The Art of Perfect Beer Carbonation: A Comprehensive Guide

Microbreweries are a popular choice among craft beer enthusiasts. Craft beer, known for its unique flavor, proprietary recipes, and limited production batches, has amassed a dedicated following. Though craft beer stands out for its distinct taste, it shares a common characteristic with commercial beers: carbonation.

Carbonation is what gives beverages their “foam.” It is also one of the defining features that sets beer apart from other alcoholic drinks. While there are non-carbonated beers, they cater to a small and uncommon audience. Furthermore, carbonation naturally occurs to some extent during the beer fermentation process.

What is Beer Carbonation?

In simple terms, beer carbonation involves the addition of carbon dioxide to the beer, allowing it to dissolve in the liquid. To retain the carbon dioxide gas within the beer, pressure is required. This pressure can come from a sealed bottle cap or a keg system. When the pressure is released, the carbon dioxide rises and escapes in the form of bubbles.

The level of carbonation in beer varies depending on the beer style. Most Ales contain approximately 1.8 grams per liter (or 2.7 grams per pint) of carbon dioxide. Lagers and wheat beers usually have more carbonation than Ales, while keg beer tends to have less.

The most common method of carbonating beer is by directly injecting carbon dioxide into the liquid under pressure. Breweries employ various techniques to achieve this, depending on their preferences. Generally, carbonation takes place after the beer has undergone fermentation and cooled to around 0°C. This step is performed just before packaging and storage.

It’s worth noting that colder liquids can hold more gas. This concept is known as Henry’s Law and is utilized by winemakers. According to Henry’s Law, higher pressures and lower temperatures enhance the efficient absorption of gas by liquids.

What are the Methods of Carbonating Beer?

In addition to understanding what beer carbonation is, it’s important to explore the methods used to carbonate beer, particularly in microbreweries. There are two primary methods: natural carbonation and artificial carbonation.

Natural Carbonation

The most commonly used method for naturally carbonating beer is during the fermentation process. When beer ferments, the yeast consumes ingredients like barley and produces carbon dioxide. While a significant amount of carbon dioxide is lost during subsequent stages of production, a portion remains in the beer.

Another natural carbonation method involves leaving some yeast and air in the beer during bottling. This allows the remaining yeast to continue fermenting in the beer. However, this method is not as common because the results may not be as effective as carbonating during fermentation.

Both methods contribute to some degree of natural carbonation. However, these techniques may not provide sufficient carbonation for individuals who prefer highly carbonated beverages. In such cases, manual carbonation is necessary.

Artificial Carbonation

As the name suggests, artificial carbonation involves using various equipment to carbonate beer. One common technique is “forced carbonation,” which entails chilling the beer and sealing it in a pressurized container to facilitate the carbonation process. The container is pressurized with carbon dioxide, and changes in pressure and temperature gradually allow the gas to be absorbed into the beer. Eventually, the carbon dioxide becomes fully absorbed within a few days or a week, resulting in the iconic bubbles associated with carbonated beer.

This forced carbonation method is widely used in keg systems due to its cost-effectiveness and simplicity.

Steps to Force Carbonate Your Beer:
  • Siphon the beer into a sanitized keg and attach the keg lid.
  • Connect the gas line and increase the pressure to around 40 psi. Double-check for any leaks!
  • Since carbon dioxide dissolves more easily in cold beer, ideally place the keg with the gas line attached into a refrigerator and leave it pressurized for approximately 24 hours.
  • Adjust the pressure down to 20 psi and maintain for another 24 hours.
  • Test the carbonation level by turning down the regulator pressure to about 10 psi and releasing excess pressure in the keg by lifting the pressure relief valve.
  • Attach a sanitized beer line assembly, pour yourself a beer, and enjoy. If more carbonation is desired, turn the regulator up to about 20 psi and leave it for another 24 hours.

How to Maintain Beer Carbonation?

It’s important to note that the level of carbonation in beer will diminish over time, potentially resulting in the loss of its effervescence. Unless stored under pressure, gas will gradually escape into the surrounding environment. Beer shares similarities with carbonated soft drinks in this regard. If cola is not stored under pressure, carbon dioxide will escape, leading to the loss of its carbonation.

The only way to preserve beer carbonation is to store it under conditions that allow carbonation to occur. In other words, if you want to maintain carbon dioxide in beer, it must be stored under pressure and at low temperatures.

Once opened, beer should ideally be consumed within a few hours. If kept for longer periods, the taste of the beer may significantly differ from expectations, and its carbonation may disappear, leading to a less enjoyable experience. Beers with lower alcohol by volume (ABV) can typically be stored unopened for around six months. Beers with higher ABV values, like Lambik and Stout, tend to improve in flavor when aged unopened for several years.

Proper Beer Storage

Beer should be stored in dark bottles and kept in a cool, dark place because it is susceptible to light damage. If beer is packaged in kegs or cans, they are not susceptible to penetration by sunlight, ensuring that the beer remains unaffected by intense light exposure.

Frequently Asked Questions about Beer Carbonation

Will cold crashing leave enough yeast to naturally carbonate my beer?

Yes, cold crashing will not hinder natural carbonation. If desired, or for clearer beer, you can proceed without worry as there is still sufficient yeast in suspension to consume priming sugar and produce carbon dioxide. If your beer is not carbonating, it is likely due to a poor seal or the temperature being too cool. Some individuals may find that their beers take a bit longer to carbonate as well.

Will fining agents like gelatin, Biofine, or ClarityFerm leave enough yeast for natural carbonation?

Absolutely! Fining agents aid in removing yeast from suspension, but the remaining yeast is not enough to hinder the carbonation process. In fact, some excellent bottle-conditioned beers have been fined with gelatin prior to packaging, resulting in exceptional clarity while maintaining carbonation.

Can I bottle condition a lager beer that has spent a long time lagering?

Absolutely. If you have concerns, you can add additional yeast when transferring the beer from the fermentation tank to the bottling bucket. Just ensure that the yeast is well mixed before packaging. Some individuals have had success with adding half a pack of dry yeast or a full pack of liquid yeast, but further research is advised.

I used a priming sugar calculator and my beer is overly carbonated. What could be the cause?

If you used the correct amount of priming sugar, “gushers” may be due to one of two factors. First, it is possible that you packaged the beer before fermentation was complete, allowing the yeast to continue fermenting both residual sugars and the priming sugar. The other cause, which is unfortunately the most common, is contamination. The bottling process can expose the fermented beer to wild yeast and bacteria, which can consume the sugars left behind by brewer’s yeast. Over-carbonated bottles can lead to bottle explosions and potential injuries, so exercise caution when handling or disposing of such bottles.

If you are planning to open or expand a brewery and need a turnkey solution for brewery equipment, feel free to contact us. Our team of engineers can design and manufacture brewery equipment tailored to your brewing process. Additionally, we offer complete turnkey solutions and customized options for brewery expansion.

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