How is sugar used in brewing?

Jul 25 2019

You can’t brew without sugar, so what exactly is its role when producing ales, lagers, porters and stouts?

No alcohol without sugar

When making a drink such as an ale, lager, porter or stout, the basic principle is to extract the sugars from grains (typically barley or malt) that yeast can then turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). To achieve this, grains are first malted (dried out and then heated) before then going through a process called mashing (like porridge), in which they are steeped in very hot but not boiling water in order to activate the enzyme that releases its sugars. After this, the resulting sugar-rich water, known as wort, is drained, boiled and hops are added for flavour.

The next stage in the process is where sugar plays its vital part. Once the wort has been strained and filtered, the brewing is complete, and fermentation can begin. To kickstart this, yeast is added to the wort, after which it feeds on the sugar present, producing CO2 and alcohol in the process. Depending on the desired end product, the wort is now left for a set number of weeks at a specific temperature, before it is bottled, aged and ready to be sold as an ale, lager, ale, stout or porter.

The above can be carried out either by relying on the sugar naturally present in the mashed grain or by adding the sugar as an adjunct directly after the mashing process. There was once a time when the majority of malt beers, those produced without any added adjunct sugar, were seen as a superior product, with the use of any external sugar seen as solely the preserve of large scale commercial brewers. Not only has this stance softened, but it ignores the fact that sugar has been used in brewing for centuries and adds colour and flavour as well as speeding up fermentation.

Brewing sugar is essential to ensuring beers of all styles have the perfect taste and colour and ferment at the correct rate.

What is brewing sugar?

In theory, any sugar can be used in brewing. However, for a superior end product that is rich in both the desired colour and flavour and fermentabilities, we always recommend using a brewing sugar. At Ragus Sugars, these are custom formulated to match our clients’ requirements, meaning that we can offer sugars to suit a wide variety of beer styles.

The main difference between a specifically formulated brewing sugar and ordinary household sugar (sucrose) is that the former is mono-saccharide (one molecule of glucose) while the latter is di-saccharide (a pair of glucose modules). Due to this, brewing sugar causes fermentation to start much quicker and leaves a clearer liquid at the end. As well as this, something like sucrose would have to be split by the yeast before it can begin to feed and ferment, often leaving bi-products and impurities that can give the final brewed product a bitter taste and unappealing appearance.

We offer three main brewing sugars at Ragus Sugars (brewer’s sugars no.1,2 or 3), each of which can be offered as either a fully inverted syrup or seeded into a crystalline block. They are all 95% readily fermentable and have the following colours, as certified using the European Brewery Convention: 25-35 EBC; 60-70 EBC; 120-140 EBC. In addition, we also produce candy and glucose chip blocks. As a result, we can cover all styles of colours and flavours.

As we have seen, sugar is a vital component to ensuring both a highly accurate brewing process and high-quality end products. Order your brewing sugar now using our product finder to benefit from Ragus Sugars’ decades of expertise.

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Safeguarding sustainability at Ragus

Jul 18 2019

At Ragus, we know that sustainability is a collaborative project. What are we doing to play our part?

A sign of the times

It is now critical that companies are mindful of their environmental impact. Assessing ways to reduce energy consumption or the usage of single-use plastics is commonplace in industry, as supply chain actors are being forced to examine the impact of their actions on the planet. As a result, clients and consumers are beginning to prioritise working with companies who pursue sustainable goals, with this trend showing no sign of slowing.

At Ragus, sustainability forms one of our 10 pillars of corporate social responsibility (CSR). It is ingrained in our operations and underpins our attempts to limit waste, increase efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint. Not only is this necessary in order to preserve the health of our plant, but it is also, as we see it, simply the right way to operate.

Fine tuning our CSR policy so it is as beneficial and responsive as possible is an ongoing project. In 2012 we opened a brand new and resource efficient plant, equipped with a custom-made production line that maximised efficiency throughout the sugar production process. While this plant remains one of the most technically advanced of its kind, we are always striving to promote operations that have sustainability at their core and developing processes that deliver maximum efficiency.

Ragus is one of the world's leading pure sugar manufacturers. It sources raw sugar from across the world to manufacture sugars, syrups and special formulations from its advanced UK factory. Ragus ships its sugars globally, delivering on-time and in-full to customers across the baking, brewing, confectionary, and pharmaceutical industries


A sustainable approach from start to finish

In routinely placing procedures such as procurement and packaging under the CSR microscope, we have frequently identified areas for improvement. Outlined below are some examples of our operations that are sustainability-driven:

High standards and shared values with suppliers

We hold all our suppliers and service providers to our own CSR standards and values. In doing so, we have developed a network of suppliers that deliver exploitation-free products reliably and on time. As a mark of our commitment to this approach, we also regularly visit and audit the refineries, mills and plantations operated by these suppliers, with this being the best way to ensure our high standards are consistently shared throughout the sugar supply chain.

