As you may have heard, I am participating in the current round of the Iron Brewer competition, where you are required to brew with 3 unique ingredients. In this particular round, the ingredients were ginger root, agave nectar, and biscuit malt. Since I’ve been doing some research on the ingredients, I thought I would share my findings, in case anyone else is ever tempted to brew with any of these fun fermentables. Last week, I wrote about using ginger root in your beer, and this week we will tackle the intricacies of agave nectar and how it can be used in your brew.
What is Agave Nectar
You probably thought agave was just for tequila! Actually, agave nectar (also called agave syrup) is an alternative sweetner, often used in place of sugar because it is easier to be vegan. It comes from the agave plant that is native to South Africa and Mexico (hence it’s use in tequila). It is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar and is more viscous than honey. The aroma is similar to that of molasses.
Varieties of Agave Nectar
Agave nectar comes in several varieties: raw, dark, amber, and light. In general, the amber and dark will have more flavor than the light, and the raw will have the most flavor (and be the darkest). If you’re using it to pour over pancakes, the light might be perfect, but in beer, since most of the flavor will be lost to fermentation, I would opt for the darker versions.
I purchased some amber and some raw and did a side-by-side taste comparison. The raw was a much stronger flavor, and if I were to pick one to take a swig of, I would have chosen the amber. However, because I know that it will be a struggle for the flavor to make it through fermentation, I went with the raw agave syrup because of the more intense flavor.
How it is used in Beer
Agave syrup is made of all simple sugars (glucose and fructose), so it is highly fermentable. In brewing, you would typically use it to replace corn syrup or honey. Because it is so fermentable, it is mostly turned into alcohol, leaving behind very little agave flavor. What it does do is dry out the beer and boost your alcohol content.
You can add in agave nectar at various times during the brewing process. It can be added during the boil, but you will almost certainly boil off all of the agave flavor. If adding to the boil, it should be added within the last few minutes, and in generous amounts, to insure that the flavor is imparted into the beer, but be careful of the affect on your ABV% when adding large amounts of agave.
In the Iron Brewer recipe that I created, I opted to add in the agave nectar (1.5 lbs) after I transferred the wort to the carboy. While it’s probably safe to assume that the syrup was sanitized, as it is pasteurized and has been stored in a clean container, just to be safe, I did put the bottle in a saucepan of water, heating it to just over 160 degrees for a few minutes to sanitize it. From there, I poured it directly into the fermenter.
You may also opt to add it into secondary fermentation, but know that adding sugar into secondary will cause additional fermentation, and this should be accounted for.
Other ways agave could be used would be in place of priming sugar when bottling, or after kegging to back-sweeten the beer (but it is still possible for fermentation to pick back up, albeit slowly, even after your beer is in the keg if you don’t filter your homebrew).
How much to add?
In a five-gallon batch, I chose to add 23.5 oz (roughly 1.5 lbs) of agave nectar into the fermentor. Why this odd amount? Because that was the size of the container that it came in, and it seemed like a good amount.
Adding a 1/2 lb or less will probably not do much for your beer. Remember, it will almost totally ferment out. So to really get any agave flavor at all, you need to add in a good bit. If adding into the boil, I would not add less than 2 pounds. For bottling purposes, you may need to consult a carbonation chart. Remember that agave is sweeter than sugar, so you may need less than you think!
Hopefully this will inspire you to try some simple sugar alternatives in your brew, such as agave nectar. If you have brewed using agave nectar previously, feel free to share your personal experience with us in the comments section, as we’d love to hear how it turned out!