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naturally carbonating beer

Mastering the Art of Bottle Conditioning: A Guide to Crafting Naturally Carbonated Beer

Bottle conditioning is a traditional method of carbonating beer that involves adding a small amount of priming sugar to the beer before bottling. This sugar serves as a food source for yeast, which consumes it and produces carbon dioxide (CO2), resulting in a naturally carbonated beer.

Bottle conditioning is a great way to add a unique character to your beer and can be used to achieve a variety of flavors and styles. You might even find that naturally carbonating produces beer that lasts longer than that which is kegged.

The Science of Bottle Conditioning

The process of bottle conditioning is relatively simple and relies on the yeast’s ability to consume sugar and produce CO2. The yeast used for bottle conditioning is typically a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as “ale yeast.” This yeast strain is known for its ability to ferment at warmer temperatures (15-12c) and produce a wide range of esters and phenols, which contribute to the beer’s flavor and aroma profile.

When the beer is bottled, the yeast is added along with a small amount of priming sugar. The yeast consumes the sugar, producing CO2 and ethanol. The CO2 is trapped in the bottle, creating the carbonation. The ethanol produced is minimal and will not significantly alter the beer’s alcohol by volume (ABV).

Choosing the Right Yeast and Sugar

Choosing the right yeast and sugar is essential for a successful bottle conditioning. The yeast strain used will affect the final flavor and aroma of the beer. Ales yeast is a good choice for most beers, but there are other yeast strains that can be used to achieve different results. For example, a lager yeast will produce a cleaner, crisper beer, while a Belgian yeast will add a unique fruity and spicy character.

The sugar used for priming can also affect the final flavor of the beer. Corn sugar, also known as dextrose, is a common choice as it ferments cleanly and does not add any additional flavors. However, other sugars such as honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar can be used to add a unique character to the beer and also increase the final gravity of the beer.

How to Bottle Condition

  1. Clean and sanitize all equipment that will come in contact with the beer and the priming sugar, using a solution of sodium metabisulfite or StarSan.
  2. Measure out the desired amount of priming sugar, typically 3/4 cup (177g) of Dextrose (corn sugar) for a 19-liter batch, and dissolve it in a small amount of water.
  3. Rack the beer into the bottles and add the dissolved sugar to the beer using a bottling wand.
  4. Cap the bottles and store them at room temperature (16-21c) for at least 2 weeks, or until the desired level of carbonation is achieved, as measured by a carbonation table or by using a carbonation cap.
  5. Once carbonated, store the bottles in a cool place (2-12c) to allow the yeast to settle out of the beer, also known as cold crashing.

Tips for Achieving the Perfect Carbonation

  • Use a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the beer before bottling to ensure that the yeast has fully fermented all the sugars and reached the desired final gravity.
  • Store the bottles at the appropriate temperature for the yeast strain used. Ales yeast ferment best at temperatures between 15-21c, while most lager yeast ferments best at temperatures between 10-13c.
  • Be patient! Carbonation can take several weeks to achieve, so don’t rush the process.
  • Beware of oxidising your beer – learn more about it, and how to avoid it here.

2 comments

  1. Pete Johnson

    I’m really interested in how to avoid oxidation in the brew especially when bottling , very hoppy and hazy beers. Some info on this would be most appreciated .
    Thanks , Pete

    1. Hi Pete, thanks for the suggestion! Ive done up a quick article about avoiding oxidising your beer when bottling here. Ill add more info to it soon.

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