Sustainable and resource efficient sugar production

During the design phase of our plant near London, we introduced an advanced closed system in which the evaporation vats are heated by using water instead of steam. This allows for easier and more even vat heating, reduces heat loss and therefore increases efficiency. No sugar is wasted during the manufacturing process. All excess product is processed and utilised during production eliminating the waste stream.

In addition to the closed system, equipment is purchased with resource efficiency and performance as key criteria. This included energy-efficient heat exchangers and boilers, intelligent lighting, more energy efficient jackets on holding tanks and inversion pans. Our onsite weighbridge has enabled us to reduce the carbon footprint of our operations as previously at the old factory, vehicles would have to be weighed elsewhere. This has reduced emissions and saved fuel.


After any sugar product has been produced, it must then be packaged for transportation. To limit the carbon footprint of the product, we encourage our customers to use the reusable pooling system. By using returnable intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) with a protective liner, the tank is kept clean and means that it no longer needs to be reconditioned after each delivery which is common with traditional IBCs. As a result, both water and energy are saved, with the liners also being recycled once used.

To cut down our dependence on natural resources and reduce our environmental impact, we are promoting the use of pooled plastic pallets. These have a lower carbon footprint than that of wooden pallets as they have a much longer life span and can be recycled into a new pallet. In addition, they do not splinter which could pose a foreign body risk and are easily sanitised to remove bacteria and limit growth ready for reuse.

Plans for the future at Ragus

Outlined above are only a handful of examples of the path to a highly sustainable future Ragus is taking. We consistently invest time and money into improving all areas of our business. Sustainability is a continuous and collaborative project and we will continue to play our part in pursuing this goal.

To learn more on our 10 pillars visit the responsibility section of the website or contact us.

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Granular detail: molasses

Jul 11 2019

Molasses is used the world over in products ranging from animal feed to dietary supplements. For the next edition of our Granular Detail series, we break down everything there is to know about this highly adaptable and popular sugar product.

What is molasses?

Molasses is a highly viscous by-product of the boiling process required to refine both sugar cane and sugar beet. Due to the highly bitter taste afforded by chemicals present in the raw sugar beet, beet molasses is only ever used as an additive in animal feed. Cane molasses, on the other hand, with its distinct flavour profile and rich, dark colour, is crucial to a huge variety of foods and drinks, from sweetening desserts to producing rum.

Despite still retaining a reasonable sugar content, cane molasses has also traditionally long been prized for its high vitamin content. Containing iron, calcium, magnesium and vitamin B6, it is still widely regarded as a hugely beneficial dietary supplement. As well as this, molasses has also historically been viewed as a medical cure-all capable of healing ailments and illnesses ranging from the slightly minor to the highly severe.

What products use molasses?

Molasses is used across a hugely diverse range of products. Due to its distinct flavour profile and dark colour, it is ideal for Christmas puddings, toffee, savoury sauces and cooking marinades. As mentioned above, molasses is also the main ingredient in the distillation of rum and is often found in beer styles such as stouts and porters.

In a true mark of its adaptability, molasses is used in the production of a range of non-foodstuffs and drinks. Once fermented, sucrose present in the molasses is converted into cellular energy, with this eventually going on to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. As a result, many developing, sugar cane producing nations, use molasses-derived-ethanol as a primary fuel source for their vehicles and homes.

Due to its high energy content and bitter taste, beet molasses can also be found in livestock feeds. Either used as a supplement or forming the base of the feed, it is particularly prevalent in the dairy industry, assisting cattle’s digestion of food while ensuring they are well stocked with key nutrients.

How is molasses produced at Ragus?

As beet molasses isn’t fit for human consumption, we will instead focus on how to produce cane molasses. The process begins at the refining mill, where sugar cane is harvested and then stripped of its leaves. The cane is then crushed to extract as much juice as possible, with the cane’s sucrose content being released.

The juice is then boiled down to leave a highly concentrated sugar syrup, with this also causing sugar crystals to form. After being boiled twice more, the remaining liquid is now cane molasses. Any remaining sucrose that has crystallised is removed in a centrifuge, resulting in a production process that ensures the cane molasses still possesses all the nutrients present in the original sugar cane.

