We've already noted that creating a wash from grapes (winemaking) or malted barley (brewing) rarely results in a failed fermentation, because grapes and barley naturally create washes that yeasts love. When a wash is created by just tipping a load of sugar into the water, however, there is a distinct danger of creating a wash that does not ferment correctly.

The following table tells you how much sugar to put in your sugar wash or thin mash, what readings you can expect from a brewer's triple-scale hydrometer, and what yeast varieties will work best with your chosen sugar concentration, to get a healthy, active, and good-tasting fermentation.

In the table, each horizontal row represents a specific sugar concentration for a wash. For each row, that specific concentration is represented as a Specific Gravity in grams per milliliter, and as Degrees Brix, both values which can be read by floating a triple-scale hydrometer in that wash. Further, using some optimistic calculations, the hydrometer will also tell you how much (in %) alcohol you would have if your fermentation completed perfectly. That's the % Potential Alcohol reading.

That horizontal row then goes on to tell you how much sugar you need to have in each gallon of your wash to get the sugar concentration of that particular line. It then tells you which yeasts will work well that sugar concentration, A, B, C, D and/or E, called out at the bottom of the table.

I'll admit to being conservative with respect to yeast strains and wash concentrations. Because I strongly believe that good wash flavor is dependent on happy yeast, I do not recommend using a yeast strain that the table shows at its limit for a particular sugar concentration. In addition, and for the same reason, I really don't recommend going for very high potential alcohol washes (which means high sugar content washes at the start). Just because you can make a 19% wash using turbo yeast, doesn't mean it's a good idea. You may spend more time trying to get that nasty taste out of your liquor than you save by making a high-%ABV wash. Most experienced distiller I know limit their washes to anywhere from 10% to 14% ABV. There's more to good spirits than just ethanol.

Sugar wash design table