How Sweet it Is: Sugar and Honey in Home Brew Wine

Home brewed wine is a beautiful product that is composed, in essence, of three parts – material selection, method of crafting, and time given for fermentation. With the right wine making supplies, intrepid brewers can elevate their collections beyond store shelf fodder by incorporating their own twists on additives and base ingredients. Wine making kits will come with components such as grape juices, yeasts and brewing containers, but curiosity drives many home brew enthusiasts to think outside the box when it comes to wine kits, researching switches and swaps that make vino truly personal. One of the most common changes is the sugar, or sugar alternative like honey, that is used to feed the yeast that ferments the juice.

Honey: Pros and Cons

Honey is a very complex ingredient all by itself – flower pollens and dozens of sugar compounds like dextrose and maltose are all packed into that thick, sweet syrup we all know and love. The taste of honey can vary widely depending on what flowers the producing hive frequents, giving rise to classic types like wildflower and more exotic varieties like orange flower or elderflower. When incorporated into the ingredients found in wine making kits, honey adds a deep complexity and sweetness to wine that many home brewers find more attractive than sugar, but it comes at a price. Due to the multiple sugars present in honey versus the single compound in traditional wine making sugar, fermentation takes considerably longer. According to home brewing enthusiast and blogger Jack Keller of JackKeller.net, 1.25 pounds of honey can be substituted for a pound of sugar in a given wine recipe, though if all of the sugar is exchanged for honey, you’ll end up brewing a honey wine or mead, rather than a traditional wine.

Sugar: Pros and Cons

Sugar, despite being a relatively simple ingredient, also comes in a wide range of forms that affect the wine it ferments. Traditional table sugar will produce wine that is consistent and familiar, but experimenting with more unique forms such as the blonde turbinado sugar or dark muscavado sugar with its hints of molasses will give your palate plenty to explore. The drawbacks of using sugar is that table varieties may not produce the depth of a finished product that you’d like, and the more exotic forms of sugar may be outside of the price range of beginning brewers. Sugar, however, is an excellent and stable ingredient to stretch your winemaking “legs” with, making it a must-have inclusion in wine kits. Sugar can also be added to a finished wine to sweeten it; rock sugar and bar or caster sugar are the most popular choices for this option due to their respective long and short dissolve times.

If you’re interested in home brewing wine, or are already a fan of the hobby, experimenting with both honey and sugar is the best way to find out which one, or what form of combinations, will work for your needs.