Still not fit for human consumption, the raw cane molasses is then transported into evaporating vats. Following this it is heated to around 80°C and purified, with the sugar content and acidity also being adjusted if necessary. Any final impurities are then removed by passing the cane molasses through a 300-micron filter, before the production process is completed by cooling it to a precise temperature and leaving it to mature in holding tanks.

90 years’ experience in the sugar industry mean Ragus has a wealth of knowledge on the molasses you need for your application. Contact us now to order yours.

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EU sugar production quotas: a free-for-all in freefall

Jul 04 2019

The removal of EU sugar production quotas two years ago has radically altered the face of the global sugar market. Here we explore what caused this and if anything can be done to reverse the current trend. 

How did the quota system work?

Production quotas for sugar were first introduced in 1968 as part of the rules for the sugar common market organisation (CMO) along with support prices for producers at a level considerably above that of the world market. Through measures such as the recently implemented Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Europe was aiming to become self-sufficient for food production. Support prices and quotas were identified as the ideal incentive to ensure the CAP achieved this goal.

The total production quota was 13.5 million tonnes each year, with this being divided across 20 member states. Any production outside of this was deemed as “out-of-quota” sugar and subject to strict rules regarding its use. It could be exported up to the 1.3 million tonne limit the EU had agreed with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), sold for non-food uses, or placed into storage to be counted against the following year’s quota.

If there was too little sugar on the market, enough was added to meet the quota; too much, and the quota had been surpassed, sugar was removed. Bringing an end to this system meant that were no limits on the amount of sugar that could be produced or exported. At the time, the European Commission (EC) said this would create a situation in which exports could better adjust to the market price both inside and outside the EU.

EU sugar production quotas gave producers security and kept prices stable. Ever since their removal in 2017, prices have crashed to nearly record lows.

What happened after the quotas were removed?

The situation that has developed in the post-quota sugar market has been a far cry from the EC’s contemporary optimism. Production quotas acted as a cocoon, allowing producers within the EU to operate in an artificial market that was sheltered from the highs and lows of the global sugar market. Once exposed to this fiercely competitive environment, prices and profits almost immediately fell off a cliff and excess sugar began to pile up across Europe, reaching an initial 11.5 million tonnes and soaring ever since.

Less than a year after the quotas were removed, Südzucker, the EU’s largest sugar producer, announced an operating loss of between 100-200 million euros. Removed from a quota-based haven, EU sugar prices were forced to rapidly fall in line with those of the global market, meaning that only a few months after the removal of production quotas white sugar fell to 374 euros a tonne, its lowest price since 2006. As a result, a spokesperson for Nordzucker, the EU’s second largest producer, claimed that “at the current price level, there is hardly a sugar company in Europe that can still produce break-even.”

What made removing the quotas even worse for the EU sugar market was that it coincided with a consumer trend away from sugar being used in food and drinks. Per capita sugar consumption had already been falling for decades and measures such as the UK’s sugar tax merely exacerbated the situation, leading to sugar, wholly unjustifiably, being regarded in almost the same light as tobacco. Only developing countries demonstrated an increase in demand, but, as they already benefitted from cheap sugar prices, this was of little solace to the EU sugar industry.

Having been so instrumental in wanting the production quotas removed, the EC needed to step in and rectify what was rapidly spiraling from a continent-wide to a global crisis. They did not, with prices tumbling and production surpluses continue to pile up even as we speak.

What is the present-day outlook for the EU sugar industry?

Earlier this year, Cristal Union, France’s second largest sugar group, claimed the removal of the production quotas brought about a sudden end to a golden age for the sector. Speaking at the Dubai Sugar Conference, the company’s CEO, Alain Commissaire, said he believes that prices are set to recover, but will never again match those experienced while the quotas were in place. Moreover, Cristal Union recently announced the closure of a further 15 facilities across the EU.

Falling prices have also caused European producers to reduce their beet planting areas every year since the removal of the quotas. Assuming an average yield, EU sugar production for 2019/20 is set to fall to around 18 million tonnes, three million tonnes down from the output in 2017/18, the first season after the quotas were abolished. As well as this, some producers are even turning away from sugar beet altogether and instead relying on more profitable crops that can better support their livelihoods.

The devastating impact of the decision to remove the production quotas is plain to see. Decades of industry has been plunged into a crisis that has no end in sight and could well deepen before it improves. What’s worse from a Ragus Pure Sugars and UK point of view is that the unresolved Brexit situation adds another layer of uncertainty to a market that is still trying to work out its new place in the world.

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