A Guide To Carbonation

Something that I think that is often overlooked when it comes to packaging or bottling beer is the carbonation (or the level of fizz).

The level of carbonation can contribute to the beer in a variety of ways. It affects the level of perceived body in the beer and the mouthfeel, the formation of a foamy head and also enhances the flavour compounds present in the beer. Anyone who has ever drunk a flat beer will know it’s no way near the same as a correctly carbonated beer.

There are a couple of ways to achieve carbonation for home brewers. If you are kegging your beer you can force carbonation by pressurizing the keg with carbon dioxide, you can follow the technique of krausening which involves adding unfermented wort to fermented beer although this is not entirely practical for home brewers and finally you can bottle condition which involves adding priming sugar to the fermented wort then bottling which allows the fermentation of that sugar to be carried out in the bottle. The CO2 naturally created as a byproduct of fermentation has nowhere to go in a sealed bottle so is dissolved into the beer.

So How Much Priming Sugar is Enough

Below is a table showing how much sugar is required in a 19 litre batch of home brew. As you can see on the table to achieve a low level of carbonation in a 19 litre batch you would need 75 grams of table sugar added to the fermented beer. The easiest way to do this is to create a solution by adding the sugar to a small amount of water and boiling it to sterilise it and ensure the sugar is fully dissolved. This can then be cooled and added to the bottling vessel and the beer racked on top of it.

Very Low Medium Very High
Grams of Corn Sugar in 19 Litre Batch 75 115 150
Volumes of CO2 1.9 2.4 – 2.5 2.9

 

The table also shows “Volumes of CO2”. This term Volumes of CO2 is a way of measuring the level of carbonation in your home brew, it means for 1 volume of CO2 1 litre of carbon dioxide is dissolved into 1 litre of liquid or beer.

So we can see for the chart above we can see for the high levels of carbonation 2.9 litres of CO2 has been dissolved into every 2.9 litres of beer. It is good to know this measurement when brewing different styles of beer. Below is another table (I know another one) which I hope will be useful to you if you are brewing a particular style of beer.

Now to work out how much table sugar is needed your best bet is to use a calculator. There is a variety of software that can do these calculations or you can try an on line calculator such as this one at Brewer’s Friend.

Carbonation Levels For Different Beer Styles

NAME TYPE CARBONATION RANGE
American Amber Ale Ale 2.3-2.8 vols
American Barleywine Ale 1.8-2.5 vols
American Brown Ale Ale 2.0-2.6 vols
American IPA Ale 2.2-2.7 vols
American Pale Ale Ale 2.3-2.8 vols
American Stout Ale 2.3-2.9 vols
Belgian Blond Ale Ale 2.2-2.8 vols
Belgian Dark Strong Ale Ale 2.3-2.9 vols
Belgian Dubbel Ale 2.3-2.9 vols
Belgian Golden Strong Ale Ale 2.3-2.9 vols
Belgian Pale Ale Ale 2.1-2.7 vols
Belgian Specialty Ale Ale 2.1-2.9 vols
Belgian Tripel Ale 2.4-3.0 vols
Berliner Weiss Ale 2.4-2.9 vols
Biere de Garde Ale 2.3-2.9 vols
Blonde Ale Ale 2.4-2.8 vols
Brown Porter Ale 1.8-2.5 vols
Dry Stout Ale 1.8-2.5 vols
Dunkelweizen Ale 2.5-2.9 vols
Dusseldorf Altbier Ale 2.1-3.1 vols
English Barleywine Ale 1.6-2.5 vols
English IPA Ale 2.2-2.7 vols
Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale) Ale 1.5-2.4 vols
Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin Ale 2.2-2.8 vols
Flanders Red Ale Ale 2.2-2.7 vols
Foreign Extra Stout Ale 2.0-2.6 vols
Fruit Lambic Ale 2.4-3.1 vols
Gueuze Ale 2.4-3.1 vols
Imperial IPA Ale 2.2-2.7 vols
Imperial Stout Ale 1.8-2.6 vols
Irish Red Ale Ale 2.1-2.6 vols
Kolsch Ale 2.4-2.8 vols
Mild Ale 1.3-2.3 vols
Northern English Brown Ale Ale 2.2-2.7 vols
Oatmeal Stout Ale 1.9-2.5 vols
Old Ale Ale 1.8-2.5 vols
Robust Porter Ale 1.8-2.5 vols
Roggenbier (German Rye Beer) Ale 2.5-2.9 vols
Saison Ale 2.3-2.9 vols
Scottish Export 80/- Ale 1.5-2.3 vols
Scottish Heavy 70/- Ale 1.5-2.3 vols
Scottish Light 60/- Ale 1.5-2.3 vols
Southern English Brown Ale Ale 1.3-2.3 vols
Special/Best/Premium Bitter Ale 0.8-2.1 vols
Standard/Ordinary Bitter Ale 0.8-2.2 vols
Straight (Unblended) Lambic Ale 1.8-2.6 vols
Strong Scotch Ale Ale 1.6-2.4 vols
Sweet Stout Ale 2.0-2.4 vols
Weizen/Weissbier Ale 2.5-2.9 vols
Weizenbock Ale 2.4-2.9 vols
Bohemian Pilsner Lager 2.3-2.6 vols
Classic American Pilsner Lager 2.5-2.7 vols
Classic Rauchbier Lager 2.4-2.8 vols
Dark American Lager Lager 2.5-2.9 vols
Doppelbock Lager 2.3-2.6 vols
Dortmunder Export Lager 2.4-2.7 vols
Eisbock Lager 2.2-2.6 vols
German Pilsner (Pils) Lager 2.4-2.8 vols
Lite American Lager Lager 2.5-2.8 vols
Mailbock/Helles Bock Lager 2.2-2.7 vols
Munich Dunkel Lager 2.2-2.7 vols
Munich Helles Lager 2.3-2.7 vols
Oktoberfest/Marzen Lager 2.5-2.8 vols
Premium American Lager Lager 2.5-2.8 vols
Schwarzbier (Black Beer) Lager 2.2-2.7 vols
Standard American Lager Lager 2.5-2.8 vols
Traditional Bock Lager 2.2-2.7 vols
Vienna Lager Lager 2.4-2.6 vols

