How Much Priming Sugar Should I Use

Priming sugar, for those who bottle their homebrew, is the sugar you add at bottling time to carbonate (prime) the beer. A given beer's level of carbonation is measured in "Volumes of CO2", which are defined by the style it is. Each style has it's own ideal level of carbonation, and in a competition, a properly carbonated beer can be the difference between winning and falling a few points short. Besides that, having a properly carbonated beer is more enjoyable than one that is a bit flat or one that is gushing out onto the counter. But how much priming sugar should you actually use? Well, there are a few factors to take into account.

Calculating Priming Sugar Based on the Style of Beer

Checking out the style guidelines for the beer your making is a great place to start, both for flavor profiles and recipe building, but for carbonation levels as well. Here is a basic overview of major styles and their "acceptable" volumes of CO2 ranges:

Style Volumes of CO2
British Style Ales 1.5 - 2.0 volumes
Belgian Ales 1.9 - 2.4 volumes
American Ales and Lager 2.2 - 2.7 volumes
Fruit Lambic 3.0 - 4.5 volumes
Porter, Stout 1.7 - 2.3 volumes
European Lagers 2.2 - 2.7 volumes
Lambic 2.4 - 2.8 volumes
German Wheat Beer 3.3 - 4.5 volumes

I keep acceptable in quotation marks because unless you are entering a competition, the only critic you need to appease to is yourself, and maybe your friends, but mostly yourself. Do you like beers with higher carbonation or lower? Prefer to stick to styles by the books? That's fine too. The important thing to remember is carbonate the beer to your liking before you carbonate it to what a style guide says (unless you're going into a competition, then definitely stick to the guides or else you risk losing points).

Understanding Volumes of CO2 and Priming Sugar Additions

I've brought the term "volumes of CO2" up a few times and it's time to dig into that. On the highest level of understanding beer carbonation you have this equation:

Current Volumes of CO2 + Added Volumes of CO2 (from priming sugar) = Final Volumes of CO2.

There is obviously more than goes into it numbers-wise than that, but the important take away here is that after fermentation there are already some volumes of CO2 in your beer. You add a specific amount of priming sugar to bring the volumes of CO2 up to your final level.

Temperature's Role When Calculating Priming Sugar

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So now we have a grasp of volumes of CO2, and know that there is some amount of dissolved CO2 already in your finished beer. The amount of dissolved CO2 is related to the highest temperature that your beer ever was, not its current temperature. If you have a fermentation chamber, that's good, as you set the temperature for the beer and it's going to be within just a couple of degrees of that. If you fermented in your living room or basement, you'll have to make a rough approximation. Remember that the temperature does rise a few degrees during active fermentation.

The higher the temperature was, the less CO2 is in suspension. It's similar to how you finish the conditioning process for your beer in the fridge for a few days. This allows the beer to absorb more CO2 before serving. Without this cold period, there is some CO2 in the headspace of the beer and it may seem to be under carbonated when serving closer to room temperature.

If I put my whole carboy in the fridge, will it absorb CO2 back into solution? Some, but remember that a sealed beer bottle is a different environment than an "open" carboy, where gas can escape through the airlock. Most of that CO2 that was expunged is now gone through the airlock and can't be reclaimed into the beer with a colder temperature. Here are a few base points for volumes of CO2 based on it's highest temperature:

Highest Temperature (F) Volumes of CO2 in Suspension (roughly)
65 0.91 Volumes
68 0.86 Volumes
72 0.80 Volumes
75 0.78 Volumes

As you can see the being a few points off on an estimation won't drastically ruin your calculations, with a 10 degree difference representing a 0.13 difference in Volumes of CO2, but it's important to keep in mind.

Calculating Your Final Priming Sugar Addition

temp control matters when calculating priming sugar

We have all the parts and understanding we need to begin putting it all together. It's time to calculate how much priming sugar you will need to use. Before going into this step, make sure you have the ability to weigh ounces out to at least the hundredth place. Some places may give you a volume measurement but these can be inaccurate, so weight is the preferred measurement.

Note: The following process is for priming with corn sugar (priming sugar).

Step One: Choose your desired volumes of CO2 and subtract the current suspended CO2.
In this example, I want to carbonate my 72 degree (remember highest temp reached) brown ale to be 2.75 volumes of CO2. So we look at the chart and see it's sitting at roughly 0.81 volumes.

2.75 - 0.80 = 1.94 (we need to add 1.94 volumes of CO2 via fermentation in the bottle).

Step Two: 0.54 ounces of corn sugar adds one volume of CO2 to 1 gallon of beer.
Next we need to take that 1.94 we got earlier and multiply it by 0.54. This will give us the amount of priming sugar we need to add to reach 2.75 volumes of CO2 in one gallon of beer. If you only made one gallon of beer, you're done, this will be your final weight to add. If you made more there is one more step.

1.94 X 0.54 = 1.0476 (ounces of priming sugar per gallon)

Step Three: Do what yeast does... Multiply.
Multiply the number above by the number of gallons you want to prime. Then you're done!

1.0476 X 5 (gallons) = 5.23 (ounces of priming sugar)

Important Note:  Remember to calculate for the amount of beer you're bottling, not the amount of wort that went to the fermenter. There is trub loss to account for etc.

Now you're ready to prime your beer yourself, and understand the numbers behind some of the online calculators if you go that route.

 

by David Doucette
David is a full blown fermentation enthusiast who has dedicated much of his free time to learning and sharing the art of homebrewing. He's spent several years documenting and writing homebrewing information on his blog Hive Mind Mead. He's written over 60 articles between Homebrew Talk and Homebrew Supply.
written by David Doucette

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6 comments on “How Much Priming Sugar Should I Use”

  • Thanks for the very useful article. I've been putting in my usual amount of sugar lately, but the weather has been hot, and the fizz just wasn't there.
    I needed that reminder of basic diffusion.

    Reply
  • Thanks. At long last a scientific way to add the exact amount of priming sugar to my 5 gallon Corny of D IPA brew which is fermented at 70F in my air conditioned house. Then the question is whether subsequent forced carbonation in my Kegerator will overdo the carbonation.

    Reply
  • Question: Without this cold period, there is some CO2 in the headspace of the beer and it may seem to be under carbonated when serving closer to room temperature. DOES THIS MEAN CO2 IS ONLY IN THE HEADSPACE ONLY AND NOT IN THE BEER? HAS A FOAM HEAD BUT IS FLAT?

    I BOTTLE AND THIS DOES HELP.

    Reply
    • David Doucette

      There will be CO2 in the headspace no matter what. The higher the temperature, the more there will be, as the beer can't hold as much in solution at warmer temps. You will have better carbonation if the beer was kept cold for a while.

      Reply
  • Helpful article. My last two batches have been over carbonated and haven't had a chance to dive into this. Do you have some additional resources you recommend? Just looking at the ranges, as a newbie it could make a differ of at least 1.3 Oz in many cases depending if I shoot for the top or the bottom of the range, which I'm guessing makes a big difference....but honestly just a guess at this point.

    Semi-related is what to do with homemade recipies? I brewed some root beer for example and it was so carbonated that half the bottle fizzled out due to over carbonation.

    Thanks in advance

    Reply
  • Can I carbonate my keg with priming sugar prior to placing it in my kegerator?

    Reply
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