By DANIEL J. LEONARD
Priming sugar is used to add natural carbonation to beer and is the simplest method to carbonate beer when bottling. The sugar itself is generally corn sugar, though cane sugar (table sugar), Dry Malt Extract (DME), honey or other sugar can also be used to prime beer. When choosing a sugar, consider the fermentability and potential flavor contribution of the kind of sugar being used. Corn and cane sugar are basically 100% fermentable, honey is 95% fermentable and DME is roughly 75% fermentable.
Pretty much without exception, all sugar sold in your local homebrew shop labeled as "priming sugar" is corn sugar. Perhaps this is because, it's argued, corn sugar leaves no flavor/aroma profile behind when used to prime beer, while cane sugar is, debatably, said to leave a certain apple cider-like character to the beer. Personally, I've always erred on the side of caution and only used "priming sugar" (a.k.a. corn sugar) instead of cane sugar to prime my bottle conditioned beer, but be your own scientist and feel free to double-blind that controversy up. We've found that honey will leave a subtle honey-like flavor behind while DME may cause a small fermentation ring in the neck of the beer bottle.
ACHTUNG! Bottle conditioning with anything other than forced CO2 or DME will violate the core tenants of The German Reinheitsgebot of 1516, thus rendering the beer impure and unable to be labeled as proper “Bier” in the Federal Republic of Germany! (Schande, Schande…)
There are essentially two methods of priming:
1. Batch/Bulk Priming which involves mixing a predetermined amount of sugar with a fully fermented, but not yet carbonated, beer into a bottling bucket and then bottling the primed beer into each bottle.
2. Individual Priming which means adding a certain amount of sugar to each bottle of fully fermented, but not yet carbonated, beer.
The batch priming method is preferred over individually priming because batch priming allows the brewer to more consistently prime all of the beer at once, not to mention you don't have to worry as much about bottles bombs when batch priming. With individual priming, the brewer adds a small amount of sugar, usually with a spoon and funnel, to each bottle of beer in order to carbonate the beer. Individually adding the exact same amount of sugar to each bottle is nearly impossible and almost always means that some beers will turn out more carbonated than others.
Though rare, if too much sugar is added to an individual bottle, there is a chance the bottle may explode due to excess CO2 produced by the yeast creating what is affectionately referred to in the homebrew game as a "bottle bomb." The danger with a bottle bomb is not just the wasted beer and sticky mess it leaves behind, but the tiny shards of glass rocketing in all directions as the bottle explodes. Exactly when the bottle will explode is also difficult to predict, however the more priming sugar added and the warmer the temperature of the beer, the faster pressure will build in the bottle, and the faster your beer will be to making its jailbreak; though usually the bottle will explode within a few days to a week after the excessive priming sugar was added.
Different styles of beer are carbonated to different levels which means different amounts of priming sugar need to be used in order to match the style of beer being brewed. Fortunately, there are a few online priming sugar calculators out there, such as TastyBrew's calculator, which will not only give you an idea of the appropriate level of CO2 for a specific style of beer, but will also calculate the amount of sugar needed depending on the type of sugar, volume of beer and temperature of the beer, in order to achieve that level of carbonation. At the very bottom of this page is a list of various styles of beer and their corresponding volumes of CO2.
After your beer is primed with sugar of some kind, the general rule of thumb is to keep the bottled beer at least above 65°F (18.33°C) for 1-3 weeks so that your beer carbonates properly. Below 65°F (18.33°C), the beer may either carbonate very slowly or not at all.
NOTICE: When using any priming sugar calculator that asks you to enter the current temperature of the beer, generally speaking, you will want to enter the temperature at which the beer will be conditioning/carbonating. For example, some brewers will reduce the temperature of a beer into the 40-30°F (4.44 - -1.11°C) after primary fermentation is complete in order to clarify the beer. This process is called "cold crashing", and it's important to note that even if the temperature of your beer is 40°F (4.44°C) when priming your beer, you will want to enter the temperature at which your beer will be conditioning, which should be at least 65°F (18.33°C).
After you determine the appropriate amount of priming sugar needed to carbonate the particular style of beer brewed, measure the sugar with a scale.
Combine the priming sugar with two cups of water in a pan.
Bring the sugar and water mixture to a boil, and hold the boil for 3 minutes.
