Have you ever drank flat beer? If you’re interested in beer enough to be on this page right now, then my guess is that you have. And my next guess is that the last time you drank flat beer it wasn’t very good. Carbonation (caused by CO2 dissolved in a liquid) is just one of those things that you expect when you drink a beer, and you definitely want your homebrews to be carbonated. That’s where priming sugar comes in.
While your wort is in the fermenter being converted to beer, you’ll notice that the air lock is bubbling like crazy. This is a result of the yeast eating fermentable sugars and producing alcohol and CO2 gas. At this stage of the process a lot of the CO2 is escaping from the mixture and the air lock prevents pressure from building up in your fermenter. This means that there will not be very much CO2 dissolved in your beer at the end of fermentation.
By the end of fermentation, your yeast should have consumed almost all of the fermentable sugars that were originally available in your wort. They think their job is done so they clock out and go home to watch Netflix (or something like that, I imagine). Little do they know, their home is actually a brown glass bottle, and they’re going to be chowing down on a small late night snack before they go to sleep. By mixing a little bit of sugar with your beer right before filling your bottles, you will give the yeast just a little bit more to eat. This allows the bottle to be pressurized and the beer to become carbonated due to the additional CO2 produced by the consumption of this sugar.
A good way to do this is to bring about two cups of water to a boil and stir in your sugar. Boil for about 5-10 minutes (to sanitize the mixture and remove dissolved oxygen), and then allow the mixture to cool for about 5 minutes. Now you have two options: either pour this directly into your fermenter and mix very gently (to avoid adding oxygen), or pour this into a bottling bucket and siphon the contents of your fermenter on top of the sugar solution to mix (also very gently).
This part of the process is pretty simple, but I will warn you that you will want to use the correct ratio of priming sugar. Add too much and your bottles will explode, but add too little and you’ll surely be disappointed when you pop the top off your first homebrew and don’t hear the expected “psssst!”
5 ounces of corn sugar typically does the trick for 5 gallon batches, but you will have to do a little more research if you want to try out some other sugars for priming. When you think of sugar, you probably think of the white cane sugar you use for baking, but there are actually a lot of different options when it comes to priming. Brown sugar, honey, cane sugar, and corn sugar are just a few examples, but you can truly use anything that is fermentable. Like I mentioned earlier, the only issue is figuring out how much you need to use.
If you are bottling your homebrew, then you definitely need priming sugar. However, it is also possible to carbonate your keg without priming sugar through forced carbonation by using a CO2 canister. I don’t have a keg yet, so I haven’t used the forced carbonation method, but I will update this section as soon as I get a keg with a CO2 canister!
Do any of you have experience with forced carbonation or any extra tips for using priming sugar? If so, comment below! And as always, I love to read any comments or questions if you want to contact me directly! Cheers!