Sugar vs. Grain

edited March 2015 in Recipes

This question has been bugging me for a while now, and I was hoping some more folks would chime in with their experiences and hypothesises: Do you find that spirits made from a sugar wash have more "heat" or "burn" than those derived from grain?

I know @Grim has mentioned it before and I have experienced it myself as well. Meanwhile in the latest intro thread @Kapea suggested a sugar wash as a cheaper but just as effective formula for a good vodka. Being a professional brewer/yeast manager, my bias is clearly towards grain, but the thing is I also do a bunch of yeast/fermentation studies, and as long as the yeast has the required nutrients and the wash is not overly strong to the point of causing yeast stress then there should not be much difference. Ethanol being ethanol and the higher alcohols which I understand to be associated with the "burn" being separate it seems like the issues should come down to how well you conduct your separation vs the starting substrate, but all other factors constant, sugar washes to seem to be a bit more bitey and I was wondering what the insight was there. I also know that some of the higher alcohol beers that we make smooth out significantly over a period of months and lose their alcohol bite, but that doesn't really work for the time frame of a distiller.

Also if you factor the idea that sugar washes inherently need a bit more reflux or distillation or separation, they therefore may require more energy to render palatable which might then close the cost gap vs. grains. Just curious about it all really and would love the input of the community here. I have read plenty of anecdotal info on the other forums but prefer the spectrum of minds that frequent this one :)


  • edited March 2015

    There is absolutely a sugar bite. Grains are smoother. But I have to say that @BigPa's and @Rockchucker's UJSSM is pretty darn good and I would drink it any day of the week.

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • I second what @Smaug says, any sugar wash will have a certain sharpness that feels like a bite. That being said, the "bite" can be reduced to a VERY tolerable almost indiscernible level if the distiller has a bit of knowledge. The first sugarhead wash that I did in the 90's was able to melt your teeth. The stuff I do now is MUCH better and the bite/edge has been drastically reduced.

    Would I rather do it with grain? Absolutely

    Is the difference worth the ton of extra work? No way. At least not to me.

  • edited March 2015

    About a year ago I met a guy marketing a cane sugar based vodka that he had contract bottled. First sip I knew it was sugar based, a bit of the heat and a bit of a fruity rum note gave it away.

    I think most of the burn would be mitigated with correct nutrient protocol and taming the greediness associated with sugar washes. Grain has a built in greed limiter. I've never done it, but I'd imagine a sugar wash at 1.055 with good nutrients and a good yeast (strong pitch) would be much less aggressive. Anything you push towards 1.10 is going to be harsh as hell.

  • I make my vodka from UJSM that I strip and then run twice through my VM column. UJSM is a sugar wash with corn added as a flavor adjunct. Whatever it is that creates the sugar wash bite is either pretty well hidden, or nonexistent in UJSM. With three passes through the stills there is little flavor left that gives away what its fermentables source was. One mod I make to UJSM is to split the grain bill with half corn and half malted barley. I think the sour mash grain bed and backset go a long way to rid the distillate of that classic sugar bite.

    I started making vodka from UJSM because I had a shitload of UJSM low wines stacked up waiting for a spirit run on the pot still, and no WPOSW wash or low wines ready for the column. I ended up with so much UJSM low wines because I wanted to keep the UJSM grain bed and backset generations going.

    I'm more like I am now than I was before.

  • I've never tried TPW (tomato paste wash), but I hear it makes a pretty clean vodka. The guys down under seem to like it for their sugar wash.

    I'm more like I am now than I was before.

  • I have noticed that organic matter (grains etc) of reasonable ration ~20% of the fermentables considerably diminishes the sugar bite.
    I noticed this when doing sugar heads on grain beds (I ferment on grain).
    You can do 2 sugar heads on the grain bed before it loses its ability to quell the bite.

  • @Kapea said: I've never tried TPW (tomato paste wash), but I hear it makes a pretty clean vodka. The guys down under seem to like it for their sugar wash.

    I make my neutral (or vodka as I tell the wife) from a TPW and try to keep the ABV at about 10%. My still, for whatever reason, does a great job of stripping flavors so it works well with sugar washes. I also believe that the decreased ABV contributes to less bite. Another "Law of Distilling" that states that you can never use bakers yeast for a neutral without adding yeast or other flavors is bullshit. If your still strips flavors well, you can remove most if not all yeast flavors. At least to my tasting ability. I'm sure that the experts could tell but I guarantee that most couldn't.

    Another benefit of bakers yeast is it will keep you honest. Ain't gonna get 15% ABV

    If you REALLY like bite, let me introduce you to a turbo yeast.............

  • You can get 15% from bakers yeast. It will just take a whole lot longer to finish and have a lot of undesirable stuff to strip out. You can do two at 10% in the time it takes to do one at 15%.

    I'm more like I am now than I was before.

  • 15% makes baby jesus cry

  • I have heard that Buccaneer Bob pushes his rums to 15% with bakers but I would rather not. 10 is just fine with me.

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