I definitely asked myself the question, the first couple of times that I brewed, of whether or not I could use regular sugar for priming my beer or if it had to be something specifically designed for that purpose, and after doing some research I found out that there are plenty of options out there that you can use.
In this article, I will be going over what kinds of sugar you can use to prime your homebrew, whether or not regular table sugar works, how to calculate the amount of priming sugar needed, how to actually mix it into the beer, what simpler alternatives there are, and more.
So, without any further ado, let’s get started!
In short, can you use any type of sugar for bottling/priming beer? You can prime your beer with any fermentable that you want, such as white cane sugar, brown sugar, honey, and even maple syrup. The darker sugars are more often used for darker, heavier beers because they can contribute a subtle aftertaste (sometimes desired), which is also why simple white sugars are generally used for most beers.
The truth of the matter is that you can choose a lot of different fermentables for your homebrew, and you may decide to go with one or the other depending on the taste you’re looking to achieve.
Now, which are the most common sugar types used for priming beer? And can you use regular sugar as well?
What sugar should you prime with?
Since any fermentable works for priming beer, using one type of sugar or the other depends entirely on the aftertaste you’re looking for. For lighter beers, using table sugar (sucrose) or dextrose (corn sugar), for example, is a great alternative because it doesn’t affect the beer’s flavor, whereas for darker and heavier beers, using brown sugar, honey, or any other type of fermentable that can affect its aftertaste, might be more desirable.
Molasses, for example, could be a great addition to a dark beer since it adds lots of flavor (caramel flavor) when used for conditioning the beer. If you actually want to impart molasses flavor to the beer, add it to the boil and then prime using a flavorless sugar.
Honey can also be used and will affect the aftertaste of beer slightly (use it on lighter beers, otherwise the flavor won’t come through). However, the issue with honey is that its gravity varies a lot from jar to jar, which means that there is no standard for concentration for it and you will need to dilute it and measure its gravity with a hydrometer before using it.
In short: Use white flavorless sugar for priming lighter beers, or most beers for that matter, and use a priming solution that can actually add flavor to larger & heavier beers (take all of this with a grain of salt since it depends on how you want the beer to taste).
Most common priming sugars alternatives
There are dozens of priming sugar alternatives out there, but these are the most commonly used ones (just remember that any fermentable can be used):
- Table Sugar.
- Corn Sugar.
- DME (dried malt extract) – All Varieties.
- Belgian Candy Syrup.
- Belgian Candy Sugar.
- Black Treacle.
- Brown Sugar.
- Corn Syrup.
- DME – Laaglander.
- Invert Sugar Syrup.
- Maple Syrup.
- Rice Solids.
- Sorghum Syrup.
Important note: If you use malt extract then know that it will probably generate Krausen around the waterline of the bottle. This is completely fine.
How to calculate the amount of priming solution needed
The simplest method is to simply use a priming calculator. There are dozens that you can find online but here is the one that I generally use: Beer Priming Sugar Calculator.
Here, all you need to do is fill in the required data (volume of beer in either Gallons or Liters, Volume of C02, and temperature, and the calculator will spit out the amount of sugar you need for each sugar type).
Depending on what style of beer you’re going for, you’ll want a different carbonation volume, for example:
- British ales 1.5-2.0
- Porter, Stout 1.7-2.3
- Belgian ales 1.9-2.4
- American ales 2.2-2.7
- European lagers 2.2-2.7
- Belgian Lambic 2.4-2.8
- American wheat 2.7-3.3
- German wheat 3.3-4.5
Now all that’s left to do is make the priming solution and add it to the beer in order for it to carbonate.
How to make and add priming solutions
To make your priming solution you should, ideally, use the beer priming sugar calculator I linked earlier (or any other that you like) and dissolve it in 2 cups of water and take it to a boil. Once boiled let it sit and cool.
There are other methods you can use to calculate the amount of priming sugar you need and, in fact, you may even get away with using a ¾ cup of corn sugar, ⅔ cup of table sugar, or 1 and ¼ cup of dried malt extract for a 5 gallon batch, but it’s simpler to use a calculator in order to get the exact level of carbonation you want.
How to add the Priming Solution
There are three ways you could approach this:
- Put the exact same amount of priming solution into each bottle.
- Mix all the priming solution into the beer in the primary fermentor.
- Put the priming solution in a secondary vessel and transfer the beer into it.
Let’s go over all of these one by one and think about their pros & cons:
1) This is not the best method because each bottle will have a slightly different amount of priming sugar in it and you risk carbonating a couple of bottles unevenly and have some of them explode. In addition to this, it takes a lot of time when brewing large batches, since having to put priming solution into something like 100 bottles one at a time will be very time consuming.
2) Mixing the priming solution into the primary fermentation vessel is far from ideal because you can’t really stir it in without having the sediment mix into the beer again, or at least some of it and, therefore, the bottles will have a lot more sediment as well.
3) This would be the overall best solution: Sanitize a secondary vessel and pour in the priming solution, then transfer the beer from the primary fermentor to the secondary one using a sanitized siphon making sure that it’s under the level of the priming solution as well as one or two inches below the beer level (you don’t want it sucking any air, or splashing, in since oxygenating the beer at this stage is bad).
While it may be more work, and you would have another fermentor to clean, the third method is by far the most effective one for getting evenly carbonated beer bottles.
Alternative: Use PrimeTabs (Conditioning tablets)
While more expensive, PrimeTabs are the easiest way of priming your beer since you only need to put a specific number of them into the bottle (depending on the bottle’s size and beet type) and that’s about it. No calculations needed.
For a low carbonation level you can use 1-2 PrimeTabs per 12 oz (330ml) bottle. Use 3 for a more average carbonation level and 4-5 for a higher carbonation level (American lagers, for example).
Again, this depends a lot on the style of beer as well.
Also, on the packet itself you should have detailed information on how many to use depending on the size of the bottle.
How many conditioning tablets to use:
- 12oz or 330ml: 1-2 tabs.
- 16oz or 500ml: 2-3 tabs.
- 33oz or 1L: 4-5 tabs.
How to fill the bottles
There are two ways of filling the bottles: Connecting the bottle filler to the bottling bucket, or using a racking cane with a bottle filler.
The simplest version, which is also the one that may transfer the highest amount of sediment into the bottle, is hooking up the bottle filler to the tap on the bottling fermentor and to then push it against the bottom of the bottle so that the valve opens up, letting the beer out into the bottle.
Doing it with a racking cane is almost identical, but you simply need to place it inside of the fermentor making sure that it’s always beneath the waterline to prevent aeration.
Here it is step by step:
- Connect the bottle filler to the bottling fermentor’s tap or to the racking cane (remember that the racking cane should always be beneath the waterline).
- Place the bottle filler inside the bottle and push it against the bottom of the bottle (this will let the beer out).
- Fill the bottles about ¾ of an inch from the top to prevent spilling.
- Take out the bottle filler (which will automatically stop the flow of beer).
- Place sanitized caps on the bottle and cap.
How long should the bottles condition for?
The bare minimum for the yeast to carbonate the beer is one week, but this depends on the type and amount of yeast present. It’s recommended to wait at least two weeks and to keep the beer at room temperature and out of the light, but the longer you let it sit (up to two months), the better it will taste.
As long as it’s fermentable, you can use it to carbonate your beer, so you really have a lot of options here.
Just remember, if you want the beer to carbonate and for the sugar not to add any aftertaste, then use simple white sugars, such as table sugar (sucrose), corn sugar (dextrose), etc., on the other hand, you may consider using Honey, brown sugar, Molasses, and others, for larger & heavier beers, or to give your lighter beers a different aftertaste.