So you have finished your beer, it’s fully fermented and has been sat to age for a week or two, but before you can enjoy the fruits of your labor, the final phases of beer-making include packaging the beer to store and consume.
|Sugar||Amount in Grams||Amount in Oz|
|DME - All Varieties|
|Belgian Candi Syrup|
|Belgian Candi Sugar|
If you are a more experienced or advanced American homebrewer, your homebrew setup may include a kegerator or similar device which you can use to force carbonate the beer (see our force carbonation calculator here).
However, for most first-time or novice homebrewers, beer priming by adding sugar is the most straightforward option. Many homebrewers may also argue force carbonation can affect the beer taste of many styles, especially Belgian styles such as lambic or sour beers.
Even a whole keg of beer can be carbonated with natural sugars without the need for more advanced homebrew equipment. After all, a keg is just a sealed container that can be used for storing beer under pressure, just like a bottle is.
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.
After all who wants to drink a flat beer or even clear up an explosion of beer “bomb” bottles?
Notes on Using Our Priming Sugar Calculator
Use our handy priming sugar calculator to work out how much priming sugar to add to your batch of beer for bottle carbonation.
Simply add the fermentation temperature (our calculator supports both Fahrenheit and Celsius) and the CO2 volume required or choose the beer style (we have included a drop-down for over 20 styles of popular beer) and how many gallons of brew you want to batch prime.
The results will give you how many grams of sugar (or ounces) in eight different types of sugar used to prime beer. I always recommend the amounts of sugar are added by weight rather than volume.
The values our brewing tools report are by weight, not volume, which we find is the most reliable method. Use the same set of scales you would for adding the hops to your beer.
Other online calculators may recommend carbonation by volume, saying add x cups of sugar.
A common problem with this method is it doesn’t take into account any air pockets which may be in the scoop or possible variations in the scoop’s “standard” size making it hard to know the exact level of sugar being added.
Although you will get close most of the time, volume is not as reliable or repeatable (especially if brewing for a competition) as measuring by weight. There’s nothing worse than an under-primed batch of beer – don’t let a measuring cup be the reason.
What Is Priming Sugar?
Priming sugar is basically any fermentable sugar that is added to your beer and used for carbonating the beer and giving it that fizz.
Although it is certainly possible to drink your beer without carbonation, you would be missing out on many of the flavors of beer and aromas that effervescence can give a beer.
The priming sugar you choose to use can also add qualities such as more aroma and taste to your beer when you bottle it. Essentially the sugar is giving the residual yeast in the beer a final source of nutrition to reap the full benefits of the yeast.
When it comes to priming sugars, pretty much any sugar type can be used although some types of sugar may benefit your beer more than others.
Simple sugars such as normal white table sugar or standard corn sugar can be used for priming a beer but won’t add or enhance the flavor or aroma of the beer.
By comparison, if you use more of the “natural” unrefined sugars such as dark brown sugar or honey you will get that fizz as well as an amplified taste and a nicer aroma to your beer.
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.
Corn sugars are the choice of sugar that should be used if you are new to homebrewing and the bottle priming process.
Corn Sugar – Dextrose
Most homebrew kits you buy will include packets of brewer’s corn sugar for priming the beer as corn sugar does not influence the taste of the finished beer recipe kit.
It’s also very soluble and easy for the yeast to digest. You simply put it in some warm water, swirl it around and it’s ready to use.
Some people may even dump the powdered sugar directly into the beer bottling bucket.
Corn sugar is also one of the most widely available commercial priming sugars which can be obtained from any homebrew store pre-packaged in the amounts needed for bottle carbonation, making it easier to get the right amounts without having to worry too much about measurement.
Table Sugar – (Sucrose & Fructose)
The most basic of priming sugars is appealing due to its low cost and easy availability. Table sugar again doesn’t add any flavor to the beer so can be used for any kind of beer.
Although many homebrewers use table sugar on a regular basis without any issues, other brewers often claim it produces inconsistent results and shouldn’t be used.
One of the reasons for this is the stress it can put on the yeast compared to corn sugar. Table sugar is a disaccharide, meaning it is a two-cell sugar compared to the monosaccharide that is corn sugar.
The yeast is going to have to work harder to split the two-bond version which can result in yeast that is stressed and weak, often producing off-flavors.
In general, most people’s tasting abilities are not refined enough to tell the difference in the taste of corn vs table sugar.
However, remember the measurements for each are different so don’t just substitute one amount of one type for a similar amount of the other.
Dry Malt Extract – DME
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 bubbly beer. Some brewers also argue that using DME to prime your beer will give finer bubbles than the often larger “soda-like” bubbles a sugar can give a beer.
However, priming with DME can take much longer than a sugar, which may cause the bubbles to appear smaller at first, but the difference will dissipate as the DME is fully fermented and the beer is carbonated.
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.
Anything with sugar can be used to prime beer. Undiluted honey is a good option for meads or versions of honey wine. Adding something like watermelon juice can help turn a wheat beer into a delicious, refreshing summer beer.
Just be wary of what type of sugar is your adjunct – too much active sugar and you risk over-priming your beer, causing problems like swollen caps, exploding bottles, or a foamy beer that is hard to pour.
How Is the Carbonation Level of a Beer Measured?
Carbon dioxide is the gas produced as a byproduct of fermentation phases.
Although we add more CO2 for drinking our beer with the priming process or by force carbonation, there is already CO2 present in the fermenter after the initial fermentation process.
The temperature of your fermentation is important, as cooler liquids will hold more CO2 and a liquid will release more when it is warmer. The equilibrium in the fermentation bucket or carboy under the airlock is dependent both on the pressure and the temperature.
The measuring of CO2 is done in volumes, with the volume being the space the CO2 would take up at a pressure of one atmosphere (about 15 pounds per square inch or 15 psi) and a temperature of 0ºC (32ºF).
The actual dissolved residual CO2 in a beer can be measured with specialized equipment, however, by using the highest temperature of beer reached during the initial fermentation the amount of residual carbonation can be estimated (as done by most online calculators) so that the proper amounts of priming sugar can be added to the beer after packaging.
Carbonation Guidelines by Style
Although our calculator covers most beer styles, there will occasionally be one not listed that you may wish to carbonate by priming with sugar (let us know if you think we have missed any of the popular styles, we are always keen to improve our online brewing tools.).
As general rules of thumb, you could follow this brief guide and decide which category your brew falls into.
|British Style Ales||1.5 - 2.0 Volumes|
|Belgian Ales||1.9 - 2.4 Volumes|
|American Ales and Lagers||2.2 - 2.7 Volumes|
|Fruit lambic||3.0 - 4.5 Volumes|
|Porter, Stout||1.7 - 2.3 Volumes|
|European Lagers||2.2 - 2.7 Volumes|
|Lambic||2.4 - 2.8 Volumes|
|German Wheat Beer||3.3 - 4.5 Volumes|
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 bottle preferably with a NO-RINSE brewing sanitizer like Star-San.
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
To make sure that the sugar dissolves evenly through your beer-in-training:
- Boil about two cups of water and dissolve your sugar in it. Boiling ensures sanitation and allows you to use less water since you can dissolve more sugar in hot water than in cold.
- Pour it into your brew and mix it in. If there is still sediment at the bottom of your bucket, this could be difficult. You have to be careful not to stir the sediment back into your beer, while also stirring the sugar into 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 into 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.
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.