Fermentable Brewing Sugars-You Can’t Make Beer Without Them

Other Fermentable Brewing Sugars

There are many other brewing sugars used in brewing beer besides barley. Any starch or sugar can be used as a fermentable adjunct in the making of beer. There are basically two classes used in brewing, those that require mashing and those that don’t.

Natural starches such as potatoes, pumpkins, corn and rice must be mashed to convert their starch to sugar prior to fermenting (unless you use processed solids, such as rice syrup solids). But there are many other kinds of brewing sugars that don’t require mashing, and are available to the home brewer. Some examples include all sugars, fruits, juices, honey, maple syrup and molasses.

Yeast Requirements for “Other Fermentable Brewing Sugars”…

Yeast require several things for a healthy fermentation. These include fermentable carbohydrates and other brewing sugars, nutrients like amino acids, minerals and vitamins. Most grains have sufficient nutrients for a healthy fermentation.

The fermentable brewing sugars listed below don’t have enough nutrients, and when you get close to using 20% of these brewing sugars in your grain bill you should think about adding a yeast nutrient or energizer.

When yeast doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, you end up with a slow fermentation with many unwanted byproducts which cause off flavors in your beers.

The Simple Sugars

 Purchase all your Brewing Sugars and Candi Syrups at MoreBeer.com.

The first class of other brewing sugars are the simple sugars, including those from fruits and honey. These sugars include:

  • Sucrose – Table sugar, candi sugar, beet sugar (Belgian Candi Sugar made from Beets at NB), demerara (partly refined) and Turbinado (partly refined) are not a naturally occurring sugar in wort. Sucrose consists of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose bonded together. Sucrose is not fermentable by yeast directly. The yeast must produce the enzyme Invertase to break down sucrose into glucose and fructose outside its cell wall. Once broken down the glucose and fructose can be consumed directly and fermented. It is a fairly cheap source of fermentables but is difficult for the yeast to consume. Too much will cause cidery flavors in your beer if (>10%).
  • Dextrose (Glucose) – Corn sugar, brewer’s sugar and dextrose are all names for glucose, the building block of dextrins, starches and other more complex sugars. Yeast uses enzymes to break down the maltose in wort into this simple sugar. It is very fermentable.
A Glucose Molecule
  • Fructose – Fruit sugar, is the most abundant naturally occurring source of fermentables in nature, but isn’t used much in brewing. It is similar to glucose but has a different structure which makes it a difficult fermentable for yeast.
  • Maltose – The primary sugar in wort. It consists of two glucose molecules bonded together and is produced in the mash when the enzymes break down dextrins and starches. It is very fermentable.
  • Lactose – Lactose is a constituent of milk. It is two glucose molecules joined together. Lactose is completely un-fermentable and leaves a sweetness in milk stouts when added at 1-3 ounces per gallon.
  • Maltodextrin – Is another carbohydrate used in brewing. It provides almost no fermentables but does add body and mouthfeel when added at about 500 grams per 5 gallon batch. It will add about 0.011 points of original gravity and 0.0093 points to final gravity (it attenuates about 16%).
  • Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose. It has approximately the same relative sweetness as granulated sugar (97% of the sweetness of sucrose, a disaccharide).  Get your Honey from MoreBeer.com.

    Most micro-organisms do not grow in honey because of its low water activity of 0.6. Water activity is sometimes defined as “free”, “bound”, or “available water” in a system. Water activity can be used to predict the direction of water movement – water will show net diffusion from regions of high water activity to regions of low water activity.

    For example, if honey (aw ≈ 0.6) is exposed to humid air (aw ≈ 0.7) the honey will absorb water from the air.

    Bacteria usually require a water activity of at least 0.91, and fungi at least 0.7. This makes honey ideally suited for making mead. Because of its antimicrobial nature, there was less chance of producing bad mead than bad beer or wine.

More Information About Brewing Sugars

Honey coming off a spoon


Honey is almost 100% fermentable and will therefore lighten the body and increase the alcohol content of beer, much like cane sugar and other fermentables. Unlike cane sugar, honey will lend some of its characteristic flavors to your beer, depending on how much you use. As you get around 50% honey, your beer begins tasting more like mead and less like beer.

The name for this beverage is Braggot or Bracket. These days most meadmakers don’t boil their honey for fear of losing the subtle aromatics. When honey is added to beer, it must be either boiled or pasteurized because it contains wild yeasts and other undesirables.

Once diluted, the osmotic pressure of raw honey is no longer there and the wild yeasts and other microbes are free to multiply. Try lighter honeys in lighter beers and darker honeys, like buckwheat, in more robust beers.

Honey flavors vary widely depending on the source of the nectar. If most of the nectar is of one source, like when the hives are moved to pollinate a farmer’s citrus orchard, then it takes on that crop’s characteristic flavor and aroma. Honey is sold to meadmakers as varietal honey.

Some of the popular varietals are orange blossom, clover, basswood, tupelo, etc. and can be as obscure as carrot blossom honey. Try adding honey as a source of brewing sugar for a special character as old as beer itself.

