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Complete guide to carbonating: Home brewing|WarAgainstWarm – CRAFTR

complete guide to carbonating

A Complete guide to carbonating: home brewing essentials

T here are many factors that determine how good a beer tastes; the balance of malt and hops, the quality of your ingredients, and how long it has been left to mature. In home brewing, we have a lot of control over these factors, but there’s one more essential component when it comes to flavor; carbonation. Without carbonating, even the best beer in the world will fail to deliver on taste.

When you carbonate, you add extra C02 into an airtight vessel (such as a keg or bottle) and allow it to dissolve into the beer. There are several ways you can go about carbonating your home brewed beer, each offering different pros and cons. Whether you decide to try force carbonating a keg, or stick with natural carbonation in bottles, this a step you cannot afford to skip.

This is another make-it or break-it stage in home brewing and it can easily go wrong if you’re not sure what you’re doing. With a few tricks up your sleeve you’ll get perfectly carbonated beer each and every time, taking your home brewing skills to the next level. Read on to discover the different methods of carbonating you can use and why it’s so important to do it right.

the importance of carbonating

 Before delving into the various ways you can carbonate your beer, it’s a good idea to take a look at why this is such an important step. The obvious answer that comes to most people’s mind is that they don’t like flat beer. This answer is exactly right, but it goes slightly deeper than that!

Expectation and Appearance

We humans are curious creatures who have evolved to taste not only with our tongue and nose, but also with our eyes and ears. When you crack open a beer you expect to hear it fizz, even if the beer in question is a style that is typically softly carbonated.

Carbonation is responsible for fizz and the release of aroma, and without it we immediately - though not always consciously - suspect all is not right. Next comes the pour. Again, we expect bubbles to burst up on impact, creating a nice, frothy head. If the beer we pour lacks that head, we know that something is wrong!

Similarly, if the beer gushes out as soon as you open the bottle, you’ll suspect something is wrong. All the expectations that haven’t been met will invariably affect the way the beer tastes to us. And that’s all before we’ve even taken a sip.

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A question of taste

A well carbonated beer not only tingles our taste buds and feels nice, but it actually opens them up, allowing us to taste a whole lot more. The subtle hop aromas, the biscuity malt backbone- all those hidden flavors suddenly become apparent once our taste buds have been awoken.

Don’t believe me? Grab a bottle of your favorite beer and pour it into two glasses. Beat one of the glasses vigorously until all the gas has gone. Now, take a sip from the untouched beer, tastes good right? Now try the other one. Not so good?

The only difference between the two glasses is that one contains beer that is carbonated, while the other is now uncarbonated. This lack of carbonation tones the flavors right down, and makes the beer seem almost thick and unappealing.

On the other hand, over carbonating your beer won’t suddenly open your taste buds to a whole new spectrum of flavor. Instead, it’ll feel more like a harsh stinging that actually subdues any flavor and cuts off those lingering tastes and aromas. Like everything in home brewing, carbonating is all about balance.

over carbonating

An over carbonated beer can explode, causing a ‘bottle bomb’, something every home brewing nut loses sleep over. Over carbonating can occur if you package your beer too early, before the yeast has had a chance to convert all the available sugars. If this is the case, yeast will continue to turn sugars into alcohol, releasing excess C02 the entire time.

When you’re home brewing, you must be certain your beer has finished fermenting before you think about packaging. Be sure to take gravity readings until they are consistent over three days.

An over carbonated beer can also indicate an infection, with wild yeasts getting into your beer and eating everything they can find, all the while producing an excess of CO2. In home brewing, this is a big risk during packaging as it is one of the few times your fermented beer is exposed to the elements.

Force Carbonating

Force carbonating your beer is the best way to go if you’re planning on kegging. Force carbonating involves injecting CO2 directly into your beer once it has been racked into a keg. It’s a quicker method of carbonating beer in comparison to natural carbonation, which can take up to three weeks to complete. While force carbonating has several benefits over natural carbonation, you’ll require additional home brewing equipment.

  • Pressurized keg - There are several types available these days, but 5 gallon, stainless steel Cornelius style kegs are the most common in home brewing. These Slimline Torpedo Kegs are great space savers and will fulfill all your force carbonating needs.

