Priming Sugar Or Carbonation Drops?

Bottling is one of the most exciting parts of home brewing. It is one of the last stages and the day when your wort starts to look like a drinkable product. You know that you will be enjoying a delicious beer within a few weeks after bottling is completed.

However, there is one critical step that takes place during the bottling stage which you must get right — adding the correct amount of sugar to the bottle for carbonation. If you make a mistake, you may end up with over-carbonation (too fizzy) or under-carbonation (flat beer).

When it comes to carbonating home brew in bottles, the two most popular methods are priming sugar and carbonation drops. In this guide, we’ll take a look at closer look at these two methods to help you understand which is right for you. 

What Is A Carbonation Drop?

Carbonation drops are small balls of hardened sugar that are placed into your beer bottles during the bottling process. After the beer is poured into the bottles, the residual yeast it contains will begin to consume the carbonation balls and become active again. 

As the yeast eats the sugar, it will produce carbon dioxide. However, because the carbon dioxide cannot escape the capped beer bottle, it will be absorbed by the beer. It remains there until you remove the bottle cap. At this point, the CO2 will escape your beer and enter the atmosphere, forming bubbles as it does so.

This process explains why bottle-carbonated home brew often has a small amount of sediment in the bottom. The sediment is a combination of deceased yeast and protein particles. 

In-bottle carbonation will increase the alcohol content of your beer by a small amount (usually less than 0.2%).

Carbonation Drops Ingredients: What Are They Made Of?

The primary ingredient in carbonation drops is sugar. However, the type of sugar used can vary. In most cases, it will be dextrose (corn sugar), glucose, sucrose (table sugar), or a combination of these ingredients. Check the product packaging for more detail. 

Because they are made of sugar, carbonation drops will last indefinitely if they are stored in a cool/dark place. 

How Long Does It Take For Carbonation Drops To Work?

In most cases, it takes about a week for beer to become carbonated. If the drop is fully dissolved and there is a layer of sediment (dead yeast) on the bottom of the bottle it indicates that the carbonation process has finished.

What Is Priming Sugar?

Priming sugar is a term used to describe a sugar that is added to bottled fermented beer in order to carbonate it. Many types of sugar can be used including dextrose, sucrose, and glucose. It is typically measured and added to hot water and dissolved before being placed in bottles with fermented beer.

Are Carbonation Drops Better Than Sugar?

Yes, in many respects they are better than sugar. However, there are also some disadvantages to using carbonation drops. I’ve shared the advantages and disadvantages below so you can decide for yourself.

Advantages of using carbonation drops

Easy to use
Home brewing tends to involve a lot of cleaning, measuring, and calculating. But that’s not the case with carbonation drops. You simply place a drop into your beer bottle and move on. There’s no mixing of sugar and water, no mess, and no fuss.

Fast to use
Carbonation drops are particularly useful if you are a busy and only have a limited amount of time available. Because you don’t need to precisely measure out priming sugar, you shorten the bottling process substantially. 

Reliable and repeatable
Have you ever opened a bottle of beer just to have it erupt like Mount Vesuvius? Or has the reverse happened, with your beer being flatted than expected? This can be quite traumatic for a home brewer because what should have been delicious beer is suddenly undrinkable.

Using carbonation drops helps you avoid priming sugar miscalculations that can cause over-carbonated or under-carbonated beers. All you need to do is place a carbonation drop (or two) in each bottle, then pour in your beer. It couldn’t be any easier.

Less items to clean or sanitize
Cleaning and sanitizing fermenters, bottles, and other containers is one of the most time consuming aspects of home brewing. When you use carbonation drops, you can avoid sanitizing a mixing bucket for blending the priming sugar. You also have one less piece of equipment to wash up after you finish bottling.

Dissolves easily 

Most carbonation drops are made using dextrose, which dissolves very quickly in liquid. This ensures that all of the sugar is absorbed in the bottle and used to properly carbonate your beer.

No beer bombs!

If you really get your priming sugar measurements wrong, you could experience a
beer bomb’ where the pressure of the carbon dioxide blows the top of your bottles off. Carbonation drops will help you avoid this issue.

Disadvantages of using carbonation drops

Difficult to ‘fine tune’ the amount of carbonation in a beer

If you brew several beer styles, you may develop specific carbonation requirements for each one. You may need your British style ales to have between 1.5 to 2.0 volumes of carbonation, while your American lagers need a bit more fizz and should have 2.2 to 2.7 volumes of carbonation.

