For some more advanced thinking/experiments w/ DIY candi sugar on par with commercially produced stuff, check out the post on over at Ryan Brews.
There's a long history of adding simple, non grain-based sugars to beers which has been very well described in several texts, so I won't go in to that detail here. I'm essentially singularly focused on the how and why these sugar additions are made, so that I can better know how to drive the intended flavors, mouthfeel, aromas in to the finished beer -so, essentially the same as anything else that goes in my kettle.
I'm certainly not adherent to the German predilection of malt-hops-yeast-water ONLY concept of beer purity, so there's no leap in my mind about whether a sugar addition would be compromising the finished drink with a lower-tier ingredient, in fact many of my favorites are made that way with a significant contribution of them. Given the commercially available options, I'm basically disinterested (for now) in the relative cost of the grain and adjunct bill for a batch of homebrew, as they are, at this scale minimally impactful. So, I've been very happy to buy sugars (cane, turbinado, honey, maple syrup, etc.), except for a single attempt at making invert sugar for a super-saison very early on. The juice of lemon (ascorbic acid source), a few pounds of cane sugar, a splash of water, and bunch time and heat (up to 275F). Poured it out of a sheet lined with aluminum foil, cooled, stuck in the fridge, then satisfyingly cracked the candy with a ball-peen hammer to shatter. It soon made its way to the brew as a ~20% late sugar addition (ug, what a sticky mess at the bottom of the kettle...syrups are the sugar addition of choice from now on), and drove the saison flavor in a direction that it likely shouldn't go. A toasted marshmallow, almost burned maraschino cherry (weird, I know) flavor that persists in to the bottle today.
I've read about making a maillard syrup in recipes online and Radical Brewing that is supposed to reasonably approximate the flavors of the darker syrups from Dark Candi (D2 is, by far, my favorite). There has been debate about the nitrogen source needed to drive these flavors, and some vocal consternation about why its 'wrong' to make these maillard syrups with anything but sugar, heat and time (no added nitrogen, no acid). I understand how Dark Candi pulls it off. But, I would guess that these syrups attain the deep, complex flavors that they do not from 'sugar only' in that they are not created from a highly refined sugar (sucrose only) source.
Despite that it says 'Beet Sugar' on the label, and that others have reported the importer states that refined beet sugar, heat and time are the only ingredients, I have to guess that the syrup is made from a very complex soup of sugars, a small remaining portion of proteins after coagulation step, and loads other organic materials from those beets. What most of us have access to outside of a sugar processing facility is pure sucrose (or mostly refined sugar, as in the case of turbinado). The recipe of pure sugar + varying the heat and time parameters is tricky and requires precise control. If you go too far w/ the time and heat, you really wouldn't do much beyond caramelize at the constituent sugars' various caramelization points, making them characteristically flavorful, but otherwise first degrading, then creating complex molecules (ie. http://www.food-info.net/uk/colour/caramel.htm). These molecules, while quite tasty, are wholly inaccessible to the metabolism of your average household yeast. In order to get the characteristic (in my opinion) maillard-like flavors of the Dark and D2 syrups, you'd require a nitrogen source. I don't readily have access to a big load of sugar beets or cane sugar to shred/juice, strain and cook up in order to replicate sugar house processes, so I had to look to the grocery store and homebrew shop for widely available analogs, as suggested by Mosher and others.
For now, I certainly am satisfied with the impact of simple cane sugar at the lighest possible end of the scale (although I'd prefer something with a whole food soul) I'm really seeking a reasonable approximation of the highly touted, but veiled in mysterious D2 profile at the other.
Any success here will could also hopefully be extrapolated and dialed back to an approximation of the 40SRM amber version.
Some assumptions to base this round of experiments:
1. pH of their finished syrup is <>
2. the sugar mix in D2 (and the others) is likely reasonably close to the mix fructose, sucrose and glucose as it is in the other disclosed syrups' product cards, as there's been some inversion of the beet derived sucrose. I wonder if Dark Candi adds back some refined sucrose after cooking their sugar, to help with fermentability?
3. sucrose dissolved in water does not shift the pH, so I opted added include a pinch of tartaric acid to my recipes which didn't include DAP, to somewhat consistent.
I did not measure pH, so that's a knock.
Here's another. I should have done a more controlled control by omitting the acid altogether and using distilled water or neutral pH water, but I skipped that in this round (as it takes 2 hours of standing over a boiling pot to make a batch of sugar, at this scale, at least).
