Ask Wine Wizard

How can I increase the sugar content of my juice without using refined sugar?


Azubuike Ogala — Oxford, New Jersey asks,

How can I increase the sugar content and body of my juice without using refined sugar? I am looking for cheaper alternatives. Please point me to specific recipes.


Wine Wizard replies: If you’ve seen a lot of home winemaking recipes that recommend pounds upon pounds of refined sugar, it’s because refined sugar is the cheapest agent available to home winemakers who want to raise specific gravity. If you happen to be a beekeeper or know one with whom you could trade a few bottles of wine for a few pounds of honey, for instance, I’d say your chances of getting cheap honey (which is a great sugar source for wines and meads) are pretty good.

Other sources of fermentable sugars that won’t necessarily cost you an arm and a leg are malt, grape concentrates, fruit juice concentrates and dried fruits. However, on a pound-for-pound average, all of these sugar sources will most likely cost you more than that five-pound bag of sugar that you can pick up at your local supermarket.If you happen to have a good, cheap source of any of the above, go ahead and use them to replace some or all of the refined sugar in your recipes. Just be aware that you’ll be imparting the flavor of that sugar source to your wine. Since honey, concentrates and dried fruits all vary in the amount of sugar they contain, it’s difficult to say how much you’ll need to use.

Just add more or dilute until you get the desired degrees Brix you’re looking for. For a table wine, you’ll want to start off with a Brix of between 21 ° to 24 °. If you’re looking for residual sweetness in wine and don’t want to do it with refined sugar, try adding glycerin to your finished wine. It’s non-fermentable and will give your wine a pleasing body, as well. Use no more than one ounce per gallon and add according to taste. It’s more expensive than sugar, but you only use a little bit. Here’s a simple mead recipe that uses no refined sugar:


  • 4 lbs. honey
  • 1/2 tsp. tannin powder
  • 2 tsp. citric acid
  • 1-1/2 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet sherry-type yeast

Step by Step:

Prepare the yeast starter in advance to activate the yeast. Suspend yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water (100 °F, 37.8 °C), until bubbly. Place honey in the initial fermentation vessel or bucket and fill up to 1 gal. with hot water. When cool (70 °F, 21.1 °C) add the tannin, nutrient and acid, and stir well to dissolve, then add the activated yeast. Cover closely. After seven days, transfer to a demijohn, topping up to the shoulder with cooled, boiled water if necessary. Fit bung and airlock and keep in a warm place. Ferment to completion. Rack from the lees when mead is star-bright. (Recipe courtesy of “Step by Step Homemade Wine” by Judith Irwin, Quadrillion Publishing Inc.)

Response by Alison Crowe.