Priming 101

If you don’t have a kegging system, you’re most likely bottle conditioning. Whether you use corn sugar, honey or dry malt, you need to know how to prime. Each style has its own carbonation range and knowing that will help big time.

With bottle conditioning, you add a small amount of frementables to your bottling bucket. This will kick start fermentation again. However, since you’ve capped your bottle, the CO2 can’t escape like it does in your carboy’s air lock. So the gas infuses into the beer, thus carbonating it.

So now the fun part, determining how much to prime. You don’t want flat beer and you most certainly don’t want beer bombs. So being accurate here, is pretty important. Here is a list of some of the more common carbonation levels.

Beer style Volumes CO2

British-style ales 1.5 – 2.0
Porter, stout 1.7 – 2.3
Belgian ales 1.9 – 2.4
European lagers 2.2 – 2.7
American ales & lagers 2.2 – 2.7
Lambic 2.4 – 2.8
Fruit lambic 3.0 – 4.5
German wheat beer 3.3 – 4.5
Typical CO2 levels in bottled beers

How Much Do I Add?

I could go into all the calculations (and will in a later post) but since this is a beginner’s guide, just go to this Carbonation Calculator.

What Can I Prime with?

When using any of the ingredients below, be sure to dissolve it in water first. If not, you might have an uneven distribution leaving some bottles under carbonated and others over. Also you’ll want to heat till at least 180 and hold for a few minutes to avoid getting any infections in your beer.

Different priming ingredients can impart different characteristics in your beer. Here are a few of the more popular primers.

Corn Sugar – can add a cidery flavor to your beer. I’d say this is the most common primer out there. If you’ve used a kit before, this is most likely what came in it.

Brown Sugar – this can add an extra level of complexity to your beer. I like using it in Scottish Ales in particular, but may other ale styles can benefit.

Syrup/Molasses – Can you say maple ale? Again great for adding accent flavors and aromas to your beer.

Honey – Depending on the type of honey, you can add some nice notes to your beer. I’ve used orange blossom honey to prime a wheat beer and it was excellent.

Malt Extract – for the purist, this is the route. You can use either dry or liquid.

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