Unless you’ve got a good idea that you want to be a brewer for life, your first couple batches of homebrew will be carbonated using priming sugar and “bottle conditioned”.
Even if you are an expert with a badass kegging system, there are still styles that lend themselves to bottle conditioning, including high gravity beers that need to be aged, or Belgian beers brewed in the traditional style (some of which prefer having some yeast sediment in the bottle and ask you to swirl before serving).
Knowing how to properly prime your homebrew for bottling or keg conditioning is not hard, but there’s a lot of information to digest for the beginner.
Table of Contents
Basic Overview: How To Bottle Prime Your Beer
When your beer is done fermenting, it’s still not ready to drink! We need to make it fizzy with Carbon Dioxide. The beer you drink in kegs is likely force carbonated, which means that you are pressurizing the keg with CO2 over a period of time.
The saturation with gas at low temperatures means that your beer will absorb the carbonation and become the bubbly brew we’ve come to love.
But the original form of carbonation was done inside the bottle.
Even after we move the beer off of the yeast cake, there are still quite a few yeast friends floating around. If you stir up the cake, then there’s going to be a even more.
By adding some extra sugar to the beer before we put it in the bottle, we are giving these guys some food to chew on while in the bottle. After eating up that sugar, they produce CO2 (and a a tiny bit more alcohol). The same reaction of gas saturation happens, but on a smaller scale.
Through calculations we are able to decide how much sugar to add to a specific volume of beer to achieve the desired CO2 levels for each style of beer. Add the sugar to your bottling bucket, then fill each bottle individually and store for 1-2 weeks at room temperature before chilling and serving.
Priming Sugar Calculations
The most important two things you need to know are how much beer you have, and how much CO2 you want. There will be a range of acceptable levels for each style of beer.
Just make sure that you really take a look at how much beer you managed to get from your fermenter. I am notorious for brewing too much, or getting mad at my auto-siphon (worrying about sucking up trube) and just accepting 4.something gallons rather than the full 5.
There are plenty of calculators out there, but here are 3 I trust.
- Brewers Friend [Nice because it lists general styles and volume ranges for simple calculations]
- Tasty Brew [Nice because you can select an exact style from BJCP, though not updated for new style guidelines]
- Northern Brewer [Nice because it includes calculations for many types of sugar]
Sucrose VS Dextrose VS
There are HEAVY debates online about whether or not using different types of sugars affect the carbonation and flavor of your beer.
The consensus seems to be that if yeast can break down the sugar, no matter what its original form, you will NOT notice any difference.
However, please remember that sugar that looks the same (i.e. dextrose vs sucrose) may have different volume calculations! X grams of one doesn’t necessarily produce the same results as X grams of the other.
Note: DME is another popular priming sugar since most people have some lying around. Belgian Candi a common as well, but will definitely add some flavors to your beer.
Priming Sugar Experiments
Aside from actual carbonation volume, there is plenty of evidence (even if only just placebo) that using different types of sugar to carbonate your beer can produce different results.
Using maple syrup to prime your chocolate brown ale is not a bad idea, and neither is using honey to prime your a beer with some toasted bread malt flavors going on. How about chocolate syrup to prime your Christmas doppelbock?
It all sounds delicious. And even though the sugar broken down won’t add or change any flavors, there are other flavor components in these ingredients that can impart flavors on your finished beer.
Depending on what you use, these flavors could be subtle/imperceptible to the average drinker, or completely change the dynamics of your brew.
Maybe an invention of my own mind, but I swear that beer carbed with table sugar produces different bubble size than stuff carbed with brewers sugar. It’s just been my experience.
Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear your opinion in the comments.
Bottling buckets are cheap. Buy two. Split a batch, and try two different priming sugars on the same brew. Then have a blind taste test to see if one works better than the other, or if you can get the same result for cheaper/easier.
Have you ever primed with something weird? What were you results?
photo credit: pauldavidy