  • CO2 tank - You’ll need a CO2 tank to pump gas into your beer in order for it to carbonate. These are normally reusable and readily obtained.

  • CO2 regulator - A regulator allows you to control how much gas flows from the tank into your keg. It’s essential to use a regulator, otherwise you’ll pump too much gas in for the keg to handle. This simple Taprite Dual Regulator is easy to use and read.

  • Kegerator - A kegerator is designed to store beer kegs at a consistent temperature. They’re often made from old fridges, fitted with an improved thermostat and are a great addition to your home brewing set up.

  • Dispensing system - Once your beer is in the keg, you’ll need to work out how to get it out and into your glass. Beer lines attached to a beer faucet are easiest.

There are three methods of force carbonating your beer. For each, it’s important to get your beer cold in order for the CO2 to be more easily absorbed.

set and forget

This home brewing method of force carbonating your beer is the easiest, but also takes the longest. Simply put your beer filled keg into the kegerator, attach your CO2 tank and regulator the grey (G for gas) ‘in’ post, set the regulator to around 12 psi and leave for about 10 - 15 days. In this time, the beer will absorb plenty of CO2 and reach a stable level of carbonation.

You can use online carbonation charts to accurately predict the level of carbonation in the final product. Once the desired level is reached, reduce the pressure to serving pressure, which is dependent on your beer line length, but generally around 5 psi to 12 psi will work.

burst carbonating

This method reduces the time it takes to fully carbonate your beer, but it’s more difficult to accurately predict how carbonated your beer will be. It involves hooking the keg up as before and hitting it with a burst of CO2 at high pressure (30 - 50 psi) for around 8 - 24 hours. Then, reduce it to serving pressure and leave it, testing until the desired level of carbonation has been reached.

shake it up

Home brewing requires a fair amount of patience, but for those brewers who just want to try their beer, you can reduce the time it takes to carbonate your beer even more. Again, hook up your keg as before, hit it with around 30 psi, and roll and shake your keg for ten minutes or so. This increases the surface area of the beer the gas is in contact with, allowing it to dissolve much quicker.

In this way, your beer can be fully carbonated in less than an hour. However, you have no way of predicting how carbonated it is. Over carbonating your beer - and consequently ending up with a glass of foam - is a very real possibility.

To fix an over carbonated keg, you’ll need to take the gas off, and purge some of the pressure in the keg. Take samples over the course of two or three days, purging each time until the desired level of carbonation is reached.

Natural carbonation

The more traditional, and less expensive, method of carbonating your beer is to prime your bottles or kegs with sugar and leave the beer to condition over a three to four week period. This is known as bottle conditioning and is normally the preferred choice of the majority of home brewers, at least initially.

Carbonating in this way relies on the yeast that is left in suspension to convert the additional sugar to alcohol, while at the same time creating more CO2. Since the bottles or kegs will be sealed, there is nowhere for the gas to escape to, so it gets dissolved in the beer.

Most home brewers use dextrose, or corn sugar, to prime their beer, however simple cane sugar, honey, or DME can also be used. Online calculators will help you work out how much sugar you will require to prime your batch of beer to the desired level, depending on style or personal preference

In home brewing, you can either add sugar to each bottle or batch prime. The latter is the preferable option, as you can be sure that each bottle receives an equal amount of sugar, reducing the risk of bottle bombs. To do this, simply dissolve the required amount of sugar in a little boiling water and allow to cool. Then, add to the fermenter (or racking bucket) and gently mix the solution into the beer, taking care not to splash and introduce oxygen.

With all your bottles filled and capped, they must now be left at fermentation temperature, around 68℉, for around three weeks. This gives the yeast plenty of time to convert the sugar, and allows the CO2 to be fully dissolved into the beer. The bottles can then be refrigerated and enjoyed once chilled. Need bottling equipment, bottles & caps? Go here!

Its a gas

Carbonating your beer properly not only allows the true taste of your beer to shine through, but also creates a safer product, especially when bottling. Like most things in home brewing, it takes a few times to get used to the process, and to figure out what works best for you. Experimentation is key, especially when force carbonating in a keg. With some practice, you’ll be an expert soon.