Proper Bottle Conditioning and Calculating Priming Sugar

Brew Day Q&A - Bottle Conditioning

What do I mean by bottle conditioning?  Many people imagine aging a bottle for months or even a year.  However, when I say bottle conditioning, then I’m referring to carbonating your brew within the bottle.  This is how many new brewers start out because it’s the least expensive way to get started carbonating and storing your beer.

To bottle condition, or bottle carbonate, you’ll need to develop carbon dioxide within the bottle.  By adding a measured amount of sugar to each bottle, then you can accomplish carbonation.  The key is to evenly distribute the right amount of sugar in each bottle.

Required Equipment for Bottle Conditioning

Well, I’ll have to assume that you know you’ll need bottles.  Bottles can either be purchased new, or you can reuse commercial beer bottles.  Just be sure to avoid any twist top style beer bottles.  You’ll want to make sure your bottles are washed and sanitized before bottling.

You’ll need caps for your bottles.  I prefer using oxygen absorbing caps.  They’re a little more expensive but well worth the investment of a few extra pennies per bottle.  With how much time and money you’ll have invested in your batch, you’ll want to protect your investment.

Finally, you’ll need a capper of some sort to crimp your bottle caps on top the bottle.  I use a hand held model and it works just fine for me.  You may want to invest in a counter top model if you plan to bottle a lot of beer.  Both styles of cappers will get the job done correctly.

(You can get the exact same bottle capper that I use in my video.  If you purchase The Red Baron Bottle Capper, I can make a small commission to keep the blog going.)

Priming Sugar for Bottle Conditioning

There are many types of sugar that yeast can consume to create carbon dioxide.  Home brewers often rely on dextrose for bottle conditioning priming sugar.  Dextrose is easy to handle and dissolves well in water.  It’s also a simple sugar the yeast can effectively consume to create the necessary carbon dioxide to carbonate your bottles.

There are plenty of other sugars that can be used for priming.  Some home brewers even rely on a small dose of dry malt extract for bottle conditioning.  Other commonly used sugars include table sugar and honey.  All these examples will provide the necessary sugar for the yeast to do their magic.

How do actually prime the bottles?  I take a cup of water, add my measured sugar, and microwave for ten minutes.  This serves two main purposes.  First, it dissolves the sugar into the water.  Secondly, it sanitizes the water and sugar so that you don’t contaminate your beer.

Next, I add my water and sugar mixture into my bottling bucket.  When you’re ready to bottle, simply transfer your beer into the bucket with your sugar.  This will cause a smooth but efficient distribution of the sugar throughout your beer.  Then bottle as usual.

(Do you need to get some Priming Sugar?  You can get five ounces of the same priming sugar I use for less than two bucks.  Buying from the affiliate link helps keep the blog going.)

Calculating Priming Sugar

So, one thing you need to make sure is that your beer is fully fermented.  If you add sugar to a beer that isn’t fully fermented and then bottle, you have effectively created bottle bombs.  You can expect to wake up to the sound of breaking glass in the middle of the night.  The only way to be 100% sure your beer is finished fermenting is to take gravity readings.  If your beer’s gravity remains the same for multiple days, then it has finished fermenting.

Next you need to calculate how much priming sugar you need to use.  I use a priming calculator (linked below) to make sure I reach the proper level of fermentation.  For most common ales, you’ll want between 2.2 and 2.5 volumes.  To reach 2.5 volumes, I use five ounces of dextrose for my standard beer.

(I use the Brewer’s Friend Beer Priming Calculator.  It’s completely free to use and will help you calculate the right amount of sugar to use.)

You’ll want to be sure that you’re carbonating your beer to the style guidelines of your brew.  For instance, my Brut IPA was carbonated to over 3.0 volumes to achieve the proper carbonation for the beer style.  Check your beer style for proper carbonation levels before bottling.

(View my Brut IPA Brewing Tutorial for a full recipe, brewing video tutorial, and to see bottle conditioning in action.)

Timeline for Bottle Conditioning

Patience is a virtue.  Just keep saying this to yourself over and over.  Fermentation usually takes between one and two weeks for most ales.  You can add around two weeks to your wait for bottle conditioning too.  It takes time for yeast to do their work.  If you get impatient, as I normally do, you can expect your beer to be under carbonated.  Be patient and wait the necessary two weeks for bottle conditioning.

Let’s say you’ve waited your two weeks, opened your first beer, and found it wasn’t carbonated.  Then what would you do?  I would guess you stored your bottles some where slightly too cold.  This causes the yeast to work at a slower pace.  Try moving your beers to a slightly warmer place for a week and then try another one.  I try to store my ales around seventy-two degrees and inside of a case to avoid light.

(Check out the awesome carbonation in my Brut IPA Tasting Video.  My home brewed Brut IPA was carbonated to over 3.0 volumes!)

Even More Patience

Let’s be honest.  It’s taken a lot of patience to make it to this point.  Now you’re ready to open your first beer.  I would urge you to be patient for just a bit longer.

I try to refrigerate my brews for 24-48 hours before consuming.  This will allow for a “cold crash” in the bottle.  You’ll see that yeast will fall out of suspension and settle in the bottom of your bottles.  This is yeast that I would prefer remains in the bottle versus in my glass.

If you can be patient, you’ll develop a yeast cake in the bottom of your bottles.  This should allow you carefully pour your brew into a glass without the yeast following.  Don’t worry, the yeast isn’t going to hurt you.  I just prefer it to be left in the bottle.

Conclusion

Bottle conditioning is a simple technique that many new brewers use to carbonate their beer.  It has a low cost of entry which makes it really appealing.  If you do some basic calculations, you can ensure that you have the proper levels of carbonation in your beer.

I hope this information helps you with your next brew day.  If you have questions, be sure to comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.  Also, if you found the article to be informational or entertaining, please be sure to like, comment, and share!

 

Happy Brewing

Ryan Caldbeck

NewToBrew.com

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