When we think of beer, the ingredient list goes like this: water, malt, hops, and yeast. As I discussed in the malt section, malt does the most to influence what style a beer will become. What does malt contribute mostly to beer? Sugar. Sugar is the fuel source for most life on earth. Without sugar, the yeast would have no way to make beer and without beer we would be sad. Discussing sugar is as simple or as complex a topic as they come. In this section, I will try to make sugars and their contribution to beer understandable.




To start with, here is a standard sugar profile of barley:

(or what ends up in the wort). In this example “Maltotriose”

and “other dextrins” are not fermentable, meaning it is only

70% fermentable, more on that ahead.Maltose  50%Maltotriose 18%Glucose  10%Sucrose  8%Fructose  2%Other complex dextrin’s 12%  




Sugars can be broken down into four categories: mono, di, tri (or oligo) – saccharides. These are all carbohydrates that generally taste sweet and are used for energy in living creatures.


A monosaccharide is a simple sugar including glucose (dextrose), fructose, and galactose.

  • Glucose (dextrose) – sugar from starch and fruits, ½ as sweet as sucrose. This is the basic source of energy for all living creatures.
  • Dextrose = Glucose = corn or beet sugar – 99% glucose, 100% fermentable, highly refined and has none of its origin’s flavors; not to be confused with dextrins which are non-fermentable.
  • If glucose levels in wort go above 15%, the yeast can “wear themselves out” by fermenting these, not fermenting maltose, and thereby having a stuck fermentation.
  • Fructose – sugar from fruit and malt, often bonded with glucose to form sucrose (disaccharide)
  • Galactose – less sweet than glucose and comes from beets and dairy products.


Note: If wort contains too much refined monosaccharide sugars, it will lack in the nutrients needed for the yeast during fermentation.


Disaccharides are complex sugars including sucrose (table sugar), maltose, and lactose.

  • Sucrose (table sugar) – sugar from cane, beets, sorghum, and malt. It is the combination of one molecule of both glucose and fructose.
  • Brown Sugar – sucrose with molasses added.
  • Belgian Candi Sugar – large sucrose crystals with or without caramelized sugar added; caramelized to varying degrees. For brewing purposes, it behaves just like table sugar, except for caramel notes.
  • Honey – glucose and fructose – 95% fermentable.
  • Molasses – produces rummy notes and sweet flavors (see below).
  • Maple syrup – 95% sucrose and high moisture content, recommended to add at the end of the boil at 1 quart (3 lbs) to 1 gal per 5 gal batch (expensive).
  • Malt extract (liquid type) is between 60%-85% fermentable – averages about 75%.
  • Invert sugar comes from heating sucrose to 260-285F for 20-30 minutes. This separates the disaccharide down to the monosaccharides glucose and fructose. Invert sugar is consumed directly by yeast.
  • Yeast does not directly ferment sucrose. Instead yeast has an enzyme outside the cell wall called invertase that breaks sucrose down into glucose and fructose before consuming it.
  • Lactose – sugar from milk; non-fermentable. It is the combination of glucose and galactose.
  • Maltose – contains two glucose molecules, not found in foods. Our bodies make it from starches but it is formed from malted barley. Yeast cells allow maltose through their cell walls where an enzyme called maltase breaks it down into 2 glucose molecules for fermentation.


Trisaccharides typically contain 3 to 9 monosaccharides. They include maltotriose (consisting of 3 glucose molecules). Oligosaccharides are trisaccharides in the dextrin family: maltodextrine

  • Maltotriose – consists of 3 glucose molecules, produced by the alpha-amylase enzyme. It is typically the last sugar to be fermented by yeast. Yeast cells allow maltotriose through their cell walls where an enzyme called maltase breaks it down into 3 glucose molecules for fermentation. In fact, a specific yeast's attenuation percentage is mostly based on what percent of maltotriose it can break down. Most lager yest will eat some maltotriose, which is why lagers are usually dryer than ales.
  • Maltodextrine –contains 2-10 monosaccharides produced from starches. It adds body and mouth feel, but not sweetness; only 3% fermentable. In gerneral, high attenuating yease will ferment more maltotriose than lower attenuating yeast. Also, the more flocculent the yeast strain the less maltotriose it tends to ferment.
  • Dextrins – created from starch molecules that amylase enzymes have converted to sugars, or created by roasting in acidic conditions (Maillard effect) like the crust on bread. Dextrins are made up of 4 or more monosaccharide structures. They are comprised of various glucose chains and are generally unfermentable.  However, Saccharomyces diastaticus (a wild yeast) will over-attenuate by consuming the dextrines.
  • Rice solid syrups have varying degrees of fermentability (55-75%) and dextrins that range from 20%-45%


Specific Sugars: *note refined means that it has been processed to remove molasses – impurities and nutrients.

