You’ve done it – the wort is created, yeast is pitched and fermented, and your brew has sat and aged for a week or two – it is time to move on to that essential final step. However, before you can enjoy the fruits of your labor, which in this case, is a sip of bubbly, crisp beer, is proper bottle conditioning and priming.
If you are ready to prime your brew, the first step is to learn the ins and outs of priming sugar, which is the primary component in the priming solution. It is essential to ensure you get this step right to ensure all your hard work pays off.
Several factors must be considered when you are creating your perfect brew. While many things may go wrong, understanding the basics of priming sugar and what it does will help you along the way.
What Is Priming Sugar?
Priming sugar is a unique sugar added to the beer before it is bottled to add the carbonation. The sugars added are consumed by the yeast in your beer, which produces CO2. Since there is no place for the CO2 to go in the bottle, it dissolves in the beer. This is an affordable, straightforward process that helps you create amazing tasting brews.
When you add priming sugar, you should proceed with caution. If you do not add enough, your beer will taste flat because there is not enough carbonation present. If you add too much of the sugar, the bottle will overflow when it is opened. In some cases, if far too much priming sugar is added, the beer bottle may explode.
While this is true, don’t worry. The information and resources found here will help you get it right and answer some of the most common questions, such as “is priming sugar necessary,” among others that are asked about the process.
3 Popular Priming Sugars
Usually, the goal of priming sugar is to provide a source of food for the yeast without altering the flavor of the brew. However, it is essential to understand that not all priming sugars are the same. For example, not all sugars are fermentable. Some are mixed with other ingredients that can create different flavors in the beer, which may ruin the intended flavor.
When choosing a priming sugar, it usually comes down to your personal preference. There are many myths associated with priming sugar and which ones to use, so it is best to learn as much as you can about each one. There are three popular priming sugars, which are listed below.
Corn Sugar – Dextrose
- Corn sugar
- Used for priming beer
Considered the most popular priming sugar, this option is affordable and readily available. Also, it does not impart any unusual flavors to the beer. Some brewers consider this the only option of priming sugars to use.
If you use dextrose, any brewer should note that corn sugar is dextrose monohydrate. This means a single water molecule is attached to each sugar molecule, which means it is nine percent water by mass.
Table Sugar – Sucrose
- Priming Sugar 5 oz. Includes 2 Packages
- Small Amount Will Increase Alcohol Content Without Impact On Taste
- Creates Carbonation In The Bottle
Some brewers avoid using sucrose, even though it is readily available in most homes. A common fear is that this sugar will alter the flavor of the beer. This is not the case, though, and most people who have tested this theory have discovered that dextrose and sucrose taste virtually identical.
The only caveat here is to use a bit less sucrose than you would dextrose.
Dry Malt Extract – DME
- 100% Pure malted barley extract from organically grown barley
- Model Number: 96-PKL1-4U0E
- Item Package Dimension: 8.0" L x 5.2" W x 1.6" H
This is slightly different than the two sugar options mentioned above. It is an unfermented wort that is dried into powder form. Since it is similar to adding another beer to the recipe, it helps add flavor and body to the brew.
Priming Sugar Substitutes
Some of the most popular priming sugar substitutes include demerara sugar, agave nectar, honey, treacle, maple syrup, molasses, and Belgian candi syrup.
How to Get the Perfect Blend with Priming Sugars
If you are new to making beer, you may wonder, “how much priming sugar do I use for one gallon of beer?” This is a good question, and it all has to do with achieving the right balance.
When using priming sugar, certain formulas will help you create the ideal priming blend for your beer.
Determining the Perfect Carbonation: How Do You Calculate Priming Sugar?
Before you try to figure out how much sugar is needed to create the right priming solution for your brew, there are a few things you must know. These things include:
- After a round of fermentation, how much residual carbonation is present in the brew. This is determined by the temperature you set to ferment the brew.
- The target carbonation for the style of beer you are making.
This is crucial information because of this equation – Residual Carbonation Levels + Priming Carbonation Levels = Target Carbonation Levels.
It does not matter if you are new to at-home brewing, or if you are a seasoned pro, using a priming chart will help you figure out the total carbonation you want to add with the priming solution you are using.
After determining the right carbonation level, you must determine the amount of priming sugar needed to produce that carbonation level.
Homebrewing is a mix of art and science. If you want to avoid having to do complex math problems, there are calculators online that will help you.
Priming Sugar Formulas to Keep On-Hand
While you can use the priming sugar calculator mentioned above, you can also take every step of the brewing process into your own hands.
For every five gallons of beer, the following rules (typically) apply:
- ¾ cups of corn sugar
- 2/3 cup of table sugar
- 1 ¼ cup dry malt extract
The measurements above consider the volume and fermentability differences for every substance. They also provide a reminder that you should weigh the ingredients if you want to achieve the best results.
Your Step by Step Guide to Priming Sugars and Beer Bottling
Are you ready to bottle your creation? Now that you know about priming sugars, you are ready for this critical step.
Step 1: Prepare the Bottles
A traditional, five-gallon batch requires you to have two cases (48) 12-ounce bottles. Be sure to clean and sanitize each one. If you are using old bottles, be sure to inspect them for mold.
