Homebrew Process: Day 0

The process begins with a thought, an idea, for the perfect beer. Something good. Something different. Before any of the real heavy lifting, since I am relatively new to homebrewing, I will take that idea to the internet to nurture and grow it.

This time my idea is to brew with maple syrup. Spring is around the corner and in Quebec it is the perfect time of the year to indulge in lots of maple at a Cabane à Sucre. There are a lot of questions to ask when brewing with maple and I have no idea how to properly use it.

The first place I will look for answers is the forums at homebrewtalk.com. Pretty much any questions you might have about brewing will already be answered. A quick search of their forums or wiki will get you a good portion of the information you need or at the very least a good starting point for deeper investigation. Also, Google is always your friend.

There will be a lot of information out there. In my case, there are many different opinions on using maple syrup. Some say it doesn’t add any flavour, some say it does. Then there are different times to use it in the process. Boiling it will add a dry woody flavour. Adding too much will dry out the beer and up the alcohol content. Some books add maple during fermentation. Some people use it to prime their bottles (and then you have to make the proper calculations). There are also different grades of maple (and then Canada has different grades than the labels in America).

That’s a lot of information to process. Which is why I won’t jump in head first. I probably won’t decide how to use maple properly until brew day.

Here’s what I know so far about using maple syrup.

  • Adding it to the boil will produce a dry woody flavour.
  • Adding it to the fermentation will help retain more maple flavour. However there is a risk of contamination and halting the yeast productivity. If you don’t use a fresh bottle of maple then you should boil it with water to sanitize before adding it. Remember that the yeast will eat the sugar and it won’t be that classic sweet taste you’re expecting.
  • I’ve read some warnings of botulism cultivating in home made maple syrup but using bought syrup from a can or bottle should be fine.
  • Using maple to prime your bottles will retain the sweet smooth taste. But you have to calculate the amount properly or you risk messing up your carbonation.
  • You will have to use a lot of maple syrup to maintain a taste which can be expensive. Although, in my opinion, taste is arbitrary to individuals so you have no idea what is the ‘right’ amount of ‘taste’ is unless you try it.
  • There are different grades of syrup. Using a higher grade (lighter) will give you more fermentable sugars while using a lower grade with more “impurities” will contain less pure sugar but will have more flavour. Using cooking grade maple will probably be the best bet if your goal is to create flavour in your beer and not higher alcohol content.
  • Keep reading tomorrow when I begin to craft the recipe.