Check out MoreBeer.com’s Mead Kits

Maple Syrup

An image of maple syrup in a leaf shaped glass bottle

Maple Syrup is another interesting brewing sugar for beer. It tends to work better in beers that are less hoppy. Try to find 100% maple syrup, not the pancake syrup labeled “maple syrup” but made with mostly corn syrup.

Grade A is more expensive, but Grade B has a more robust maple flavor and is better in brewing. According to Al Korzonas in his book Homebrewing Vol. 1, a half gallon (about 2 liters) will produce a very, very subtle maple flavor in 5 gallons of the lightest, mildest beers. If you want more maple flavor, try adding 3 to 4 quarts (about 3 to 4 liters) to your beers. Mr. Korzonas says that you can easily add a gallon to a beer such as a stout.

Most of maple syrup’s aromatics will be scrubbed during primary fermentation, so it’s best to add it during secondary fermentation.

Take a look at MoreBeer.com’s Maple & Smoked Bacon Candi Syrup.

Agave Nectar/Syrup

Agave Nectar is a sweetener commercially produced in Mexico from several different species of agave, including the Blue Agave (Agave tequilana), Salmiana Agave (Agave salmiana), Green Agave, Grey Agave, Thorny Agave, and Rainbow Agave.  Check out this very informative site, Sisana Agave Sweeteners, for more information on the different types of agave plants and more information on agave syrup.

Agave nectar is sweeter than honey, though less viscous. It has a malty aroma with a hint of sweetness to it. Agave nectar is said to be 1.4 to 1.6 times sweeter than sugar. It is often substituted for sugar or honey in recipes.

Vegans in particular commonly use agave nectar, or agave syrup as it is often called, to replace honey in recipes.

It is also used as a sweetener for cold beverages such as iced tea because it can dissolve quickly. Many award winning meads have been made with agave nectar. If you feel like experimenting with alternative brewing sugars, this is a good choice.  

Here is a very informative page, again from Sisana Agave Sweeteners, on how you can use Agave Syrup, the different flavors of Agave Syrup, and how to substitute it for sugar or honey in your homebrew recipes.

Belgian Candy Syrup/Sugar

Belgian Candi Syrup or Candi Sugars sold in many homebrew shops in the past were mostly pure sucrose or sucrose that had been caramelized for added color. These days, there is a better product you can use. It is made by the company Dark Candi, Inc.

Different packages of sugar from Dark Candi

and it is supposed to be the same syrups used by the breweries in Belgium. Your local homebrew shop LHBS should be able to get it for you, if not, it’s available at most online homebrew retailers like MoreBeer.com. There really is no substitute for this syrup unless you make your own.


Molasses is the residue left from sugar cane processing. It contains impurities not wanted in the white, refined sugar. It does however contain most of the flavor and gets more flavorful the darker it gets. One cup in 5 gallons of beer will give a noticeable flavor.

Brown Sugar/Piloncillo

Brown Sugar is simply white brewing sugar with molasses added for flavor and color and will not substitute for candi sugar in a Belgian Ale recipe. It is the molasses that adds all the flavor, and like molasses, the darker it is the more flavor it contributes.

Black Treacle

Black Treacle is a British product similar to molasses, but not exactly the same. Some say you can’t make an authentic Old Ale, such as Old Peculier, without Black Treacle. There are several kinds of treacle sold, many may be simply molasses. Get the one labeled as “Black Treacle” for brewing. It is dark, sweet and full of highly caramelized flavors and aromas. In Jamil Zainasheff’s recipe for Old Treacle Mine, an old ale, he calls for 0.5 lb or 227 grams in a 5.5 gallon batch, added during the boil.

Fruit Juice

Fruit juices are fine to add to your beer but you must be aware of a few pitfalls. First, you must be sure that what’s on the front label is in the bottle. Check the ingredients to see if your cherry juice isn’t really white grape juice with a little cherry juice for flavoring.

Second, check the ingredients to be sure it doesn’t contain any preservatives like sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate, which will inhibit your yeast.

And third, make sure the majority of the fruit juice is not refined sugar syrup. If so the main ingredient will be “high fructose corn syrup”.

Many cider makers buy their juice freshly squeezed at the orchard so they know exactly what’s in it. Some even ask for a specific percentage of each type of apple they want in the mixture for their meads.   Check out MoreBeer.com’s Cider Making Ingredients & Kits.

Juices sold at some whole foods markets, or health food stores and labeled as all natural should be fine, just double check the label.

Fruit Purees and Concentrates

Fruit Purees and Concentrates (from MoreBeer.com) -are grown and packaged at the farms in Washington and Oregon. They are great to use in your fruit beers and melomels (fruit meads). These are picked at the height of ripeness and packaged immediately to preserve the freshness. They are pasteurized and ready to be used.

A picture of three different fruit purees

There is a great variety of fermentable brewing sugars such as fruit to choose from, many you won’t be able to find locally. You will be able to get more consistent quality from fruit purees than just about any other source, unless you pick your own and rush home to spend hours and hours processing the fruit.. No thank you.