A Guide To Bottling Beer

Bottling TreeBottling beer is the final hurdle when it comes to brewing, it’s the last process you are directly involved in before drinking so it’s good to spend time and care doing it properly and hygienically. It would be a great shame to make a mistake at this point so far along the line that would turn an otherwise great beer into just a good one. Let’s take a look at what’s involved with bottling a beer a well as possible and a few tips to speed along a largely repetitive task.

Hassle Free Bottling Of Your Beer

First of all, as the beer has finished fermenting we need everything that comes into contact with it to be clean and sanitised. If you have a bottling bucket fill it up with your sanitising solution and throw in everything you’ll be using to rack and bottle the beer; this includes syphon tubing, canes, bottling wands and anything else you might need. Once everything is clean and sanitised you can begin.

To begin we need to prepare a priming sugar addition to add to the beer so when it’s bottled it achieves the correct level of carbonation, use the information laid out above to find how much priming sugar you need. Add the correct amount of sugar to a clean pan along with  twice the amount of water to sugar, with the lid on, heat the liquid up to boiling point to dissolve the sugar and sanitise the liquid. Boil for 5 minutes or so and then remove from the heat and allow to cool down.

Prepare The Bottles

Whilst this is occurring you can begin sanitising the bottles, bearing in mind they should already have been cleaned. If you have a bottling tree and bottle sanitiser then you’re in for a smooth sail, fill the bottle injector up with no-rinse sanitiser and start pumping sanitiser into the bottles, a couple of squirts should be fine. Place these on the bottle tree and work your way through all the remaining bottles. Sanitise the caps in a bowl of no rinse sanitiser ready to go for when the bottles are filled

If you don’t have the bottling tree and injector then you will need to fill each of the bottles with sanitiser by hand and then drain and rinse manually. This way is fine but if you don’t use no-rinse sanitiser you’ll need to spend extra time making sure the bottles are free from sanitiser, the whole process will take more time but is just as effective. Caps can be sanitised at this point as well.

Once everything is sanitised, and rinsed where necessary, it’s time to transfer the beer to the bottling bucket if you are using one. Add the now cooled priming sugar solution to the bottling bucket and then syphon the beer on top of this being careful not to disturb the sediment on the bottom or introduce oxygen by splashing or bubbling the beer. The process of syphoning should do a good job of mixing the sugar solution and beer together. If you aren’t using a bottling bucket you will need to carefully stir the priming sugar in using a sanitised spoon.

Now it’s time to fill the bottles, attach the bottling wand to the tap of the bottling bucket open the tap and start filling bottles by pressing the tip of the bottling wand on the bottom of the bottle. If you aren’t using a bottling bucket with a tap it will be slightly more tricky but entirely possible to attach the bottling wand to the end of a syphon tube and use this method to fill bottles.

