How to sweeten your brew
Like salt, sugar can help to bring out flavors. Most of the recipes on this site will give you “dry” alcohols. That means that the sugar will be almost entirely converted into alcohol.
Add sugar after fermentation
If we want to sweeten our wine or alcohol, it is easier to do so after fermentation. After, to keep the sweet taste, we will then stabilize our beverage with potassium metabisulfite and/or potassium sorbate. Otherwise, the yeasts present in the must could convert this new sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, continuing the fermentation process in the bottle.
This could be dangerous because of the pressure that will build up in your bottles.
It is better to sweeten the batch after fermentation rather than before for the following reasons. First, too much sugar could prevent fermentation from starting. Then, the yeast will convert the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, but to a certain extent that is difficult to control. The result will be that you will not have met your goal, that is to say, to sweeten your wine adequately.
You could end up with alcohol that is too sweet or not sweet enough according to your taste. If it is too sweet, it will be difficult to remove the sugar without diluting your alcohol, which is of course not desired. By adding sugar after fermentation, we have optimal control of the final taste of our product.
Not only cane sugar
At this stage, assuming that fermentation is complete and that we will stabilize the beverage, we can sweeten the alcohol with any of the sugars mentioned before. Most of the time, we will use white cane sugar. However, it can be useful in some recipes to add other sources of sugar. For example, for a dry apple cider, we could use pasteurized apple juice, or even a frozen apple juice concentrate. If we make a raspberry wine, adding honey after fermentation could give an interesting taste to this wine.
The importance of being methodical
What you must do, in all cases, is to go methodically, take notes and increase the sugar incrementally. You must then taste and decide if you add more. A wine that is too sweet may, in the worst case, be mixed with other very dry wines from your wine cellar, which could save the lot. However, it is better to act with caution than to find yourself in this situation.
It is suggested, as with spices, to take a sample of your production for testing. If the result is good, you can then apply the same method to the entire production. If you want to sweeten beverages that will not be stabilized, such as beer, sparkling wine or cider, you will then have to use non-fermentable sugars such as lactose, sugar-free essences or substitutes. This is because these beverages will be contained under pressure and if there is too much sugar in the drink when it is bottled, the bottle may explode under the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas generated by the yeast.
It is important to remember that before bottling a beverage that has been sweetened after fermentation, it must be stabilized. Stabilization is first done by adding sulfites to inhibit yeast. Then, potassium sorbate is added which will prevent any surviving yeast from reproducing. Stir well with a sterile spoon after adding these stabilizers. If you want to minimize the risk of a bottle exploding from the pressure of a re-fermented bottle, you could also bottle stabilized, sweetened beverages in bottles that can withstand pressure. Adequate closures must also be used.