Priming Beer

Target audience:
Irish homebrew beer makers who wish to improve the quality of their beer. 

Prerequisites: you will know how to brew beer kits, and understand the basics of:
- sterilization,
- fermentation,
- hydrometer specific gravity (SG, OG, FG) readings.

Priming homebrew beer is simple, eh? Not so! Lets take a closer look.

Priming involves the addition of carbohydrates to your beer prior to bottling (or kegging). Residual yeast then ferments these carbohyrdates creating additional alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 gasses up your beer and also helps to protect it from oxidation. This is why beers don't usually require chemicals to preserve them, whereas wines do (it must be said though that homebrew wines almost always contain way less chemicals than commercial wines).

Not all beers are primed, commercial beer makers often use a process called "forced carbonation" to gas up their beers because its faster and thus more cost effective. Some homebrewers in Ireland also use this techique, but the equipment is expensive costing hundreds of Euros. Its the fastest way to make beer, but many feel it affects quality and that "natural" carbonation is better.

This article will focus on natural carbonation. There are two main issues to consider:
- the level of carbonation (how fizzy the beer will be), and
- the carbohydrates used to prime the beer.

The level of carbonation depends on beer style (e.g. wheat beers tend to be gassier than others) and is recipe dependent, so its the subject for many other articles.

This article will deal with the choice of carbohydrates used to "prime" the beer. There are only a few as outlined below. Please get in touch if we have missed one.

Coopers Carbonation Drops
Most homebrewers in Ireland have probably used these because of the convenience. Single brew fermenter, pop one in a 500 ml bottle and fill with a filling stick. Work great, and so easy on bottling day. Mix of dextrose and sucrose, adding up to 0.3% ABV per 500 ml bottle. The priming solution for most homebrewers in Ireland. Good quality results.

Bottling Bucket Plus Sugar / Dextrose / LME / Spraymalt
Probably the second most popular choice for Irish homebrew beer makers because it allows you to control the level of carbonation (gassiness) in your beer. Works as follows:
- move the fermented beer to a Bottling Bucket
- add (in order or quality): LME, Spraymalt, Dextrose, Sugar (sucrose).
Sugar and dextrose are easiest to use. LME is probably the hardest because its a sticky liquid that comes in 1.5 Kg cans and we only need 120 to 160 grans depending on the beer style. Spraymalt is a powder, but turns into toffee if not perfectly sealed and stored. Adds up to 0.3% ABV per 500 ml bottle. Reasonable (sugar) to good (LME, spraymalt) quality results.

Bottling Bucket Plus Frozen Wort
"Wort" is unfermented beer . . . . its what you have just before you add the yeast. Take 6% of your unfermented homebrew beer and freeze it. Then just before you keg or bottle, defrost it and use it as the carbohydrate to "prime" your beer. This is how Speidel do it, and its by far the best method. No more homebrew "tang" in your beer. Adds 0% ABV per 500 ml bottle. Top quality results.

So there you have it!