Winemaking sugar

Sugar, n. shoo-gar, a sweet granular substance, obtained from sugar cane, and also from beet, maple and other plants; any kind of various sweetish soluble carbohydrates, as glucose, dextrose, saccharose, etc[chem.]; flattery[fig.]: a. made of sugar : v.t., to impregnate, season, cover, sprinkle, or mix with sugar, or as with sugar ; to sweeten. (Fr. sucre.)

Sugar is a word that means raw alcohol. When you feed sugar to yeast, it mircaulasly turns from a boring white powder into fizzy gas (carbon dioxide), and a simple molecule called ethanol.

Ethanol, or alcohol as it is usally called, is the stuff that breathes life into our wines.

We buy our sugar for about 60p a kilo, and add it to our must. The amount of sugar that is added, and the time it is added has been the source of more debate in the field of winemaking than any other subject.

At one extreme the amount of sugar must be sufficent to produce the minimum percentage alcohol to preserve the wine. This coresponds to about 10% alcohol by volume. This means about 1 kilo of sugar added to a gallon of water.

On the other hand one must not use so much sugar that the yeast falls over drunk, and you are left with undrinkable syrup. The precise measurement of the amount of sugar is referred to as gravity, and is measured using a hydrometer.

There are two approachs to this.

  1. Start with one kilo of sugar and then add about 8oz at a later date.
  2. Start every brew with a gravity of 1090 to 1100.

Both methods work fine. The former is more ad hoc, but a lot less hassle. Recommended for those that just want to slam up a gallon now and then.

The latter is a tad more fiddly, but has the distinct advantage of giving you significantly more control over the proceedings.

Use more sugar for a sweet wine and less for a dry wine.
The wine will usually end up at about 15% alcohol.

There are lots of different sugars out there, but most of the time I just use plain white granulated sugar. Older recipes will mention all sorts of bizzare sugars, but this is a throwback to when good quality plain sugar was expensive or impossible to come by, especially in the war years.