Cane Sugar, Purity and Bar Room Myths

There are those in the realm of brewing who would have you believe that the use of cane sugar equates to cheap substandard beer. This idea stems for several sources. Firstly German brewing culture is dominated by an ancient resource management law that was originally enacted to ensure that the brewers didn’t compete with bakers for wheat and rye. Now known as the Reinheitsgebot or Beer Purity Law it encourages the myth that all malt beer is necessarily best. Secondly American craft brewing rose up from the homebrew community where experience with early homebrew recipes with overly high percentages of cane sugar coloured their perception of the ingredient and led to some definitions of craft beer stipulating an all malt grist. Thirdly New Zealand has a long tradition of our big brewers misusing sugar in our beers, using high percentages of cane sugar to create strong beers that are then diluted and sweetened back up after fermentation with sugar and coloured with caramel resulting in thin yet also sugary beers.
The problem with all this is that cane sugar is a useful and traditional ingredient for many English, Belgian and even some American style beers.
Quite why sugar derived from cane should be considered less ‘natural’ than sugar derived from malting is never made clear, or I suspect even contemplated. There is of course no logical reason why this should be so.
Cane sugar serves several important purposes in the brewhouse. Firstly contrary to popular belief cane sugar will usually make a beer drier and leaner than a beer that is all malt. When brewer’s yeast consumes malt sugars there are always complex sugars that are left as they cannot be broken down by the yeast. This is what gives beer body and malt flavour. Cane sugar on the other hand is almost entirely consumed by the yeast creating alcohol and co2 but no body or residual sweetness, so when a brewer supplements a portion of malt for a portion of cane sugar the resulting beer is drier. In the case of English style beers this means a little extra alcohol can be achieved while still keeping the beer sessionable. In Belgian brewing sugar is often used to create beers of considerable alcohol content that are still perilously drinkable. In addition specialty sugars are sometimes used in both English and Belgian brewing to impart distinctive dark caramel, and or dried fruit flavours into the beer.
So here at North End we believe in using the right ingredient to achieve the right character in our beers regardless of what the  Reinheitsgebot, the craft beer police or anyone else says about it. As a result we use cane sugar in both our Extra Special Bitter and in our Saison. Cheers!

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