highly fer­mentable

sugar; this helps in mak­ing a drier beer that is less fill­ing and, as the Bel­gians say, more ‘di­gestible,’ ” says Lein­hart—and Om­megang cer­tainly knows their way around a drink­able, di­gestible beer.

And if you’re look­ing for a more sub­tle ap­pli­ca­tion—or if you’re look­ing for one last nudge to­ward the cof­fee, co­coa, plum, fig, and tof­fee fla­vors that can come from candi sug­ars—you can al­ways use candi sug­ars for prim­ing. Rather than re­ly­ing on your typ­i­cal corn-sugar ad­di­tion, con­sider prim­ing with a dark candi syrup for a sub­tle hint of com­plex­ity. This tech­nique can be ap­plied in any num­ber of styles that are found far, far from the low­lands of Bel­gium.

Ul­ti­mately, candi sugar’s con­tri­bu­tions are very much a func­tion of which candi sugar we’re talk­ing about, how it’s used, and in what quan­ti­ties. It can be as fleet­ing as a shadow or as clear as a bell— which one is up to you, and you should de­sign your recipes ac­cord­ingly.

An Op­tion—just Not the Only One

Un­like many brew­ing in­gre­di­ents that are “mar­ried” in brew­ers’ minds to the style of beer they pro­duce—bavar­ian weizen yeast in Hefe, beech­wood-smoked malt in Rauch­bier, Amer­i­can “C” hops in… lots of Amer­i­can styles—candi sugar is well suited to, but not a re­quired el­e­ment of, the Bel­gian styles with which they’re as­so­ci­ated. You don’t have to use it. Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur re­ports that they ac­tu­ally use rel­a­tively lit­tle candi sugar, de­spite be­ing one of the most suc­cess­ful and well-re­garded brew­ers of Bel­gian styles in the United States.

“I think the key to most Bel­gian-style beers is the ap­proach to the bal­ance that the fin­ished beer ul­ti­mately de­mands. There are myr­iad sug­ars and syrups avail­able to a brewer when they are de­sign­ing recipes. For us, we are fo­cused mostly on us­ing dex­trose as our added sugar. This is a sim­plis­tic ap­proach to brew­ing, but it’s widely avail­able and easy to use in the brew­ery.”

That func­tional, util­i­tar­ian ap­proach is per­fectly in keep­ing with the brew­ing ethos of the great Trap­pist and abbey brew­eries of Europe, and, as Arthur says, more im­por­tant is “be­ing happy with the re­sults that we have been get­ting.” Lein­hart agrees—they, too, use a lot of gran­u­lar dex­trose in the brew­ery.

At the same time, Arthur agrees with Lein­hart on the value of adding high­caramelized and light-roasted fla­vors with­out the risk at­tached to us­ing those grains (added body, roasted husks) and con­cedes the fol­low­ing: “I do feel there could be ad­van­tages to the darker syrups,

in­clud­ing color gains not from malt and in­ten­sity of fla­vors that can be de­rived with­out darker roasts com­pro­mis­ing things.”

The Candi Man Can

Lein­hart and Arthur es­sen­tially agree on the util­ity of candi sug­ars…ex­cept when they’re not nec­es­sary. Un­der­ly­ing that con­tra­dic­tion is the di­rec­tive to fig­ure it out for your­self. As with many el­e­ments of brew­ing, much is in the eye and palate of the be­holder, and there’s no way to know how much (or how lit­tle) you’ll ben­e­fit from an in­gre­di­ent un­til you try it. By all means, ex­per­i­ment with candi sugar.

Take dif­fer­ent col­ors out for a spin. Sub it in for some crys­tal malt in your next dubbel. Prime with it in your next bot­tled weizen­bock. It will add more than just grav­ity points (at least in its darker ren­di­tions). You’ll be able to an­tic­i­pate co­coa, fig, smooth caramel, and even light cit­rus fla­vors. You’ll gen­er­ate light, di­gestible higher-abv beers.

You’ll de­velop jewel-toned am­ber and cop­per col­ors. Heck, you might even prove me de­cid­edly wrong when I say that lighter candi sug­ars add al­most no fla­vors to your beer—i freely ad­mit I’ve never tried adding it to a light lager. Or you might find that your sim­pler, cheaper sugar ad­di­tions work just as well. Work it as an in­gre­di­ent and find out whether you’re get­ting ev­ery­thing you can out of your beers.

Candi truly is dandy. I’m sure Mr. Nash would agree.

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