If you do use your own fruit, you will need to kill the wild yeasts, bacteria and fungi growing on it. You can pasteurize it yourself by adding as little water as possible, heating to 140-150°F (60-66°C) and holding for 10-15 minutes. You must then cool as quickly as possible.

Other ways to sanitize the fruit include using sulfites. Winemakers have used metabisulfites in their wines for ages. They work by producing sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas in an acidic solution. The SO2 will inhibit most of the yeast and bacteria long enough for your cultured yeast to grow and dominate the fermentation. The sulfites don’t add any flavors to the end product but a small percentage of the population are extremely allergic to sulfites.


As far as brewing is concerned, vegetables either contain starch or they don’t. Vegetables such as potatoes and yams can add fermentables but must be mashed.

Other vegetables used in brewing include the chile pepper, although not technically a vegetable. Peppers can be added to beer or mead. Some of the very, very hot ones like habanero, are way too intense for anything but hot sauce. You can cut out the seeds and pith, soak them in milk a few days, and add them to the end of the boil to reduce the intensity but still get some of the flavor and aroma.

Other peppers like the Serrano are OK being seeded and having the pitch cut out (this is where most of the heat is). Regardless of which chile you choose, start with a small quantity and work your way up on the next batch.

I made 3 gallons of chile mead that would have won medals except for the intense heat. Now it can only be used as a marinade.

Other Brewing Grain Besides Barley:

a picture of flaked oats

Purchase your Brewing Malts and Grains from MoreBeer.com

Flaked Oats-produces a creaminess and oiliness due to high oil and fat content. Not much flavor contribution. Unmalted oats tend to produce a haze and are often used in Belgian Wits for the mouthfeel and haze it produces.

Problems with stuck mashes can occur if used in quantity. Oats lend a creaminess and silkiness to a stout which is difficult to describe. Try Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and a regular stout, like Guinness, to discern the difference.

According to John Palmer, “Instant Oats” are the only variety that has been fully gelatinized and thus are the only variety that can be directly substituted for flaked oats in a recipe.

The other kinds, whole oats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and quick oats all require some form of cereal mash before being added to your main

A picture of wheat grains

Wheat- produces less color than base malts (except for chocolate wheat malt of course), improves head formation and retention, and is used in small quantities in many styles. Wheat flavors are like a malty spiciness, especially when used with weizen yeasts.

Since it has no husks, it can create problems when mashing and lautering where runoffs may become very slow or stuck. Wheat is sold in several forms. One form is malted wheat which has been used for brewing beer nearly as long as barley. It has equal diastatic power. Malted wheat is used for 5-70% of the mash depending on the style.

Wheat has no outer husk and therefore has less tannins than barley. It contributes protein to the beer, aiding in head retention. Flaked Wheat is a common adjunct in wheat beers. It is an essential component in Belgian Wits and Lambics. It adds a starch haze and high levels of proteins but will also add more of that “wheat sharpness” to your beer than malted wheat.

Rye Kernels

Rye-is light in color and helps to produce a creamy head and an oiliness in beer. Its flavor is described as spicy, or like an apple brandy. It too can cause problems in mashing and lautering.  Check out MoreBeer.com’s Rye Malt and Flaked Rye.

Flaked Rice

Rice-can contribute to a beer’s dryness, but doesn’t have much flavor. It helps accentuate hop bitterness and is used to increase alcohol content without adding any flavor. It is used in American style lagers like Budweiser. The easiest way to use rice is by using Dried Rice Extract or Brown Rice Syrup from MoreBeer.com.

Flaked Maize, a popular beer adjunct

Corn (Flaked Maize)-is used mostly to increase a beer’s alcohol content but will produce a “corny” flavor. It is used in Miller Lite lager. Flaked corn does not require boiling prior to being mashed.

Wild Rice-is not a rice at all, but seeds from wild marsh grasses.

Wild Rice

It produces a sweet, nutty flavor but is too expensive to be used in quantity.

Sorghum-is high in tannins (or polyphenols), and usually creates cloudy beers. Used mostly in Africa.

There are many types of brewing sugar used in beer production. Before experimenting with these fermentables, talk to other homebewers or hit the forums with your questions. Many homebrew books discuss these fermentables and brewing sugars in detail and are a good source of information.

Non-Fermentable Brewing Sugars

Another type of brewing sugar that needs to be examined are the long-chain sugars called dextrins.  Dextrins are non-fermentable brewing sugars (carbohydrates) made by a complicated proprietary malting method.  Dextrin malts include CaraPils and CaraFoam are brand names for dextrin malt.  You will also find it simply called “dextrin malt”. 

These malts will not break down in the mash to produce sugar, no matter how long and what temperature you mash at.  They do, however, produce non-fermentable sugars which will increase body and mouthfeel in your home brewed beers.

When brewing with extract, homebrewers can add maltodextrin, sometimes called dextrin powder, with their extract to increase the body and mouthfeel without affecting flavor.  Maltodextrin is a long-chain carbohydrate with between 4 and 20 dextrose units linked together and is only about 3% fermentable by brewers yeast.

References: For this article, I adapted information from the book Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, How to Brew by John J. Palmer, Homebrewing Vol. 1 by Al Korzonas and from articles on honey from wikipedia.

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