Fine tuning your carbonation levels accurately can be difficult with carbonation drops. You might end up having to add a fraction of a drop in a bottle to achieve the desired results. As soon as you start cutting your drops into fine pieces, any speed and accuracy advantages of using carbon drops suddenly disappear.  

A better approach maybe to use a beer priming calculator and a form of sugar that can be measured precisely, like dextrose (corn sugar) or sucrose (table sugar).

Slightly more expensive
It is slightly more expensive to use carbonation drops than it is to measure out table sugar, but only if you don’t factor in the cost of your time.

Increased alcohol content 

The in-bottle fermentation process that occurs after adding a carbonation drop will increase the alcohol content of your beer by up to 0.2%. This doesn’t occur when using dissolved priming sugar, as the additional water that is added offsets any increase in alcohol levels.

Carbonation Drops – Sugar Equivalent

For most products, a single carbonation drop contains the same amount of sugar as a teaspoon of dextrose, as shown in the table below. 

However, It’s important to note that the size of carbonation drops can vary slightly between different products and regions. This is done so home brewers in each region can place whole drops in their most common bottle sizes.

Bottle SizeCarbonation DropsTeaspoons
12 Ounce/330 ml Bottle3/4 drop3/4 tsp
16 Ounce/500 ml Bottle1 drop1 tsp
22 Ounce/750 ml Bottle2 drops2 tsp
32 Ounce/1,000 ml Bottle2.5 drops2.5 tsp
2,000 ml Bottle5 drops1.5 Tbls
3,000 ml Bottle7.5 drops2.25 Tbls

For measurements in grams – a level teaspoon of sugar is approximately 4.2 g/0.15 ounces. 

Alternatives To Carbonation Drops

If you would prefer to experiment with other sources of sugar, you have plenty to choose from. Some popular options include:

  • Corn sugar (Dextrose, used in most carbonation drops)
  • Table sugar (Sucrose)
  • Priming sugar (often a mixture of Dextrose and Sucrose)
  • Turbinado (Brown sugar)
  • Demerara sugar (Raw sugar)
  • Corn Syrup
  • Molasses
  • Maple Syrup
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Honey, 
  • Belgian Candy Syrup
  • Belgian Candy Sugar
  • Invert Sugar Syrup
  • Black Treacle
  • Bottle conditioning tablets (mix of dextrose, dry malt extract, and heading powder)
Brewer's Best Conditioning Tablets 250 Count
  • Unique priming sugar in tablet format
  • Made from dextrose, dry malt extract, and heading powder
  • Add 3 to 5 Tablets per 12 oz Bottle

Just be aware that measurements may need to change when using other sources of sugar. For example, a teaspoon of Demerara sugar will contain less sugar than a teaspoon of table sugar, mostly because of the different grain sizes. It’s best to measure by weight if using a source of sugar that is liquid or has a very different grain size. 

Carbonation Drops For Brewing 

If you are interested in giving carbonation drops a try, here are a couple of popular options:

Coopers DIY Home Brewing Carbonation Drops

Coopers - 07-IZ3Z-LI40 DIY Home Brewing Carbonation Drops
  • Each package contains 60 carbonation drops
  • Makes bottling time easy
  • Each package will carbonation up to 6 gallons of homebrew

Coopers are one of the leading makers of home brewing equipment and ingredients. Their all-natural brewing carbonation drops contain 73% dextrose and 27% glucose. They include no additives, preservatives, fillers, or binders. 

Each packet will carbonate up to 6 gallons of homebrew. It will take about 7 days to condition your beer, but Coopers recommend waiting at least 3 weeks for better tasting beer.

Brewer’s Best Carbonation Tablets

Brewer's Best Carbonation Drops 9 oz
  • Approximately 62 Drops
  • Carbonates Fully Within 3 Weeks
  • Package Weight : 9.2 ounces

Each packet of Home Brew Ohio Brewer’s carbonation tablets contains 54 sugar tablets (250 grams), which is enough for a 5-gallon batch. To use these drops, simply add one drop to each 12 oz. bottle or 2 drops for 22 oz. bottles before filling. Your beer will be fully carbonated within 3 days (longer for high gravity beers).

Thanks for reading. As you can see, there are quite a few advantages obtained by using carbonation drops. Why not give them a try to see if you are satisfied with the results.

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