If you have made Belgian beers before there is a really good chance you have heard or seen candi sugar and candi syrup along the way. These two are forms of the same fermentable sugar and are widely used by commercial and home brewers alike. There are a few things we should chat about before I get into the process of making this stuff, so here is the rub:
The biggest question I get about candi sugar at the shop is, “Is it different than regular table sugar?” The second most asked question, “Does it really matter? I heard Belgians don’t even use the stuff.” The answer to both of these questions is a resounding YES. If you want to know a ton more about the use of candi sugar, you can read “Brew Like a Monk.” In essence, candi sugar tastes different because of the processing it goes through. Candi syrup/sugar use additives that are not required to be added to their ingredients labels, therefore, they can call it 100% sugar. Belgian brewers have largely replaced clear candi sugar and syrup in their golden ales and tripels with sucrose, beet sugar, dextrose and other types of white processed sugar. I still like to use clear candi syrup in my Belgian ales, and that is because I prefer the slightly tart flavor produced from the citrus-like flavors of the acids used to process the stuff. In darker Belgian beers, it is quite normal for breweries to use darker, caramelized candi syrups in large quantities. Many breweries in Belgium do not use large amounts of caramel or roasted malts and the resulting sugar is where a large portion of the color for their darker beers comes from.
Now that we have cleared that up, we can talk about a basic candi syrup recipe, how to turn it into candi sugar rocks, and what a great recipe would be.
I started my candi sugar experiment with nothing but what I already had in my brewing closet and my kitchen cupboards. As a rule, the Maillard reaction (non enzymatic browning), does not occur at low temps in plain sugar when the sugar is heated with water by itself-it instead turns into plain caramel. So, that is where the other ingredients come into play.
Things you will need:
- Diammonium phosphate (Yeast Nutrient)
- Citric Acid (I used orange juice, but you can use any type)
- 1 lb Table Sugar (I prefer Beet Sugar)
- 2 qts of Water
- (optional preservative)
- Combine 1lb sugar and 3 cups of water in a sauce pan and begin to heat.
- As it heats up, add the citric acid (I used the juice from one orange) and a ½ tsp of yeast nutrient and bring slowly to the point where the sugar is lightly bubbling over medium heat.
- Now is the part where you watch boiling sugar. Do not go too hot or too cold with your burner- medium heat is good. If you are using a thermometer you want to stay shy of the 300 degree point. That is where the sugar starts to get too hot, get solid, or go south really fast. If you walk away from a brew pot it will boil over; if you leave your sugar it will burn. Same difference.
- Now, I let mine go for five or so minutes, but you can decide when is enough, and you can experiment with raising and lowering the temperature until you get your desired color. When you are happy with the color, you will need to add a little water to compensate for the boil off.
- Once you are at your desired color you, can stop the process by killing the burner (this is where I add 1 tsp of stabilizer like potassium metabisulfite) .
- a. Syrup – Add 1/3 of a cup of water to keep the syrup in a liquid state. If you are making the rock form you will not add the waterb. Rock Candy – Instead of doing 6a, pour the syrup onto a silicone baking sheet and set it in the fridge to cool.
- Package it up! If you do not use stabilizer you should try to use the syrup relatively soon and the rock form can be stored in your freezer nearly indefinitely.
At O’Connor’s we have a Belgian Dubbel and Tripel Kit for all you extract brewers and we’d take $4 off the recipe if you want to try your own candi sugar! We have recipes for all sorts of Belgian ales for both all-grain and extract brewers and I hope to see a few more folks try out this fun technique in the following month. Let us know about your experiments; we love to share stories here at your favorite local HBS!
Nick LaVelle, Home Brew Expert