Guide to Fermentables (Sugars)
In days of old, beer kits got a bad name for the ‘homebrew twang‘ and hangover.
This is because people would use the beer kit + 1kg table sugar (Kit & Kilo)
However, there is a huge range of fermentables out there now and easy to find and fairly cheap.
Using the right mix of fermentables will help make great beers to give the All Grainers a run for their money, while not subjecting yourself to hours of neglecting your family and slaving over a brew.
WHY DO I NEED THEM?
Yeast eat sugar and leave byproducts of alcohol (booze) and carbon dioxide (fizz).
If you use Coopers’ Kits there’s a guide to their yeasts and a few others HERE
IS TABLE SUGAR OK?
Table sugar (Sucrose) can be used and will make alcoholic, thin beer.
It is super cheap and you only need 1kg (+ 1.7kg kit can)to have your beer at about 4.8%
The downside is that the cost benefit is usually far outweighed by the reduced quality of the end result beer.
Using table sugar exclusively will produce thinner beer (lacking ‘mouthfeel’), with poor head retention and a lack of malty character.
However, it is recommended for some styles like the Coopers Ginger Beer or Brupaks Trappist Tripel to achieve a particular profile.
BREWING SUGAR MUST BE BETTER BECAUSE IT COSTS MORE AND SAYS ‘BREWING’, RIGHT?
Brewing sugar is generally just Dextrose. Dextrose will also ferment out completely, leaving nothing behind but carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Again, it will leave your beer lacking mouthfeel and head retention. It has its uses though, adding to the alcohol content.
It won’t mess with the quality of your brew if you stick to less than 300grams per 23L brew (same for table sugar).
Again, more is recommended in some style recipes to achieve a particular result.
Coopers’ Brewing Sugar is 80% dextrose, 20% maltodextrine.
Maltodextrine has virtually no taste (sweetness) and doesn’t ferment much.
Because it mostly doesn’t ferment, it ‘thickens’ up your beer with an increased Final Gravity, improving the head and mouthfeel a little.
ARE ‘BREW ENHANCERS’ BETTER?
Yes, they are better as they reduce the amount of dextrose in your brew and replace it with other fermentables.
They’ll give better beer than dextrose alone, but at the price using mostly malt is better (in my opinion):
Coopers’ Brew Enhancer 1 = 60% dextrose, 40% maltodextrin.
Because the maltodextrine won’t ferment out, Kit and Kilo will end up at only about 4%.
Mainly used for lighter beers like Lager, Draught and Pilsener.
Coopers’ Brew Enhancer 2 = 50% dextrose, 25% maltodextrin, 25% light dry malt.
The addition of light dry malt (maltose) ‘will further add to the body and increase the malt character of your favorite brew. Great for use with any beer styles where a fuller, maltier flavor is preferred.’
LDM, DME, LME, LDME, WTF?
Malt extract will further add to the body and increase the malt character of your brew.
Dry Malt Extract (DME) or spraymalt is malt that has been extracted from grains and dried into a very fine powder.
It is often called LDM (Light Dry Malt) but that can get confusing unless you actually mean the light one.
DME comes in extra light, light, amber and dark.
To keep it simple, you can match the color of the malt with the color of the beer (eg: extra light for pilsner, dark for stout).
Darker malts will also have a more roasted flavor because the grains are roasted.
Liquid Malt Extract (LME) is pretty much the same, but it comes as a can of goop.
It’s just like the contents of the beer kit, but with no hops added.
Because it is not fully dehydrated it can make fresher beer than DME, but it generally adds a few points to your FG, leaves extra sweetness in the beer, darkens the beer, and can leave a bit of a ‘tang’.
Coopers and Brewferm Cans are about €12 for a 1.5kg Can, but don’t overlook the less expensive €7 versions in homebrewwest and thehomebrewcompany which are getting great reviews and seem to be every bit as good.
Because LME and DME are prety much the same thing, they are interchangeable at the following conversion:
1.5Kg Liquid Malt Extract = 1.1Kg Dry Malt Extract (I round down to 1kg for convenience)
The other 400grams is just water.
Wheat DME is a great addition for head retention (keeping a head on the beer).
MY DME CLUMPS WHEN I ADD THE WATER
That’s ok, the yeast will still munch it up later. It’ll just put your OG reading off by a bit.
Here’s an easy way to disolve DME:
– Put the DME into your FV
– Pour 2 litres of water off the boil onto it
– Pick up the FV and swirl it all in, that will disolve all DME without clumping.
WHY CAN’T I JUST EXTRACT MY OWN MALT FROM GRAIN?
Grains need to be treated right to extract the good bits.
I’m not going to go into mashing grain to get your main body of fermentables (I’m sure you’ll find plenty about that in the All Grain section), but I’ll just quickly mention steeping grain to get some of that awesome freshness into your beer.
Grains make the beer taste fresher, add flavor/aroma/mouthfeel and increase head retention and lacing.
So basically, it makes better beer all round.
Some grains can simply be steeped to get the bits you want into your wort.
When steeping, you just need to crack the grain (many people use freezer bags and a rolling pin), put it in a muslin bag, and steep in water.
You can steep in 2 or 3 litres cold water overnight, or for 30 minutes at about 65C.
Dunk occasionally like a teabag, but don’t squeeze or you might extract some unwanted flavors.
Steeping grains at higher temperatures will also extract unwanted tannins and will kill enzymes in malts that have them (cooking the life out of them).
Once steeped, remove the grains and bring the liquid to the boil for a minute. This will help to remove any germs and also clump up and drop the cloudy matter out. The smell at this stage is great!
To begin with, some tried and tested favorites are:
Carapils – Adds a great head and a fresh taste lighter beer
Crystal – Adds fresh caramely flavor and beter head
Chocolate – Adds hints of chocolate/vanilla/caramel, a nice roastiness, dark color.
Biscuit – Adds toastiness to ales and lagers.
Smoked – Does exactly what it says on the tin, adding smokiness to dark ales and porters.
WHAT ELSE CAN I USE?
Is it mainly sugar and nothing in it that will kill yeast (eg preservatives)? Then it’s pretty much Fair Game.
Honey, treacle, molasses, golden syrup, etc are all included in recipes you’ll find all over the interwebs!
HOW MUCH OF EACH FERMENTABLE SHOULD I USE?
As much as you want really… It depends on what you’re going for.
If you just want to get drunk for cheap and don’t really care about good beer, just add table sugar.
If you want to get slightly better beer without much effort, use Brew Enhancer.
If you want good beer, add Malt Extract.
If you want great beer, use a mix of everything and some grain.
A pretty foolproof basic generic guide (for about 5% ABV):
1.7kg Beer Kit
1kg DME (match beer style)
250g Dextrose or table sugar (to boost ABV)
300g Carapils or Crystal (freshness and head)
(For dark Ales and Stouts you can also add 200 grams chocolate or other roasted malt)
ARE THERE ANY TOOLS TO HELP ME OUT?
There are a few sweet programs available online to help you design recipes.
My favorite is called ‘BeerSmith‘, you can get a free trial or buy it at beersmith.com
Otherwise, for simpler free software, there’s Brewmate from brewmate.net
Just clock the kit can as 1.7kg of Liquid Malt Extract and add in the rest.
They’ll calculate the OG, expected FG, strength (ABV), colour (EBC), etc and also allow you to save your recipes.
Later on you’ll find a shedload of other features hidden in both.