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By Ale Clayson

Many homebrewers approach their beer with a fierce sense of pride and the idea of force (artificially) carbonating their beer will send shivers down their spine. "Nothing artificial in my beer, dammit!" Let's look at this from a different angle. When you bottle you add a measured dose of sugar to your beer to allow the residual yeast to referment in the bottle and create the carbonation in a bottle-conditioned beer.

This method is tried and true but completely ignores the following variants:

1) Yeast viability. After fermenting your beer, especially if it's a higher gravity beer of 1.060 or more your yeast may be tired out and might not be up to the task.

2) Sediment. Although it's good for you, it's not pretty. This is probably the single biggest turn-off to the average non-educated beer drinker.

3) Balance. Many homebrewers shudder at the idea of deviating from the Reinheitsgebot (German purity law of 1516 - a very noble stance to take) and would rather prime with DME instead of dextrose or force carbonation. Here's the catch: breweries that naturally carbonate their beer either use refined sugar which is considered 100% fermentable (common in England and Belgium) or they Kraeusen (common in Germany) with fresh wort and yeast. This wort is from batches of the same beer as what's being carbonated, and hopped the same way. Malt based sugars are about 70% fermentable. That remaining 30% are going to alter the character of the final product.

Force carbonating will allow you to hit your desired level every time, without exception, and I'll let you in on a secret - there are a lot of breweries in Germany that force carbonate using reclaimed CO2 from their primary ferments, thereby adhering to the Reinheitsgebot.

There are two methods of force carbonating your beer in a 5-gallon soda (Cornelius) keg. The patient method (recommended) and the impatient method (relax-don't worry-you know the drill). The patient method will always give you the best results. It's based strictly on numbers so you can do it over and over and achieve the same results every time.

The amount of CO2 that will dissolve into your beer is dependent on two factors - temperature and pressure (refer to the PDF chart). Generally ales tend to be carbonated at the lower end, 1.9 to around 2.3; most German style lagers at around 2.4 to 2.7; and American lagers, Japanese lagers, and wheat beers at around 2.7 to 3.0. The amount of CO2 dissolved in beer is most often referred to in terms of volumes. Volumes of CO2 are defined as the volume the CO2 gas would occupy if it were removed from the beer at atmospheric pressure and 0° C, compared to the original volume of beer. Most beers in the United States contain roughly 2.5 volumes of carbon dioxide, or about 5 grams per liter. This means that if all the carbon dioxide in one liter of beer were expanded at 0° C and at one atmosphere of pressure, its volume would be 2.5 liters.

CO2 Chart

Click on the gage
to view the Carbonation Chart
as a PDF

Using the temperature and pressure conditions of the beer at equilibrium conditions and reading the volumes directly from a chart easily obtain determining the volumes of CO2 in beer. Equilibrium means the same amount of CO2 is diffusing out of the beer as is being dissolved back into solution. It is critical that the readings used for determining CO2 volumes are taken under equilibrium conditions and the instruments used are accurate.

The Patient Method

1) Clean and sanitize your keg thoroughly and connect your gas line to the black liquid out disconnect. Pressurize your keg to 10 psi, wait until you hear/feel the gas stop flowing, disconnect the fitting from the keg and release the pressure from the valve on the lid or through the gray gas in disconnect. By doing this you're purging the oxygen out of your keg.

2) Gently rack your beer into the keg just as you'd rack it into your secondary fermenter or bottling bucket.

3) Replace the lid on the keg and repressurize again to 10 psi, let it sit for a minute, bleed the pressure off again to re-purge (also known as "burping" your keg).

4) Determine the temperature that your beer will be during carbonation and set your regulator accordingly (again, refer to the chart). EXAMPLE: You just kegged your Willamette Valley Golden Ale and you need the carbonation to be just perfect to present that wonderful hop aroma to your nose without making you feel gassed up half way through your first pint. A factor of 2.4 volumes is a really good number here (your results may vary - I don't like my beer to be too gassy). Your fridge that you'll be dispensing from keeps a fairly constant 40 degrees F. You'll want to place your keg in your fridge with your regulator set at just over 11 psi (you see it on the chart, right?). Give your beer 48 hours to carbonate. It will reach its saturation point within this amount of time and the regulator will shut down altogether. Remember that the gas should be connected to the black beverage disconnect so that the CO2 bubbles up through the beer.

The Impatient Method

1) Follow step 1 through 3 from the patient method.

2) Set your regulator to its highest setting or 60 psi (whatever comes first), pressurize your keg through the black beverage fitting until you hear/feel the flow of gas stop, disconnect the gas (this is important-you don't want beer flowing into your gas line) and shake your keg vigorously for 5 minutes.

3) Repeat step 2 until:

a) your beer will receive no more carbonation at this pressure setting.

b) Your testicles drop down to your ankles.

c) You die of a massive heart attack.

Obviously this method should only be used as a last resort. Even if it doesn't cause you grievous bodily harm it leads to rough handling of your precious homebrew and uncertain carbonation levels.

Here are some HBA favorites:

High Sierra Bigfeet: Patterned after Sierra Nevada's line. As big and bold as Big Ben Barleywine but with a higher hop rate that pushes the limits of this style. Needs extended aging due to high alcohol content but definitely worth the wait.

High Sierra Porter: Patterned after Sierra Nevada's line. Has a sharp bitter bite provided by a combination of black malts and Nugget hops. Full bodied with a touch of Willamette in the nose.

High Sierra Stout:: Patterned after Sierra Nevada's line. Black and robust with a rich creamy head. American hops give this beer a distinct character when compared to the English version.

Catherine the Great Imperial Stout:: Dark black example of a beer originally made specifically for export. Essentially a black barley wine it has high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. The high hop flavor and aroma, though unusual for the stout style, are required for an Imperial stout.

Fireside Dry Stout:: Foreign style stout - a little stronger than dry stout. Very black in color with high bitterness and no hop aroma or flavor. Generous amount of flaked barley in this recipe provide full body and long lasting head.

St. Nick's Holiday Ale:: St. Nick's Holiday Ale is a delightfully spiced ale with accents of cinnamon and vanilla. Mildy hopped with nice honey flavors balanced by the nutmeg and clove. This Amber colored malty ale will really warm up your winter nights. Brew early to make the Holidays! (Starting Gravity 1.070- 1.075) (Finishing Gravity 1.011 - 1.016) (Approximate Alcohol Content: 7.0-7.5%) (25 IBU)

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