Once a bottle is filled place a crown cap in the capper and seal the bottles as you go along, this reduces contact with the air and stops you from spilling any beer. Work your way through all the bottles, label them up so you know what they are and when they were brewed then store them away for a few weeks.

Bottling beer

What To Avoid When Bottling Beer

Oxygen is not a friend to beer, it will shorten the shelf life and introduce unwanted stale flavours. The whole task of bottling opens up a lot of opportunities for air to get in the beer. As much as possible you want to avoid splashing, bubbling or general contact with the atmosphere, this is why bottling wands are so good because they fill the bottles from the bottom. When you syphon keep the ends of the hose submerged to there is no splashing and cap those bottles as soon as convenient to keep the oxygen out

Bottling means a lot of cleaning we want to be as thorough as possible, each bottle needs to be clean and sanitised along with all the other equipment used for  bottling. Keep your gear and environment clean and hygienic to avoid spoiling your beer.

Bottling is a chore, believe me I know, but don’t rush and  invest in equipment like a bottling tree and bottle sanitiser if you can to make it easier.

Finally, always remember there is nothing as enjoyable as cracking open a bottle of your own beer after a long day at work, at the beach or giving them away to friends so keep this in mind during the arduous bottling process.

Kegging and Barrels

I think bottling your home brew beer has many merits and positives. However if you are brewing big batches of session beer there is nothing simpler than kegging it, it saves so much time and hard work that some people give up on bottles altogether. Today I want to talk about how to go about kegging your home brew, what you will need and what options are available.

Now here in the UK at least there are a couple of options when you decide you want to buy a keg. You have stainless steel Cornelius (Corny) kegs or a heavy duty plastic pressure barrel (I’m not sure if these are available in the US). Of course the Corny kegs are the more expensive option, but first of let us take a look at these pressure barrels.

Pressure Barrels

Pressure barrels almost always have around a 25 litre capacity and as the name suggests work by using pressure built up inside to dispense your beer (you can get kegs that have valves in the top, these use gravity to dispense but I won’t cover those here). They come in a few variations which all work from this principle.

This type of keg typically has a valve in the lid that allows you to inject Carbon Dioxide in the form of CO² bulbs or from a canister. When you are buying one you need to make this decision.

  • CO² bulbs use a pin valve and are a one hit thing, providing only a small charge of CO². They were used commonly in soda streams.
  • Cylinders or Canisters use an s30 valve and are screwed onto the valve and will release air until they are unscrewed. This gives the brewer some form of control over how much carbonation is happening. The canisters are larger and will allow many charges until they need refilling.

Either option basically produces a similar result and to be honest when I have used pressure barrels I have used bulbs but not very often because I prime the barrel with sugar like when bottling and the CO² builds up naturally. This is an easy option but by the time you get to the end of the barrel you will need another source of CO² (or if you have more than 2-3 pints in a row).

Another decision you need to make with these kegs is the position of the tap. You can have a tap at the bottom or the top of the keg. The top tap uses a float inside the barrel meaning it will only draw beer from the surface making the beer generally clearer. In my view it makes little difference as the sediment wil lsettle out by the time you serve the beer.

Using one is simple enough. Syphon in your home brew (onto your priming solution if you are naturally carbonating) and seal the lid. It’s a good idea to lubricate these with Vaseline and replace the O-rings every year or so. Then either wait for a few weeks for natural carbonation, or inject with CO² via the valve in the lid and wait a week or so. You are then ready to dispense.

Cornelius Kegs

This is where you step it up, I wouldn’t advise spending money on Cornelius kegs until you have brewed for a while. The investment and extra equipment needed just isn’t worth it unless you brew a lot and frequently. That being said, corny kegs are very versatile and so easy to use you can see why they are so popular. Typically they are around 5 US gallons or 19.48 litres but you may find smaller varieties also. The kegs will have a removable lid with two fittings, one for injecting Carbon Dioxide and the other for dispensing home brew.

Along with the keg itself you will need a tank of CO². CO² comes in  a few sizes, the  smaller ones are more portable but have to be filled more regularly so it’s up to you to decide which to go for.

If you are new to using these kegs then it’s a good idea to buy a complete system which will include a keg, a pressure regulator and two hoses, which are for the gas to go in and the other for beer to exit, and the taps. You may have to buy the gas separately.

As for using the keg you just treat it like a big bottle. This means everything is sterilised and you rack the beer into the keg then seal. You then connect the gas and set the pressure you want to carbonate at. It will usually take a week or so to get fully carbonated. Be careful when serving and turn the pressure down if necessary The great thing about these kegs is that they can be kept in a fridge and your serving temperature can be kept just right.