Dear Mr. Wizard,
I am basically a beginner and still use sugar in my wort. The batch usually has a slight "wine" taste. An experienced friend suggested that I try honey in place of sugar. I use four cups of sugar. What is the equivalent when I use honey?
Mr. Wizard replies:
Cane sugar is well known to give beer a cidery or winey flavor. If you want to get rid of this flavor, using honey in place of sugar is one of several solutions. When substituting brewing ingredients in recipes it is much easier to base your conversion on weight, not on volumetric measurements such as cups, because ingredient densities, especially those of malt, vary quite a bit. To substitute honey for sugar, you should use about 1.25 pounds of honey for every pound of sugar in the original recipe. This conversion is approximate because the solids content of honey has a large range, but most honeys are around 80 percent solids.
According to the label on a commercial brand of honey, three-quarters cup of sugar is equivalent to one cup of honey. This honey has a solids content of 81 percent. Consider substituting malt for sugar if you want to make beer that tastes like beer. Although honey will take care of the odd flavors associated with cane sugar, honey beers have their own distinct flavor notes that make them taste different than all-malt beers. You can substitute dry malt extract for cane sugar on a pound-for-pound basis and can substitute malt extract for cane sugar at the rate of 1.25 pounds malt extract per pound of sugar. If you want to brew a beer with a lighter flavor but don’t want a honey beer, try using rice syrup. Rice is used in many commercial beers, including Budweiser and Coors, and has its own special flavor contribution.
The thing to remember when brewing beer is that you can use different techniques and buy all types of fancy gizmos to improve the brewing process, but at the end of the day, beer flavor is a product of the starting ingredients. Be an explorer and try out as many different brewing ingredients as you can. Cane sugar, brown sugar, candi sugar, pineapple sugar, corn syrup, rice, wheat, barley, oats, rye, potatoes — the list goes on for the variety of carbohydrate sources used in brewing. Add to the list the variety of flavors found in different hop varieties, yeast strains, brewing spices, and water. You will discover through exploration that ingredients hold the keys to flavor!
Mr. Wizard, BYO's resident expert, is a leading authority in homebrewing whose identity, like the identity of all superheroes, must be kept confidential.