Bottle Priming Your Home Brew – How And Why

A home brew bottle priming primer...

A home brew bottle priming primer…

Many proponents exist for adding the priming sugar to the whole batch at once and for good reason. It’s easy, and more or less fail safe.

A much less popular method, though one I use regularly, is known as bottle priming. This is the process of adding the priming sugar to each individual bottle one at a time, rather than all at once like when using a bottling bucket.

People tend to shy away from this as they feel it can lead to inconsistent results when bottling large batches. They do have a point as that can be a lot of bottles to keep track of. I like to bottle prime for one reason, it’s simple once you know how to do it and it gives me a great opportunity to experiment a bit.

In a normal 5 gallon batch I can get around 50 or so 12oz beers. So that gives me 50 chances to play around with the end result. I can play with the carbonation levels to see how a style will taste with more or less gas. I can use different sugar sources and change the resulting flavor.

Take for instance the Hoppy Hefeweizen I have brewing currently. On Saturday it will be in primary fermentation for two weeks. As part of a side experiment I have going on, where I am bottling 6 beers every week of fermentation for a month, I will be bottling an additional 6 this week with a black cherry syrup I was given as a gift as the priming sugar.

Black Cherry Syrup

My wifes grandma visited the Biltmore Mansion and brought me home some of this.

I have no idea how this will turn out but it is something I would never try with a whole batch. When we’re just talking a 6’er, no big deal.

Something more traditional would be the use of molasses or maple syrup. Using these as priming sugar rather than in fermentation will give off the desired aromas and flavors without so much of the negative off flavors found when used as a primary sugar.

The amount of carbonation will also change the taste of your beer so priming by bottle is a great way to zero in on the exact amount of carbonation you want when perfecting a recipe.

How to Bottle Prime

The easiest way to bottle prime your home brew is to buy priming tabs. These tabs are fool proof. They come sealed in a sanitary pack so you just drop a few into each sanitized bottle, fill and cap. The directions will give you the suggested amount for a medium carbonated beer so you can just add or subtract to adjust your levels.

After tabs, a cheaper and very popular method is to just use table sugar. The old rule of thumb is 1/2 teaspoon of granulated sugar per 12oz bottle. This will provide a familiar level of carbonation for most American beer styles. The usual method is to level off a sanitized 1/2 teaspoon and dump into each bottle using a sanitized funnel.

One tablespoon of granulated sugar weighs ~12.5 grams. Three teaspoons go into a tablespoon and since 1/2 teaspoon gives an average carbonation per 12oz bottle of beer you can take that and figure roughly 2 grams of sucrose per 12oz of beer should provide decent carbonation. With that figure you can now branch out to all different types of sugars.

With my cherry syrup, taking a look at the nutrition label shows that 8 grams of cane sugar are in each tablespoon of syrup. This means that each teaspoon has ~2.6 grams which will be just about perfect for my hefeweizen as they are supposed to be on the bubbly side.

8 grams of sugar per tablespoon.

8 grams of sugar per tablespoon.

Most home brewers prefer dextrose because it leaves no taste behind but there is no reason to let such a great opportunity to adjust your beer go to waste. Experiment with different sugars and see what kind of changes they can make to your home brews.

Priming Sugar Suggestions

  • DME
  • Table Sugar
  • Molasses
  • Malt Syrup
  • Blue Agave Nectar
  • Pure Honey
  • Sugar In The Raw

Don’t stop there, one of the best things about home brewing is getting the opportunity to try out beers nobody else would ever think to make but you. Get creative and try out something unique with your next brews priming sugar, if only a 6 packs worth.

As always, drop me a comment below to discuss or share your experience. Thanks.

Dan Bandekow
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