In part 1 of my experiment, I cooked up three batches of sugar on my stovetop, with the intention of getting the darkest possible syrup, with the characteristically dark/stewed fruit and rich chocolaty flavors, but still 'very fermentable' profile of the D2 (wished they published that data on their website, but I can easily do forced ferment test myself). All three sugar recipes followed the same process, in order to closely mimic the sugar profile, maillard flavors, pH. Fructose caramelizes at 230F, while sucrose and glucose caramelize at 320F, so I figured heating to 300F would keep me well clear of the caramelization of at least the latter two, if the sucrose wasn't completely consumed, but still give me that deep, rich maillard flavor that I sought. Didn't really know how much sucrose the inversion process would consume, and what the final mix of fructose, glucose and sucrose would be. Should have done myself a favor and spent the 3 minutes reading this, but it may have thrown me to another tangent and possibly have done a literature search to find the data.
1lb Cane sugar + 1/8 teaspoon tartaric acid + 1/2 cup water
- Quickly bring to boiling over medium heat.
- Once heated to 240F, lower heat and slowly heat to 300F (use digital candy thermometer w/ alarm), add 1/2 cup water
- Repeat 2x, adding 1/2 cup water again to cool and reconstitute to syrup.
- Lightly golden color, sweeter-than-sugar caramelized flavor. Light, only slightly more interesting than plain sugar dissolved in water.
- Very slightly additional darkening with sequential heating and cooling. Definitely not even close to the D2 ballpark.
Sugar 2/Cane + 1/8 teaspoon tartaric acid + 1/2 cup DME, replaced the weight of cane sugar w/ DME
- Used DME as the nitrogen source, knowing there was a more complex range of malt derived proteins. Guessed at the amount.
- Had to switch to a much larger (2.5gallon) pot, as the boiling sugar got about 5x the volume as the first batch. Big and foamy, almost looked like the foam before hot break coagulation, but with bigger bubbles. Pain in the butt to make if you need a vessel 10-15x the volume of the finished syrup.
- Richer and deeper caramelized flavor than the first batch, but no roasty, raisiny taste I'm looking for.
- Deep, mahogany red color, significant darkening at the 2nd heating, very slightly darkened after the 3rd.
Sugar 3/Cane + 2 tablespoons Yeast Energizer
- The LD Carlson yeast energizer includes DAP, yeast hulls (as well as magnesium sulfate and Vitamin B complex). DAP disassociates to ammonia and phosphate, leaving an acidic solution, so adding the tartaric acid would be unnecessary. Also, held off adding until the solution reached 240F, given ammonia would volatilize and less would be available for maillard (and more to sting my nose). Yeast hulls would be a small %, but another source of organic material that if I had to speculate, may add further depth of character.
- Chocolatey, figgy/raisiny syrup. Medium roast coffee mixed with stewed prunes. A touch 'bright' from the resulting acid in the DAP? Gave a slightly metallic flavor, not as 'soft' as taste of the D2 gives. More concentrated, richer, deep flavor though.
- Dark as night, but not burnt, at all. I'd guess that ~95% of color occurred in the first heating, the remaining in the first half of the 2nd. Brought back up to 240F after last water addition to concentrate syrup a bit more, but still retain sufficient water. Prior 2 batches seemed a bit too watery.
Made 3 mini batches of sugar water for forced fermentation tests. 50grams of syrup + tiny pinch of nutrient, topped up with water to 200ml finished volume.
Sugar 1: 1.066
Sugar 2: 1.064
Sugar 3: 1.080
Samples returned, brought to a boil in foil covered erlenmyers, 5min. Chilled in ice bath to 75F.
Moved to stir plates, added pinch of Nottingham direct without rehydrating (not a recalled lot).
Plates set to pull sufficient vortex.
~36 hours, no sign of fermentation, no CO2, etc.
~ 5 days, gravity measured:
Sugar 1: 1.060
Sugar 2: 1.062
Sugar 3: 1.078
Basically no fermentation, added bread yeast, 5 more days, didn't budge one gravity point, even without sanitary technique.
So, the first 2 syrups got me nowhere even close to D2, and the much touted DAP got me very close, but the too-high temperatures quickly left the sugars wholly unfermentable. I did calibrate the candy thermometer to boiling water and another thermometer, and it was within ~1F, so that's not the issue. I scrolled for quite a while through this discussion, but I was unable to find anyone who talked about conducting a forced fermentation test w/ the syrup alone, just FG of beers in which they used their home cooked sugar, most notably here.
Next round we'll see what impact lower cooking temperatures may have on recipe for Sugar #3, easily the closest approximation to D2 thus far.