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If you have some experience brewing beer at home, then you know it is a mix of science and art. You need exact measurements and temperatures to make the ingredients blend and ferment just right. But you also need a touch of creativity—or madness—or get the flavor, depth, and texture that makes a winning beer so good. One of the ingredients that often gets overlooked is sugar. That is why today, you will be learning about using cane sugar vs corn sugar for home brewing beer.
Let’s get started.
What is Sugar?
Time to lay some groundwork. Unless you are a chemist, you probably know only the basic facts about sugar, such as it having many forms and being a type of carbohydrate. In beer, you may find glucose (dextrose), sucrose, fructose, maltose, and others.
In wort, the main sugar is maltose—hello, malt—as it makes up about 50% of the sugars in the concoction. Following that is another form of sugar called maltotriose. The remaining sugars in wort are dextrose or glucose (around 10%), sucrose (8%), and lastly, fructose (2%). There are also some dextrins in trace amounts.
Fascinatingly, these sugars are not solely from the malted grains you use to make the wort. For some, adding in sugars assists with fermentation, as well as the customization of a recipe. Choices of sugar often depend on the accessibility of various kinds, as well as the desired result. Two of the most commonly used sugars include corn sugar, also known as dextrose, and cane sugar, which is sucrose.
Why Do People Add Sugar To Homebrewed Beer?
Before getting into the differences between cane sugar and corn sugar for beer, it is important to briefly explain why sugars are useful:
- Adding carbonation. When you add sugar to beer, it is most often for carbonation. As yeast consumes the sugar during primary fermentation, both alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced. The CO2 is trapped within the fermenter or the bottle, making the beer more bubbly.
- Flavor and color. Most simple sugars added to beer are not used for flavoring, though they can be. The more sugar you add, the greater the change in the flavor of the beer.
- Higher alcohol level. More sugar means more fuel for the yeast. In turn, you get more alcohol, producing a boozier beer without altering the gravity. Interestingly, the more sugar you add, the lighter the beer is going to be, since water is heavier than ethanol.
Here is a bit more information on priming sugar and why it is important to use:
Keep these in mind, as such reasons can drive your decision between cane sugar vs corn sugar for homebrewing.
What is Cane Sugar?
Cane sugar is otherwise known as table sugar or all-purpose sugar. It is the same stuff you use to bake cakes or sprinkle into cookies. While cane sugar is made of sucrose, not dextrose like corn sugar, it behaves very much the same. Granulated cane sugar is free-flowing, easily accessible, and is 100% fermentable when used to make alcohol.
When homebrewing beer, you can use cane sugar a couple of ways. First, you can add some sugar to the beer to adjust the final gravity, or the balance between non-fermentable and fermentable sugars. Since you use very little cane sugar, the overall flavor will not be impacted.
Advantages of Cane Sugar for Homebrewing
- Inexpensive and accessible. You can find it anywhere.
- Ideal for brewing ciders or sweeter beers.
- Can enhance the flavor of the beer.
- Can be used to balance out the final gravity of a beer.
What is Corn Sugar?
Now that you have been familiarized with cane sugar, you may be thinking that you use something entirely different. That would be corn sugar, the most common sugar for homebrewing beer, as well as moonshine, whiskey, and barleywine. For this reason, you may also hear corn sugar referred to as “brewing sugar.” Do not confuse corn sugar with high fructose corn syrup—they are two different things.
Chemically, corn sugar is 95% solid, and of those solids, 99% is pure glucose. Since most yeast strains are glucophilic—yeast loving—they tend to seek out glucose before any other form of sugar in the wort.
Corn sugar is not used for sweetening but for priming. Though there is a sweeter note to the beer, it seems natural and light. Corn sugar is also easily broken down by the yeast, meaning it is 100% fermentable.
Advantages of Corn Sugar for Homebrewing
- Best for bottle conditioning beers, as they add natural carbonation
- Does not increase sweetness
- Raises alcohol content while reducing body, making it ideal for high gravity beers, like Belgian beers or Double IPAs
- Can be used for a sugar wash
Best Practices For Using Corn Sugar
If you want to add corn sugar to your homebrewing procedure, then you should follow these usage tips:
- Sanitize your brewing sugar. Although corn sugar is highly refined and processed, it still may contain some traces of contaminants or bacteria that could mess with your beer. Boil the sugar in some water prior to adding it to your mixture.
- Use a pinch of sugar. Typically, the recipe you are following will dictate how much sugar to use. In case it does not (or if you’re winging it), use an ounce of corn sugar for each gallon of beer.
- Follow the correct bottling process. Allow the yeast to begin breaking down the sugars before you put the beer in bottles. Carbonation comes after the beer has been put in an airtight container.
Using Cane Sugar vs Corn Sugar For Homebrewing Beer
When looking at how corn sugar and cane sugar are used, you may find that they are very much the same. The only real difference is seen within the chemical makeup of dextrose and sucrose. Dextrose, being that it is made up of a sugar single molecule, is processed by yeast at a slightly faster rate than sucrose. Plus, dextrose is a monosaccharide, meaning it does not impact flavor when used in small quantities.
Sucrose, or cane sugar, on the other hand, is a disaccharide. It has two sugar molecules. Because of this, yeast has to take its time breaking sucrose down.
Next, there is a slight difference in gravity. Granular cane sugar will yield more gravity per gallon than corn sugar. Therefore, if you plan on substituting cane sugar for corn sugar, you are going to want to use 10% less than the amount prescribed in the recipe.
Just know that you get delicious beer either way. You only have to make slight adjustments to make cane sugar work in place of corn sugar.
Which Sugar Do You Choose?
Sugar matters, but what about using cane sugar vs corn sugar for homebrewing beer? In that case, the sugar you use matters a little less. They are both ideal for bottle conditioning your beer and adding carbonation, but cane sugar adds a little more gravity. However, your beer will taste the same in the end, regardless of which one you choose!
Most people will say that corn sugar is one of the best sugars to use for brewing beer. Dextrose, which comes from corn sugar, is the main priming agent, lightens the body of beer when boiled, and also adds dryness. Corn sugar provides 42 gravity points per pound and is completely fermentable. However, cane sugar is also fermentable and provides similar results overall.
No, corn sugar and cane sugar are both forms of sugar that offer similar pros and cons for home brewing. Both are 100% fermentable and can be used for adding gravity to beer.
Yes, corn sugar is dextrose, which is the same as brewing sugar.
If you want to enhance fermentation and get more alcohol, then you may want to focus on cane sugar. Yeast loves sucrose and will easily convert it into ethanol.
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