Menu Icon

Looking for homebrewing gift ideas? Check out our previous gift guides here or here!
Also, if you enjoy BrewUnited, please consider doing your Amazon shopping via our affiliate link!

Creating Syrup from First Runnings

Posted by homebrewdad on 11/03/2014 at 04:47:10 PM


This past weekend, I brewed my Christmas ale.  I'm hoping for a rich dessert beer; ideally, I'll have big caramel flavors, some nice plum/dark fruit, with a little roastiness to help balance things out, accented off by a blend of traditional holiday spices.  If all goes well, this beer will be special.

One of the techniques that I employed for this beer was the conversion of a little over a gallon of my first runnings into a little under a quart of syrup.  The maillard reactions from this process really emphasize those caramel flavors, and can help to enhance a variety of beer styles.  It's not a complicated process, but I do see questions about it fairly often, so I figured that I'd put together a step by step to help guide those who have never done it before.

First off, be sure to collect first runnings for this, as you absolutely want that sugar-rich goodness for the process.  While you can certainly do this with second runnings, you get noticeably more water in that pass, and your syrup won't be nearly as rich or flavorful.  In case you are unfamiliar with the terminology, note that "first runnings" refers to the sweet wort that you drain from your mash prior to any sparging (rinsing) of the grain.

I collect a gallon of the first runnings into a pitcher, which I then dump back into the mash tun.  This process (known as vorlaufing) helps to set your grain bed, which then acts as a filter - which in turn means that you get virtually no solid bits of grain when you drain again.  While I'm confident that a few grain bits wouldn't actually hurt your syrup, It's something that I personally want to avoid.

Once this is done, I then collect the very first gallon of my runnings into a pitcher.  When this is full, I continue as normal with draining the rest into my boil kettle.  I place this pitcher aside, as I only own two very large pots (my 11 gallon boil kettle and my 6 gallon hot liquor tun). 

I then proceed to batch sparge as usual.  Once the HLT is empty, I take it inside, place it on the stovetop, and pour that gallon of first runnings into it.  I set the heat on high, then go back outside to move my boil kettle to the burner, which I start on low heat - the idea being to get the main boil ready in such a time that coincides with the syrup being done.

Now, as to the syrup itself, you may notice that I am using a six gallon pot for a mere gallon of runnings.  I absolutely would not attempt to process this volume of runnings with less than a four gallon pot.  Disregard this advice at your own peril - the first time I did this, I had multiple boil overs with standard (puny) kitchen pots until I wised up and dumped everything into my HLT. 

Ye be warned.

For me, the process took forty-two minutes from the time that the first runnings started to boil until the time that the syrup was ready.  Beware that this liquid will foam up like CRAZY, and the only real solution is to stir like mad. 

Once you hit the twenty or so minute mark in the boil, the foam gets well and truly serious, requiring essentially nonstop stirring until the process is done.  Yes, that lone gallon can absolutely boil over even a six gallon pot.  Ask my stovetop how it knows this.

At the forty minute mark in the boil, I noticed that my foam had stopped looking fluffy, and instead had a much more dense, sticky appearance to it.  At this point, magic is happening.  Two minutes later, I had legit syrup.

Beware - once the thickening starts to happen (and it happens RAPIDLY), the mixture is prone to scorching very easily.  I think that once you are aware that you truly do have thick syrup, it is wisest to take the syrup off of the heat and go dump it into your kettle.  Be prepared to need liberal use of a spoon to get the syrup out, and be prepared for the end of your spoon to be coated in a hard "wort candy".  If you taste the syrup at this point, you'll get big malt sweetness, caramel, and molasses.  This stuff would likely be amazing on pancakes.

At some point, you will realize that your pot is now covered in a ridiculously difficult to remove shell of candied syrup.  You can scrub it if you like, but much better is to take the approximate amount of water you lost (say, three quarts or so) and heat that in the pot.  The candied syrup will simply dissolve into that water, and a couple of minutes of stirring will yield a nigh-clean pot.  You can then dump this portion into your kettle.  Not only do you guarantee getting every bit of those delicious sugars with this step, but you then don't have to worry about fancy math to adjust your wort volume; you took a gallon away, you put a gallon back - boil off should proceed as normal.

There you have it.  This kind of syrup can enhance any beer where a noticeable caramel flavor is desirable - certainly, it works with Christmas ales and Scottish ales (wee heavy, anyone?), but I find that it can go great with an oatmeal stout, as well... and I expect that there are other great uses for such a syrup.  Happy brewing! 

Tags for this post: syrup, first runnings, caramel, boil, maillard reactions, Christmas ale, homebrewing

Please log in to comment on this post
Don't have an account?


I can't imagine how it looks like..I'll try that this weekend..

posted by NatashaPoidevin04 on 5/12/2015 at 04:16:16 AM