Belgian brewers often use sugar in beer making to produce high alcohol beers without a thick body. They normally will use what is called Candi Sugar, but this stuff is pretty expensive. Basically, candi sugar is ordinary white cane/beet sugar (sucrose) that has been modified by an ‘inversion’ process, producing ‘invert sugar’.

You can make your own ‘invert sugar’ from ordinary table sugar with just a few simple items. Sucrose is made up of two simpler sugars (glucose and fructose) joined together. Yeast must spend time and effort breaking the joining bonds to allow them to get at the simple sugars they need for metabolism. This can be done chemically in an acid environment with heat. You will need a candy thermometer that goes up to about 350°F and a 2 qt saucepan. The ingredients are sugar, water, and citric acid to provide the acidic environment needed.

There are certain temperatures that relate to the process of candy making as shown in the table below. The terms refer to how the sugar will behave on cooling.

Term Used Temperature
Soft Ball 240°F
Hard Ball 260°F
Soft Crack 275°F
Hard Crack 300°F

To make a pound of Candi Sugar, measure a pound of sugar into the 2 qt saucepan. Add just enough water to make a thick syrup, and mix in a pinch of citric acid. Now bring to a boil and keep the temperature between hard ball and soft crack (260°-275°F). As you boil, evaporation will cause the temperature to begin rising, so have a small amount of water on hand and add a tablespoon whenever the temperature gets above 275°F.

The color will gradually change from clear to light amber to deep red as the boil proceeds. Light candi sugar is a very light amber-yellow. This can take as little as 15 minutes. Dark candi sugar is very deep red. This can take several hours. Once you are at the color you desire, you stop adding water and let the temperature rise to hard crack (300°F). Once it hits hard crack, turn off the heat and pour it into a shallow pan (like a cake pan) lined with a sheet of waxed paper. As it cools it will go rock hard, and you can break it into ‘rocks’, bag in a ziplock bag and store in the freezer until you are ready to use it.

Making Belgian Candi Syrup
by Randy Mosher

Just take a pound of plain corn syrup (make sure it’s the kind without vanilla added) and heat it over medium heat in a heavy saucepan with 9 grams of ammonium carbonate (sold as leavening in Middle Eastern markets). I have also gotten good results with diammonium phosphate yeast nutrient. It will boil, and eventually start to darken. Every now and then remove a drop or two and drip it onto aluminum foil to cool, then taste. Stop as soon as the desired color is reached, and carefully add water to mix it back to the original consistency.

You can also caramelize honey using this same method.

Making Caramel Syrup
by Bill Pierce

Over medium heat in a clean, very smooth, thick bottomed saucepan, add about a cup of white table sugar with a teaspoon of cream of tartar or lemon juice (this will help invert the glucose-fructose bond in the sucrose). It will melt, become pale yellow, and then turn tan, various shades of brown (a medium shade is about right for amber syrup), and finally nearly black (if you want dark results). Stir constantly so that it doesn’t actually burn. Use a high temperature silicon rubber spatula or metal spoon that will not char or melt.

Remove the skillet from the heat before it turns the color you want … it will darken as it cools. For a dark sugar, remove from the heat when it is a medium caramel color. Pour the melted, caramelized sugar onto a piece of aluminum foil on a surface that heat will not damage, such as a thick cookie sheet or cutting board covered with a towel. Scrape the skillet clean with the spatula or spoon. The hardened sugar will look like peanut brittle and range in color from medium gold to very dark, depending on how long it was heated.

Allow the caramelized sugar to cool and then melt it in a pan over low heat, stirring in enough water to achieve the consistency of thick syrup or honey as well as the desired color. Briefly bring the syrup to a boil. It will have a very rich caramel flavor that definitely contributes to the beer, and also darkens it. However, the fermentability is limited, so you will want to add the equivalent amount of white sugar to achieve the same weight of candi sugar called for in the recipe. Add the syrup and any other sugars at the end of the boil.

You also will likely want to reduce somewhat the amount of dark caramel or crystal malt specified in the recipe, to compensate for the enhanced flavor and color of the caramel syrup. Replace the partial portion of dark malt with just slightly less (it has more extract) base malt (usually pilsner malt in Belgian recipes) to achieve the same original gravity specified in the recipe. Extract brewers may wish to use a slightly higher proportion of pale or extra light malt extract.

Making Inverted Sugar Syrup
by Steven Parfitt

  • Combine 5 lbs sugar in a pot with 3 cups of water.
  • Set to medium heat and stir continuously, but slowly to keep the sugar off the sides of the pot.
  • When the sugar is almost completely dissolved add 10 ml of a low-flavord acid, like Lactic or Phosphoric.
  • Continue heating and stirring till it starts to boil. You now have mostly inverted sugar.
  • Keep heating it over medium heat until it starts to turn straw yellow. Very pale. Nice light sugar.
  • If you want darker sugar, keep cooking it but watch out as it can darken very quickly if you aren’t paying attention.
  • Before you are satisfied with the color, turn off the heat and carefully pour the syrup into 3 clean/sanitized mason jars and screw on the lids. The syrup will continue to darken as it cools.
  • When the syrup has cooled for 15 minutes, I turn the ball jars over and let the hot liquid cover the lids on the inside as an additional precaution.
  • Once they are almost cool, turn them back over.
  • The syrup is easy to measure out and keeps nearly forever.