Further to my blog on sugar in October last year I happened to be in London staying in Camden. Walking through the lock system on the canals there I saw this bronze statue of a workman, a tribute to Camden’s working past in the old days showing how they handled block sugar.

They used this technique to handle other goods packed like this – wool, salt, ice to name a few. This was how block sugar was man-handled. 

Brewers of the day were encouraged to use sugar as a replacement for malt as in those days, tax on beer was levied on the amount of malt used. Reducing this and using sugar instead lowered their tax bill.

This was the origin of the tax on OG (Original Gravity) which persisted from the time of William Gladstone in the mid-1800’s until 1993.

This was when Norman Lamont, Chancellor of the Exchequer following intense lobbying from the brewing industry, moved the point of duty payment to alcohol by volume (abv). 

As the Industrial Age progressed, knowledge of sugar science advanced; their different flavours and colours were exploited in beers to give them their particular character. Refineries developed a large range of sugars that were of interest to brewers which became the established recipe for famous British ales. 

Today many sugars are still used but more usually in a liquid syrup format than the block which makes them easier to handle in the brewery. However, block sugar is still available as Invert No. 1 as described in my previous blog post. An addition to wort between 4- 8% certainly helps the yeast get going fast as it is so readily fermentable. 

Many caramels and sugars are used to flavour, colour and also prime beers for back-sweetening, cask and bottle-conditioning.