After boiled, cool the sugar mixture and cover the pan in order to prevent unwanted objects from landing in the priming mixture. You can either cool the sugar by leaving it on the stove for a while, placing the pan in the freezer or placing the pan in a mini-ice bath as shown above. After cooled, the priming sugar will be ready to add to your bottling bucket. I would recommend adding the priming mixture to the bottom of the bottling bucket, then transferring the already fermented beer into the bottling bucket and then gently stirring with a brewer’s spoon. Stirring the priming sugar with a brewer’s spoon ensures that the priming sugar is dissolved evenly in the beer thereby increasing the overall consistency of the carbonation in the finished beer.
Below is a reference of Beer Styles, ordered approximately to the BJCP Stlye Guidelines, and the appropriate volume range of CO2 for the particular style/s of beer:
Light Lager: American Lite/Standard/Premium: 2.57-2.73
Light Lager: Münchner Helles: 2.26-2.68
Light Lager: Dortmunder Export: 2.57
Pilsner: Classic American Pilsner: 2.3-2.5
Pilsner: Bohemian Pilsner: 2.3-2.5
Pilsner: German Pilsner: 2.52
European Amber Lager: Vienna Lager: 2.4-2.6
European Amber Lager: Oktoberfest/ Märzen: 2.57-2.73
Dark Lager: American Dark Lager: 2.5-2.7
Dark Lager: Munich Dunkel: 2.21-2.66
Dark Lager: Schwarzbier: 2.21-2.66
Bock: Traditional Bock: 2.2-2.7
Bock: Helles Bock/Maibock: 2.16-2.73
Bock: Doppelbock: 2.26-2.62
Bock: Eisbock: 2.37
Light Hybrid Beer - Cream Ale: 2.6-2.7
Light Hybrid Beer - Blonde Ale: 2.3-2.6
Light Hybrid Beer – Kölsch: 2.42-2.73
Light Hybrid Beer - American Wheat: 2.3-2.6
Amber Hybrid Beer – Northern German Altbier: 2.16-3.09
Amber Hybrid Beer- California Common Beer: 2.4-2.8
Amber Hybrid Beer – Düsseldorf Altbier: 2.16-3.09
English Pale Ale: Standard/Ordinary Bitter, Special/Best/Premium Bitter, and Extra Special/Strong Bitter: .75-1.3
Scottish Ale and Irish Ale: Light 60/-, Heavy 70/-, Export 80/-: .75-1.3
Scottish Ale and Irish Ale: Irish Red Ale:
Scottish Ale and Irish Ale: Strong Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy: 1.5-2.3
American Ale: American Pale Ale (APA), American Amber Ale: 2.26-2.78
American Ale: American Brown Ale: 1.5-2.5
English Brown Ale- Mild: 1.3-2.0
English Brown Ale: Southern English Brown Ale and Northern English Brown Ale: 1.5-2.3
Porter: Brown Porter: 1.7-2.5
Porter: Robust Porter: 1.8-2.5
Stout: Dry Stout: 1.6-2.0
Stout: Sweet and Oatmeal Stout: 2.0-2.4
Stout: Foreign Extra Stout: 2.3-2.6
Stout: Russian Imperial Stout: 1.5-2.3
India Pale Ale: American IPA: 1.5-2.3
German Wheat and Rye Beer: Weizen/Weissbier and Dunkelweizen: 3.6-4.48
German Wheat and Rye Beer: Weizenbock: 3.71-4.74
Belgian and French Ale: Witbier: 2.1-2.6
Belgian and French Ale: Belgian Pale Ale: 1.9-2.4
Belgian and French Ale: Saison: 1.9-3.2
Belgian and French Ale: Bière de Garde: 1.9-2.5
Belgian and French Ale: Belgian Specialty Ale: 1.9-2.4
Sour Ale: Berliner Weisse: 3.45
Sour Ale: Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin: 1.9-2.5
Sour Ale: Flanders Red Ale: 1.9-2.5
Sour Ale: Straight (Unblended) Lambic: 3.0-4.5
Sour Ale: Gueuze: 3.0-4.5
Sour Ale: Fruit Lambic: 2.6-4.5
Belgian Strong Ale: Belgian Blonde Ale: 2.9
Belgian Strong Ale: Dubbel, Tripel, Belgian Strong Golden Ale: 1.9-2.4
Belgian Strong Ale: Belgian Strong Dark Ale: 1.9-2.5
Strong Ale: Old Ale, English Barleywine and American Barleywine: 1.5-2.3
Fruit Beer: 2.0-3.0
Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer: 2.0-3.0
Smoke-Flavored/Wood-Aged Beer: Classic Rauchbier and Other Smoked Beer: 2.16-2.57
Specialty Beer: 2.2-2.5
Like my tutorial? Questions, comments, free beer? Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/beersyndicate.
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