All You Need to Know about Priming Sugar

by Karl | Last Updated: May 13, 2020

The taste and fun of the beer lies in its effervescence. Its bubbles make it fun, frothy and flavourful. The fermentation process in the first instance of preparing the beer makes it almost ready, but the bubbles are yet to be added and the product, till it’s foamy and frothy, is not fit to be called a beer.

Not yet.

This is where the priming sugar comes in. It is any kind of sugar that restarts the fermentation process and brings about the bubbles in the beer.

The important thing here is that priming is a process that can be easily carried out at home. Sugars of various kinds are easily affordable and available, but remember to keep your calculations exact.

Scared already? Cursing yourself on being a dunce at math in school? We come to your rescue with easy solutions to all your measurement worries.

Before we move on to the brainy calculations, let us begin with the basics.

Kinds of Sugars for Priming Your Homebrew

Corn sugar (dextrose), table sugar (sucrose) and dry malt extract (DME). The idea is to put either of these priming sugars to the fermented brew so that the residual yeast can ferment it and produce the carbonation which makes your fizz.

If, however, you are a complete novice and do not know where to begin, corn sugar should be your go to. This is because it is easy for the yeast to consume and has a neutral flavour that will not become the dominant taste in your concoction.

Start out with the simpler one and then you can keep experimenting with the other two later.

The Math

Let us address the elephant in the room. You have a certain carbonation level in mind. Obviously your bottle should not be exploding and neither should it be too flat. The idea is to maintain the exact level that the recipe demands. So this is your Target Carbonation level.

Now, after the first stage of fermentation, you have a certain level of carbonation already there. This is your Residual Carbonation level. T

he math lies only in deciding on the apt quantity of the priming sugar so as to add only the exact amount of Priming Carbonation level. As simple as that!

Forget trigonometry, the new formula is:

Residual Carbonation Level+ Priming Sugar Level= Target Carbonation Level

Keep the target in mind and go about the job.

Calculating the Priming Sugar Quantity

This is the real deal. When you have an idea of your target, you then have to have a precise measurement of the quantity of the sugar that you need.

Of course, you don’t want to take years for calculating the amount, so we made a handy priming sugar calculator here.

You simply have to fill in the quantity of your brew, the temperature at which you fermented it, your target carbonation by volume and of course, the sugar that you shall be using.

Voila! You have the results. Throw in the sugar and let the yeast do its job.

Carbonation Tablets

Technically, there is one more obstacle before your ‘voila!’, which is how to add the sugar. Huge amounts of sugar are time consuming to ferment. Like every good thing that comes in small packets, your sugar does too. Well, tablets, in this case.

Instead of decanting the entire brew into a bucket for the second process of fermentation, you can simply bottle the beer and add the required number of tablets directly into the bottles. Apart from saving time, it has other benefits like reducing the calculation errors, the risk of over-priming and the time wasted in sterilizing your sugar.

However, keep in mind that while you will side-step the painstaking calculations, it may not necessarily end up being a precise carbonation level. Tablets may not give you the results that you wanted, to the “t”, but they will be close enough.

Using the Sugars Correctly

In case you are feeling extremely adventurous and want to spend an hour or two testing your mathematical ability or if you are actually good with numbers, then here is something to guide you with the sugar content per five gallons of brew. This is the general rule which can be tweaked in order to achieve your desired results.

So, for each kind of sugar per five gallons of beer the rule is-

  • 3/4 cups (4 ounces, or 113 grams) of corn sugar (dextrose)
  • ⅔ cup (5.3 ounces, or 150 grams) of table sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups (181 grams) of light dry malt extract (DME)

Honey

This sneaky, lesser known sugar has been around for ages and is a regular in the initial fermentation process for making mead and to add flavour to the beer. You can also use this as a substitute for the previous three for priming, but here are some tips before you do so:

Honey is quite varied in terms of its density, taste, viscosity and other elements. So you need to see which honey, or the honey that is available to you, would partner best with which kind of beer. With regard to the amount of honey per five gallon of your drink, 1 or ½ cup serves best.

The Priming Process

Priming is all about mixing the sugar in the brew. So take a saucepan, boil 16 ounces of water and add the sugar until it is completely dissolved. This done, now set it aside to cool for a bit. Take the boiling bucket or carboy and clean it thoroughly.

You generally decant the brew from your carboy into the bottling bucket, but seeing how the carboy is transparent and allows you to have a lock at the fermentation process, it might also be a good idea to use carboys if your budget allows you.

However, if you are using a bottling bucket, make sure it is has a well fastened plug, then add your priming solution and slowly add the brew. Ensure that you do not let the trub enter your mixture else it will mar the taste and your back-breaking work.

Now, using a bottling filter use the bottling bucket to carefully fill the beer bottles leaving a ¾ to 1 inch gap for the aeration to occur and then set aside for two weeks. Let the yeast and priming solution work their magic.

Priming Sugar Alternatives?

Vienna Lager Bottle Bomb from Priming sugar

Of course, not everyone likes to add more sugar to our diets. There must be some alternatives to this method? You do run the risk of messing up a simple calculation and creating a bottle bomb. Yep, if the bottle is over carbinated and capped well, the pressure doesn’t have anywhere to go but out. Good job on capping, poor job on the priming sugar. Enter the lazy mans method.

Lazy Man’s Force Carbonation

Explained in more depth here in the Vienna Lager recipe (about 1/2 way down), this is essentially pressurizing your keg with about 40psi of beer gas for 36 hours. If you like your different flavors of beers consistently carbonated without adding more sugar this is the way to go.

Final Tips

It is easy to prime beer at home, especially with tablets. But if you wish to carry out the entire operation on your own and be a beer-hero, do yourself a service and ensure you have done the right calculations and carried out the process in a sterile vessel.

Your drink shall be a representation of you. Make sure it is a good one.

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.