The Importance of Carbonation

Carbonating beer is an important factor of beer brewing and a small challenge to the home brewer. CO2 adds mouthfeel, perceived body, and contributes to the way hop and malt aromas are presented to our sense of taste and smell. Adding just the right amount of carbonation according to a beer stylesheet or personal taste can be a little tricky and mildly worrying at first, especially if you're a beginner and only brewed a few times.

Choosing the Right Carbonisation Levels

To meet our carbonation levels and expectations we need to have control over the whole carbonation process and understand firstly, - How it works?

This basic knowledge together with acquired skills allows us to produce beautifully carbonated beer every time we brew.

Three methods of carbonating beer

  1. Forced carbonation of brews. Brews ready for carbonation can be unpasteurized, pasteurized, filtered, or unfiltered. The forced carbonated beer can be poured directly into a glass ready for consumption. However it's more common to store the forced carbonated beer in vessels such as beer Kegs or bottles.
  2. Natural carbonation by adding yeast nutrient to unpasteurized home brew in the bottling or kegging process. A controlled amount of nutrient usually sugar is added to fermented beer which will start a secondary fermentation. The yeast will eat the sugar building a small amount of alcohol and more importantly CO2 giving you the desired carbonation levels for your particular style of beer.
  3. Even if not so common, a mixture of carbonation methods 1 and 2 could be used. If pasteurized and or finely filtered fermented beer is being used then yeast will need to be added together with a yeast nutrient

Choose carbonation method 1, 2 or 3

Method #1. Forced Carbonation

Method number 1 is by far the fastest, the most flexible and controllable carbonation method we can use. The method is relatively easy and produces sediment free beer. For home brewers it's common to tap and carbonate beer in Kegs. Kegs are then typically stored in fridges or specialised beer fridges with fitted beer carbonation dispensers ready to pour the perfect glass of beer every time. Force carbonation is used in large by the brewing industry and advanced home brewers. However there are some folk who'd disagree with force carbonating beer, who'd rather opt to making or consuming naturally carbonated beer.

Advantages Disadvantages
Fast Special Equipment
Easy Cleaning  
Easy Storage  
Controllable  

Method #2. Natural Carbonation

Natural carbonation is the most used method of carbonation amongst home brewers and small or micro brewing industry. This method is primarily chosen by default as it's cheap, convenient and considered to be the best form of carbonation by "real ale purists". In fact, CAMRA, a UK voluntary organisation campaigning for real ale, conceived in 1971, advocates ale must be naturally carbonated to receive their "Real Ale" stamp of approval. Today, some 45 years later CAMRA has over 181543 members and is the largest, most powerful and influential consumer organisation in the UK.

We've all noticed the huge popularity and growth of microbreweries. Home brewers too have increased vastly in numbers. Given modern technology and resources, microbreweries and home brewers are able to produce high quality beer outclassing the giant commercial breweries.
However, in terms of volume and sales the large breweries and giant beer brewing conglomerates have a whopping 95% of the world market.

Advantages Disadvantages
Minimal Equipment More Cleaning
Easy Storage Less Controllable
Easy Process Sediment
  Slow

#3. Hybrid, natural carbonation + forced carbonation

Most microbreweries and home brewers do not practice heavy beer filtration which will remove flavours and aromas that "real ale" consumers cherish and have become accustom to. Pasteurisation is not desired or an option either as this would kill-off the residual yeast and as a result no natural carbonisation would take place in an eventual secondary fermentation. However, it is possible to concoct a hybrid carbonisation by for example adding fresh secondary yeast and nutrient and or force carbonating with CO2 or nitrogen perhaps, depending on different beer styles.

Advantages Disadvantages
Flexible hybrid More steps to process

In The End It Bubbles Down to Taste, Time and Money

Taste

First of all beer carbonation is a matter of taste. It's a personal choice, albeit outside influences such beer styles, beer organisations, geographical location and our social groups and acquaintances.

Time and Money

Keeping a good balance between your time and money is fairly easy when it comes to carbonisation. For example if you're brewing small quantities of beer now and again, then method #2 would be a good choice. If you're brewing regularly and medium amounts of beer then you might consider investing in method #1 and balancing it off against the time saved compared to method #2.

Practical Beer Carbonation using Method 1. Kegging

Part 2. Coming soon...


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