How funny! I brought Homebrew.Stack up to pass the time on a mellow brew night and found someone asking about exactly the thing I'm doing tonight. The answers already here are very good. Let me tell you what I'm doing and why.
My brother-in-law is an orthopedic surgeon. (This becomes important later.) He and I are 8 days apart in age, and we both turned 40 this past January. I had a blowout party in NY, planned by my wife (his sister), and he came down with his wife to celebrate my birthday with a bunch of folks, thereby not celebrating his own 40th very much. I felt this was due some serious payback. So, we decided on two things:
- We'd do a beer of the month club for him for the year
- I would brew his favorite beer from that assortment, and bring it to him for his 41st
His favorite was RJ Rocker's Bald Eagle Brown. It's a high-ish ABV (5.5%) English brown ale. He's a confirmed brown ale lover, but, being a surgeon, he doesn't drink very much or very often. So I wanted to make him something he'd like, that would stand up to a year or two of aging while he made his way through 24 hand-labeled, hand-corked, Belgian-style bottles. This is wayyyy out of style for a Southern English brown ale, but I'm not brewing to style. I'm brewing for a person.
I don't have a great Southern English brown recipe in my quiver, so the recipe is based squarely on the specialty grains from Jamil Z's recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. I filled out the grains with Maris Otter, did brew-in-a-bag for a base, and punched up the gravity with DME. I scaled up the specialty malts by 25%, but the OG of
1.067 is more than 50% higher than a classic English brown. I'm currently wondering whether to add table sugar to this boil. (It's happening right now.)
In Belgium, table sugar is added for "digestibility". If you wonder what this means, try to drink Stone Arrogant Bastard for an entire football game. Strong beers are rich and filling. There's something to be said for all-malt, but there's also a tipping point at which you want to protect the imbiber from feeling bloated.
The problems with too much sugar can be twofold:
If the proportion of sugar is too high, you can get a light body. This is another reason for the "cidery" descriptor. Cider has few (or no) dextrins, so it feels watery and fizzy in your mouth, which is not a bad thing, if you want cider. The same thing can happen with a low mash temperature on an all-grain batch, or with a very fermentable extract.
If the gross amount of sugar is too high, alcohol is produced that can overwhelm the flavor of the beer.
But really there's little to worry about. I've brewed Northern Brewer's Innkeeper recipe more than a few times. That is a low-ish gravity beer with a full pound of sugar and it's awesome. I would not worry about adding a pound of sugar to any 5 gallon batch. It's common brewing practice in England and Belgium.
Since I mashed at a fairly high temp, and used DME (which might be very fermentable... I don't know how it performs yet) in this beer, I'm going to go ahead and leave out the sugar. If the beer's a little rich, well, that's okay. It's a special occasion beer, anyway. If I'd had a pound less DME on hand and wanted to get the same gravity, though, I would not have hesitated one bit to throw in some good old sucrose or dextrose.
I just wanted to throw this out there as an example of brewing to taste, rather than brewing to style.