Tips on Priming Bottles of Home Brew
When bottling home brew, there is a delicate balance between malts, priming sugars, carbonation, and taste that is important to get right. One often over looked aspect of bottle conditioning home brew is control of the final level of carbonation. There are a few different techniques one can use to attain the desired level of carbonation, such as early bottling without priming sugar, using malt extract or other sugars to attain the right flavor consistency, and making a priming sugar liquid mixture to prime not the bottle, but the carboy of beer.
Filling plastic or glass homebrew bottles is a delicate process that takes brewer precision to achieve the correct carbonation levels.
The level of carbonation you are shooting for should be determined as specific to the type of beer being made. Every commercially made beer has a specific level of carbonation that it should be served at – this includes a recommended serving temperature and CO2 or beer gas push in PSI. The temperature of the keg, the beer lines, glass, and the bottle all affect the final taste of the beer. To understand more about the relationship between beer and temperature is to understand the fundamentals of carbonation.
Carbonation is often used as a way to add flavor and texture to a beer to enhance the beer’s taste. The richer, maltier, and more hoppy beers do not need as much carbonation as lighter beers because their flavors are more suited to a heavier texture. Light beers and lagers should be carbonated more thoroughly to enhance their qualities. Carbonation in beer is measured in volumes of CO2. These volumes are usually read from 1.6 on the low end to 2.8 on the high end. Low end carbonations are usually applied to dark beers like stout, porter, and brown ale. Higher end levels of carbonation volumes are used with beer types like lagers and blonde ales.
One technique that some home brewers use is the early bottling technique. The idea is to bottle the beer a little early (say a day or two). This allows the beer to be bottle conditioned and carbonated through the malt sugars inherent in the beer through the brewing process, as opposed to adding extra sugars. The theory is that any added sugars are going to change the taste of the beer, so why not use the fermentation process to carbonate the beer straight away?
Bottling any beer can be dangerous if done too early. Over priming can lead to exploding bottles, so use caution and measure your gravities before bottling to ensure fermentation is coming to an end.
This process can work, but it does have some dangers – namely exploding bottles of beer if the sugar content is too high. With some caution and experimentation, this technique can work quite well, but it just depends on how comfortable the brewer is with brewing by instinct and how good they are at developing that instinct.
A safer way to bottle beer is to use bottle priming sugar or dried malt extract as a sugar source for the last remnant of the yeast that will be providing carbonation for your home brew. You can often add the priming sugar by funnel and teaspoon directly to the beer bottle before the beer is siphoned or gunned in, but these days it seems clear that the priming solution technique is superior.
The liquid priming solution can be modified, but the basic idea is that you heat the sugars with water to form a solution that is sanitized by the heat. You then add this solution to your carboy of beer and then siphon the beer into the bottles and cap them. One priming solution recipe that is very common contains the following ingredients for a five gallon batch of home brew:
5 Gallon Priming Solution Recipe
¾ cup corn sugar or cane sugar
1 cup malt extract or ½ cup of honey
2 cups of water
The sugar water solution is heated to boiling and kept there for 15 minutes, then allowed to cool in a cold water bath. You need to be especially careful to avoid contamination during this cooling period. When the priming solution is cool enough to handle, it is poured into the beer carboy, keg or bucket, and gently stirred with a sanitized racking cane.
Brewers Note: We recommend against using honey on this recipe. Honey is a perfect sweetener until it is heated. Once heated, the qualities of the sugars in honey change dramatically, and become unhealthful for human consumption. This is taught to us by ancient Ayurvedic medicine, which also teaches that raw honey offers exceptional health benefits.
Either way you go, it is a good idea to be exacting with the amount of beer that you fill the bottles with. There is a certain amount of head room you will want to leave as a margin of error in bottling. Always, the more head room you have, the less likely you are to have exploding bottles. But leave too much head room, and your beer might be flatter than you had planned it to be. 1 ounce of room at the top is pretty standard.
This is where a bottle filling wand makes bottling beer super easy and way less messy than it is otherwise. A bottle filling wand is roughly 18 inches long and has a valve tip which causes liquid to flow when it is pressed, and stop when it is let up. It is always a good idea to bottle beer in a non-carpeted room that mops up easily.
Another tip that will help you to avoid air contamination is to put the caps on the bottles but do not tighten them until about fifteen minutes have passed. The CO2 from the carbonation process will fill the head room and expunge the air from it, leaving you with a relatively pure bottle of beer in the carbonation process.
Now that the beer is being carbonated, depending on the style you will want to keep it at around 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit so that the yeast can do its work at a good rate. Refrigerating your home brew at this point will slow the yeast colony’s metabolism which could slow or even stop the carbonation process unless you are using a lager yeast that calls for colder ferementation temperatures. Wait until the carbonation process is nearly done before placing the beer in the fridge.
||Christian Lavender is a homebrewer in Austin, TX and founder of Kegerators.com and HomeBrewing.com
Related Homebrew Tips :
How to Bottle Your Homebrew From a Keg -- A How To For Bottling Your Homebrew from a Keg using a Beer Gun.
Emergency Homebrew Techniques: Blowoff & Force Carb -- A few home brewing emergency techniques when you need to carbonate homebrew quickly and a look at when to use blowoffs vs. airlock assemblies.
Published: June 19, 2012
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