Ibrahim Belo Written by Ibrahim Belo

Granular Detail: Brewer’s Sugar Block

Brewer’s sugar block serves a vital purpose in the fermentation of beer. In this edition of Granular Detail, we examine the sugar product and its purpose, assessing its properties and production process, before exploring its different applications.

What is brewer’s sugar block?

Brewer’s sugar block, often referred to as brewing sugar, is a candy sugar produced from invert sugar, cane molasses, and dextrose, with its function unique to the brewing industry. Although all types of sugar can be used for fermentation, brewer’s sugar block is most effective in expediting the process because its formulation breaks down sugars into different constituents that are 95% readily fermentable.

Aside from its unique purpose, brewer’s sugar block is also set apart from other sugar products by its appearance. Unlike crystallines and syrups, the structure of the finished product is a solid block. Indeed, the appearance of brewer’s sugar block can be likened to pieces of toffee.

Furthermore, different variations of brewing sugar can be produced depending on the style of beer, ale, lager, stout or porter being fermented. These variations differ in colour from light amber to dark brown, with the colour also indicating the flavour of the sugar. This has significant impact on the flavour of different styles of beer.

A lighter variation of brewer’s sugar block is best suited to the production of lagers and pale ales. 

How is brewer’s sugar block manufactured?

Brewer’s sugar block can only be produced commercially due to the scale and chemistry behind the production process. It is produced in large inversion pans that cannot be replicated at home.

First, cane sucrose is heated in an inversion pan with water until it dissolves. The sucrose is dissolved to a super saturation before hydrochloric acid is introduced to reduce the pH to between 1 and 1.6. When the temperature of the pan has settled at 70° for over two minutes, the cane sugar completely dissolves in the water and forms a syrup. This is achieved through the inversion of sucrose into glucose and fructose molecules.

Then, the syrup needs to be polarised to -20 to achieve the desired ratio of sucrose: glucose, before being neutralised with a natural alkaline agent that brings its pH value to between 6 and 6.5.

Then, cane molasses is released from its holding tanks and into the inversion pan, adjusting the colour and developing the flavour of the invert syrup. The inversion pan is then cooled, and dextrose seed is added. Without this step, the blend would not form into the distinctive blocks.

The thick syrup then needs to transfer through a 2000 micron filter and is filled into 25 kilogram cartons. The cartons are held in ‘block formers’ for at least five days, but often longer. When the blocks have finally formed, they are loaded onto heavy goods vehicles ready for transportation to customers all over the UK.

What styles of beer is brewer’s sugar block used in?

At Ragus, brewer’s sugar block is custom formulated to match each customer’s bespoke needs. For example, a lighter brewing sugar can be produced for the fermentation of lagers and pale ales. This lighter variation has an amber colour and its concentration of cane molasses results in a mellow or caramel flavour, making it particularly suited to modern pale ales with a European Brewery Convention (EBC) value of 25-35.

Whereas for those brewing a stronger bitter, we recommend using a darker variation of brewing sugar. Using a higher concentration of cane molasses, as well as other alterations to the production process, results in a stronger brewer’s sugar block. This variation of brewer’s sugar block is a darker shade of amber, considered between 60-70 on the EBC colour scale, therefore best suited to traditional bitters and strong ales.

A further application of brewer’s sugar block is in mild ales, stouts and porters. This variation is produced by further increasing the concentration of cane molasses and adjusting the manufacturing process. With a dark brown colour, approximately 130 EBC, this sugar has a much richer flavour that develops the mouthfeel of stouts and porters.

Our expertise in custom manufacturing an extensive range of sugar products means we are well positioned to consult on the best formulation for your beer. Contact us on +44 (0)1753 575353 or sales@ragus.co.uk to discuss your specification today.