For the purists, there is never a substitute for Malted Barley but for those who want to get creative and push the boundaries, there are a large number of different ingredients that you can add to your recipe.
Just keep in mind though that to retain the main characteristics of beer, your brew should ideally contain at least 66% malted barley extract as the base fermentable load.
With that in mind, here is a list of the kinds of sugars that can be used your brew:
Malt Extract – A sweet concentrate extracted from Malted Barley. The main component of Malt Extract is Maltose, a complex sugar consisting of two bonded Glucose (Dextrose) molecules. Malt Extract is available in two forms; spray-dried or a syrup and comes in colours ranging from quite pale to very dark. Malted Barley is the usual source for Malt Extract but other grains such as wheat and rice can also be used. Malt Extract enhances the flavour and body of beer and assists in head retention.
Dextrose – A simple sugar also known as Glucose or Corn Sugar. Dextrose is completely fermentable, producing more alcohol than the same quantity of Malt Extract. Addition of Dextrose will lighten the body and flavour of your beer.
Maltodextrin – Also known as Corn Syrup or Corn Starch, it is a hydrolyzed starch usually made from wheat or corn. It is mostly non-fermentable, improving the body and mouthfeel of your beer as well as providing a “thicker” head. Maltodextrin is almost flavourless.
Lactose – A non-fermentable sugar also known as Milk Sugar. Lactose adds a residual sweetness to the finished beer. It is traditionally used when making Sweet Stouts or as they are more commonly known, Milk Stouts.
Cane Sugar – Extracted from Cane Syrup, this is the common table sugar found in most kitchens. It is a complex sugar known as Sucrose. The Sucrose molecule consists of one Glucose and one Fructose molecule bonded together. Cane Sugar will increase the alcohol component of beer while adding no extra body. Use of too much Sucrose can lead to overly sweet beer that may have a “cidery” taste especially if brewed at lower temperatures owing to the way that yeast metabolises Fructose.
Raw Sugar – This is the same as Cane Sugar but not as heavily refined, being around 97% Sucrose with the other 3% being Molasses and thus providing additional flavour.
Brown Sugar – Made from Cane Syrup in the same way that Cane Sugar is but not as refined. In fact the refining process is stopped earlier, leaving a portion of Molasses coating the Sucrose crystals providing its characteristic flavour. Brown Sugar can be used to enhance Stouts, Porters and Brown Ales. Brown Sugar takes a long time to ferment as yeast finds it difficult to metabolise.
Molasses – When raw sugar cane is refined and processed into sugar, the dark, sticky residue left over is Molasses. Molasses is a highly flavoursome syrup that comes in grades varying from the lighter Golden Syrup (90% fermentable) all the way to the darkest Treacle and Blackstrap Molasses (50% to 60% fermentable). The strong flavour from Molasses can overpower a beer, so use it sparingly.
Sorghum Syrup – Extracted from the stalk of the Sorghum plant, this syrup is amber-coloured and mild-flavoured with a slight bitterness. It is close in its flavour and body profile to Light Malt Extract and makes an ideal substitute for Malt Extract for those people who need to make gluten-free beer.
Honey – Consists of varying concentrations of Glucose, Fructose, Sucrose and Maltose and is 95% fermentable. Using Honey will increase the alcohol content and reduce the body of your beer. The components making up the remaining 5% of Honey provide its distinct flavours. The flavour of Honey also depends heavily on the types of flowers that the bees were frequenting when collecting their nectar.
Candy Sugar/Inverted Sugar – A must for those wishing to make a variety of Belgian beers, such as Dubbels, Tripels and Abbey Ales. These sugars are manufactured from Sucrose and undergo a process called “Inverting” that essentially breaks apart the Sucrose molecule into its component Glucose and Fructose molecules. Inverting the sugar involves heating it and adding Citric Acid. The longer you heat the sugar, the darker will be the resulting inverted compound. The end result is a much sweeter compound than the original sugar that adds alcohol content to your beer without increasing the body.