Step 2: Get the Bottle Caps Ready
Make sure to sanitize the caps you will use, too. You may opt for Grolsch style bottles. You can sanitize the rubber seals of these just like you can traditional bottle caps.
Step 3: Prepare Your Chosen Priming Sugar
Add your priming solution before bottling to add the carbonation to the beer. You will boil about ¾ cup of corn sugar or 2/3 cup of cane sugar in approximately two cups of water. Let this cool before using it.
Step 4: How to Bottle Beer with Priming Sugar?
When combining your beer and priming sugar, make sure that you do not allow it to splash, as this introduces oxygen to the brew, which can cause severe problems with the flavor. You also do not need to stir – the swirling motion of the beer as it is put into your bottling bucket will be enough to mix the priming solution and ensure no aeration occurs.
If you do not have a bottling bucket, you can pour your priming solution in your fermenter and stir it gently. Make sure the sediment inside settles for 15 to 30 minutes before you move forward. After this time has passed, you can fill your bottles.
Common Priming Sugar Questions
There are more than a few questions that may pop up when it comes to homebrewing and using priming sugar. Some of the most common are asked here.
What Kind of Sugars are Priming Sugars?
The sugars commonly used as priming sugars include table sugar, corn sugar, and DME, as described above. People may also use honey for this purpose.
Is Priming Sugar Necessary?
Priming sugar is needed because it provides food for the yeast, which creates the carbonation that makes the beer fizzy and bubbly.
Is Priming Sugar the Same as Corn Sugar?
Corn sugar is a type of priming sugar that can be used for your home brew.
Can Regular Sugar be Substituted for Priming Sugar?
The answer to this is “yes.” Any sugar – brown sugar, white sugar, cane sugar and virtually any other can be used for priming.
Do You Add Priming Sugar Before After Filling the Bottles?
Many experts recommend that you add the priming sugar before adding beer to the bottle. There are several reasons for this. For example, it makes it easier to handle the bottle when it is still empty, rather than full of beer. Also, if you add the sugar after the beer is already inside, it could cause splashes, which could lead to oxygenation.
Why Is Oxygen Bad for Your Homebrew?
Before fermentation occurs, oxygen is actually a good thing. In fact, this is how the yeast grows during the fermentation process.
However, once the yeast has begun to ferment, oxygen is a contaminant. If you have ever rented a beer ball or party keg with a hand pump, have seen how oxygen can quickly spoil beer. That is because the pumps put oxygen into the keg, which causes a stale flavor – often in just 24 hours.
All oxygen, even exceedingly small amounts, is not good for your finished beer. It will quickly spoil the beer and impact the flavor stability. The clarity of your beer will also be affected when oxygen is introduced. That is because the oxygen interacts with the tannins and polyphenols in the brew, creating a chill haze and, eventually, a permanent haze in your beer.
After the fermentation is complete, there is a layer of CO2, which is heavier than the air, sitting over the beer. It provides a protective layer. If you do not disturb the beer, the layer will protect the brew as it ages.
Usually, oxygen will be introduced when you move the beer from one container to another and bottle it. Therefore, you should be extremely careful during this step. Oxygen may also get introduced to the brew if the bottle is shaken, so avoid this.
How Long Do You Boil Priming Sugar?
When preparing the priming sugar, use enough boiling water to dissolve the sugar, but without diluting the beer or darkening the sugar.
Do You Let Priming Sugar Cool?
You should allow your priming sugar to cool before using it. It is not recommended to add priming sugar that is still boiling to your bottle.
Does Priming Sugar Make Your Beer Sweeter?
Priming for carbonation purposes should not make your beer sweeter. The reason for this is that the sugar added for priming is added in an amount that is completely converted by the residual yeast into CO2. This means there is no sugar left behind to sweeten the flavor of the beer.
Does Priming Sugar Go Bad?
While sugars will not go bad completely, the texture can change over time. There is nothing that can be done about this.
Does Priming Sugar Increase Alcohol Content?
Some types of priming sugar can increase the alcohol content in your beer. One example is corn sugar. Along with increasing the total alcohol content of your beer, when you add more sugar during the bottling process, it can impact the body, flavor, and color of your brew.
How Much Priming Sugar Should I Use for 1 Gallon of Beer?
For every one gallon of beer, you will require .54 ounces of corn sugar. This will be enough to get the carbonation level desired.
Homebrewing can be a rewarding and fun hobby. However, if you want to make the most of your homebrew and ensure it is delicious and high-quality, you have to get the priming sugar part of the equation right. The tips and information found here will set you on the right path.
Remember, each homebrewer is unique. Therefore, eventually, once you have several batches under your belt, you may find methods and techniques that work better for you, beyond the ones found here. The key is to get the basics down first, and then you can begin tweaking things to suit your needs and preferences better.
By knowing what to do and what to avoid (such as introducing oxygen into your beer), you can feel confident you have the highest likelihood of creating a delicious homebrew. Being informed and knowing what to expect will help ensure you get the brew you want.
Related: Priming Sugar or Carbonation Drops?