  • Agave – 25%-40% sweeter than sucrose, 90% fructose and 10% sucrose.
  • Belgian Candi Sugar – invert sugar that has fermentability of 95-100% depending on caramelization. Mostly it is added to lighten the body and increase the alcohol of Belgian beers without changing the flavor. Light candi sugar is added to light Belgians like blonde and triples. Dark candi sugar is used for styles like dubbels. It is placed in the boil in the last 10-15 minutes adding gravity but no heaviness in higher gravity beers (>1.070)
  • Belgian Candi Syrup – more than 95% fermentable. Usually does not contain sorghum or molasses flavors and is considered sterile. It should be introduced in the last 10 minutes of the boil by heating the bag in 115F water for 10 minutes or you can add it directly to the fermenter.
  • Brown sugar (light) – refined table sugar with 3% molasses added and has a delicate flavor.
  • Brown sugar (dark) – refined table sugar with 6% molasses added and has a more intense flavor.
  • Cane sugar – strictly from sugar cane and is minimally processed (as opposed to “table sugar” which is from sugar beets and/or sugar cane)
  • Confectioner’s sugar (10x) – sucrose ground into a power with a little corn starch added to prevent clumping.
  • Corn syrup – 100% glucose (or dextrose), derived from corn starch. Some varieties have vanilla added for flavor, otherwise it has no flavor. The dark variety has caramel color added.
  • Demerara – 97% sucrose with a little molasses in it. Minimally refined.
  • Dry Malt Extract (DME) – extracted from barley. There are many varieties from extra light to dark. It has no corn starch in it so a little moisture can turn it into a rock. When bottling a 5 gal batch, instead of 4 oz corn sugar, use 6 oz DME. This is a good choice for adding to the kettle to increase gravity without adding volume or changing the body of the beer.
  • Evaporated cane juice – derived from sugar cane, but unlike refined sugar it retains some of the canes nutrients.
  • Fructose – sugar derived from cane, beets, corn, and honey; 1.7 times sweeter than sucrose but has the same amount of calories per measurement.
  • Honey – usually unrefined and has nutritional value, 1/3 rd sweeter than sucrose. It is best to add at the end of the boil (flameout). Any longer and much of its delicate flavors are lost. Honey needs to be diluted with hot wort (1:1 ratio) before adding to the kettle. Otherwise, it could stick to the bottom and scorch. Use in this way to lighten the body. Higher amounts could be added to get more flavor or aroma. How much is a matter of experimentation, but 10%-30% is a good range. Keep in mind that it will add some volume to the kettle. It contributes the most flavor in lighter styles of beers.  It can be added to the fermenter for better honey flavor retention, however, it will need to be heated to 176F for 20+ minutes to kill any wild yeast or other bugs. Honey can be used as priming sugar for bottle conditioning. It will still need to be “sanitized” before use. 4.6oz is comparable to 4oz of corn sugar for a 5 gallon batch.
  • Jaggery – unrefined brown sugar from sap or nectar of the coconut tree.
  • Maple syrup – mostly unrefined; about 2/3rds as sweet as sucrose. Maple sap is only 2% sugar and is then reduced to maple syrup which is 95% sucrose. Darker varieties cost less and contribute more flavor. Add to the kettle at flameout, or sanitize at 176F for 20 minutes and add to the fermenter.
  • Molasses – only 50% sugar in its crudest form. Produces rummy notes. It is best to use unsulfured varieties. It is produced as a byproduct of the refining process – the residue that’s left over after the sugar crystals are removed.
  • Blackstrap Molasses – made the same way as molasses except it represents the maximum extraction from the sugars – the boiling of sugar syrup. It contains more nutrients than most other sugars. It is bittersweet in flavor and more intense than molasses. Unsulfured version is recommended.
  • Muscovado sugar – the closest sugar to molasses that is still mostly sugar; very dark brown with a strong molasses flavor. Unrefined and has a much stronger flavor than brown sugar.
  • Sorghum – gluten free and contains nutrients. It is mostly sucrose. It can be combined with corn sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, rice syrup, molasses, honey, fruit juices, etc. to make gluten-free beers. However, these carbohydrates ferment out so it would make for a very dry and very light flavored beer. It has been recommended that corn sugar be used instead because it is cheaper and produces the same results – gluten free beer. It would be lacking the character found in higher protein, kilned malts.
  • Table sugar – 100% sucrose and has slightly more ppg (points/pounds/per gallon) than corn sugar; meaning that it takes a little less to create the same amount of alcohol or CO2.
  • Treacle – like candi syrup, there are different colors and intensities ranging from pale to black. Black treacle is a very dark flavorful blend of molasses, invert sugar, and corn syrup. It has more caramel flavors than molasses. Black treacle used in brewing comes noticeably through in dark beers. A half pound added in the last 5 minutes of the boil contributes a nice flavor. Remember to dilute it with hot wort to keep it from scorching. I find black treacle to be smoother and more refined than molasses. Golden treacle is refined and contains 50% invert and 50% sucrose.
  • Turbinado sugar – “Sugar in the Raw” that has been partially processed to remove the surface molasses. Less sticky than brown sugar and more flavor than demerara sugar.

Homebrew Lab:

Brewer's Sugar

Make your own "brewer's sugar":

  1. Place 1 cup (7 oz) or more of sugar (sucrose) in a sauce pan (stainless or non-stick). No or very little (1 tbsp) of water should be used. It takes much longer to brown, but the water could help keep it from turning the sugar hard.
  2. Bring to medium heat until sugar starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, then reduce heat to low. Do not stir, simply tilt the  pan back and forth, gently, to redistribute the sugar evenly every few minutes. (Fig 1)
  3. The Caramelization process takes about 20 minutes for a cup of sugar.
  4. Once all the crystals have melted and turned medium brown, continue to heat on low until desired color is reached. (Fig 2)
  5. At this point you will have what's called "hard crack" candy sugar. Meaning at room temperature this sugar will be hard. The hot sugar can be placed on parchment paper in a container to cool. However, this will have to be melted before introducing it into the kettle.
  6. The other option is: carefully stir in 1 cup of boiling water into the hot sugar. Caution: there could be some water spitting back out of the pan. Reduce the solution until it is thick and runny. This solution is much easier to add to the kettle. (Fig 3)

Fig 1

Fig 2

Fig 3