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Three Pint Stance - First-time home brewer questions Vol. ?: The one where he stopped numbering them

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Welcome back intrepid home brewers, curious readers and anyone else who finds themselves reading this because they finished reading all the interesting stuff Allen wrote about! In this edition of “FTHBQ,” we will look into the final production step of your home-brewed beer - carbonation!

There is one thing that most all beer drinkers can agree on: flat beer is gross. So, how do you get the bubbles in your brew? As with most home brewing topics, that is a multifaceted, long answer that we will have to break into parts. So, let’s deal only with the simplest form of carbonating beer, bottle carbonating or bottle conditioning. We’ll save force carbonating with bottled CO2 and kegs for next week.

You brewed the wort, fermented it with your chosen yeast and reached your terminal gravity. You dry hopped it (if the recipe calls for it), you cold crashed the beer and now you have arrived at bottling day!

Is it just as simple as putting the beer into bottles, capping them and just waiting? Sort of yes, but more specifically no. There is one thing you need to do to ensure that your beer will have the proper carbonation level when it is finally ready to drink, and that is called “priming.”

Priming your beer is a simple process. When priming, you are adding a small amount of easily fermentable sugar to your finished beer in order to reenergize the small amount of yeast still in suspension in the beer, allowing that yeast to eat the priming sugar and create the proper amount of CO2 to be dissolved into the beer as it is now under pressure in the bottle. Once again, all you need to do is give the yeast what they need to do the work!

Natural carbonation with priming sugar takes a while, so after the sugar is added, the bottles are filled and capped, set them in a dark, room temperature area for 10-14 days. You should see sediment on the bottom of the bottles once carbonation is complete, but be patient!

This is not a perfect process and there are things that can ruin your beer at this point, so best to take all necessary precautions. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

1) Be sure the beer is actually finished fermenting! Refer to your recipe to see what your final (or terminal) gravity should be and make sure to be in that ballpark before moving forward with bottling. A good way to make sure the beer is done once it is through its initial fermentation is to check the gravity daily for three days; if the number doesn't move, you know the yeast are done. If the number doesn't move but is still much higher than your expected final gravity, you have a stuck fermentation on your hands (and that’s another article).

2) Follow your recipe’s instructions when priming your beer. If you are working from a recipe, priming should be covered according to the recipes specifics. If you are winging it, or your recipe skips the carbonation/priming steps, here is a good rule of thumb that I used when priming with dextrose (corn sugar). 3/4 cup to five gallons of finished beer will get you in the 2.5 volumes of CO2 range that most beers should be in. Less may be appropriate for beers you want to age for a while, like barleywines and imperial stouts, but for the most part, 3/4 cup dextrose to five gallons will work like a charm.

3) You can use other sugars to prime, but I’ve personally had the best luck with dextrose. Home brewers all have preferences, though - you may find that you don’t like dextrose for priming for one reason or another. You can use Dry Malt Extract, Honey, White Sugar … really anything with simple fermentable sugars to prime your beer. A quick Google search will give you all the information you need to explore that.

4) DO. NOT. OVER. PRIME. YOUR. BEER. PRETTY. PLEASE! He said emphatically. For real though - priming is the last step and an over-carbonated bottled beer is REALLY hard (if not impossible) to fix. You did all the work to this point; you hate to see it go to waste by creating a bunch of gushers or bottle bombs. Just like nobody likes flat beer, nobody likes cleaning up exploded bottles in the closet because you over-primed the beer.

OK, so that’s my rant on natural carbonation with priming sugar. Let’s call it a day, have a beer and meet back here next week to discuss force carbonation with CO2. Prost!


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