What is Bottle Conditioning?
Bottle conditioning is the process of adding a small amount of sugar to your beer when you bottle it. This sugar is then consumed by the active yeast that is still suspended in the beer. As you may already know from fermentation, when yeast digests sugar, carbon dioxide (CO2) and alcohol is produced. During the primary fermentation the CO2 was allowed to escape via the airlock. But with bottle conditioning the CO2 has nowhere to go, so it’s absorbed by the beer and the bottle is pressurised. That gives the fizz in the beer which gives us that wonderful sensation of bubbles popping on your tongue and down the back of your throat stimulating your senses in into forever wanting more of this glorious liquid.
Bottle Conditioning Methods
As you may have realised your beer is flat after fermentation, so you’re going to need to carbonate it before drinking it. This is where you have a few options; bulk priming, using carbonation drops or measuring the required amount of sugar for each bottle. I use both the carbonation drops and the bulk priming method to which I will summarise why.
Priming bottles individually with sugar or carbonation drops.
Conditioning with carbonation drops is usually the quickest and easiest method in bottling on bottling day. So far I have had no problems using the Coopers brand, but for these to work you need to be using standard size bottles. Measuring half or whole teaspoons of sugar per bottle is the other option . There is more information and how to steps on my Bottling Day post, be sure to check it out if this is the route you choose to take.
Bulk Priming is the preferred method for the more experienced home brewers whom bottle their beer. This is because you can calculate the level of carbonation required. For example a pale ale, you would want to carbonate a lot more than a stout, or it just comes down to your personal preference.
I will use the stout I recently bottled as an example. The recommended volume of CO2 for a stout is 1.7 – 2.3 so I opted to go for 2.1.
As you can see below I used the “Brewers Friend Priming Calculator” to calculate the amount of sugar required.
I entered in the volume of beer I needed to prime (19lt) and the level of carbonation I’m after (2.1). Depending on the method you will be using to rack to a secondary fermenter or bottling bucket, you will have a loss of around 1-2 litres. Make sure you take this into account when you doing your calculation before hand. The beer temperature is actually the temperature the beer was fermented at, so in my case I generally ferment at 18 Degrees Celsius. The calculator then takes into account how much the beer is already carbonated then tells me I need to add 90 grams of table sugar to reach my 2.1 carbonation volume for 19 liters of beer.
This post really was just to define and give a basic idea of each method. If you are looking for the steps to Bulk Prime or Priming Bottles Individually, click the following links.
But wait there’s more!
There is another bottle conditioning method that I have not mentioned. That’s is bottling you beer at a certain stage just before fermentation has finished. Quite frankly this one scares the crap out of me. If it’s not timed right you have the potential for disaster or flat beer. I could see this working if you’re brewing the exact same beer every time under the same conditions. You would come to learn when the right time is to bottle.
This method is not for homebrewers like me, but I would love to know you’re thoughts in the comments below.