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I'm brewing my very first batch with an actual kit (I've used Mr. Beer before with decent results and wanted to do it right).

I bought a recipe kit from Northern Brewer and I opted for the Cooper's Carbonation drops. But I see no one mention them here - or pretty much anywhere else.

The beer (the XPA recipe) is on week 2 of fermentation and seems to be progressing nicely - the fermentation seems to have mostly stopped after being very robust.

I've ordered another kit from Northern Brewer with the regular priming sugar. It'll be here before bottling. Should I use the priming sugar or the carbonation drops? In a related question, I'll be bottling in different sized bottles (12, 16 and 22 oz.) The instructions call for 1 drop per 375 ml and 2 for 750 - what would I use for the 16 oz??

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Excellent question on carbonation drops. Upvoted. –  TinCoyote Jan 14 '11 at 19:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

There is nothing wrong with using carbonation drops. There are some advantages.

  1. They give you a very consistent carbonation from bottle to bottle. Uneven priming sugar mix in the bottling bucket (forgetting to stir it without adding oxygen) can lead to uneven carbonation. Bottle bombs and weak/no carbonation.

  2. You never forget to add them, which sometimes happens with priming sugar. Plus, if you do forget to add your priming sugar, you can always pry the caps off, drop in a tablet, and re-cap. (People do forget in their excitement to bottle to add the priming sugar.) Good reason to keep them on-hand as a backup.

  3. If you do miss one, you only screw up one bottle.

Downsides:

  1. Extra cost.

  2. No ability to control specific carbonation for a given beer style or preference. (rarely done, but still)

I think one of the best uses for carbonation drops is diagnosing carbonation issues. People who are getting consistent weak carbonation, over carbonation, or uneven carbonation can eliminate everything but their priming sugar amount/procedure as the issue. It's a nice diagnostic for when you have carbonation issues you have been unable to resolve.

I would also say that carbonation drops are a good tools for new brewers. As you get more experienced, you can graduate to using simple priming sugar. No shame in using them, even some experienced brewers use them regularly.

I usually boil up extra pale dry malt myself, rather than corn or table sugar. I do that because I always have dry malt on hand. There is no other use for corn sugar, and I hate to have a single-purpose ingredient around and table sugar can leave a twang, although I have never experienced that in just priming.

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I am a fan of carbonation drops, especially if I'm only bottling part of a batch. I think they're worth the extra cost. upvote –  revdrjrr Jan 28 '11 at 23:43

I can't think of a reason the drops would be more consistent than sugar, assuming you prime the whole batch and not each bottle. Personally, I've found the drops less reliable. And sugar is much less expensive. I still have drops I've never used because I was so dissatisfied with the results when I tried them.

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Sugar being cheaper is definitely a plus. I spoke of consistency because I've found that sugar doesn't always dissolve evenly across the whole batch so your sugar/volume ratio isn't always the same from bottle to bottle. You can combat that with good stirring but that introduces oxygen concerns. –  Mike Jan 14 '11 at 17:53
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Mike, are you adding the sugar to the beer directly, or are you first dissolving it in a small amount of water? I dissolve (and boil for sanitation purposes) in water first and find that it integrates into the beer with very moderate stirring. –  theraccoonbrew Jan 14 '11 at 19:22
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I've never had a problem with carbing beer with sugar in the bottling bucket. This issue must come from doing it "wrong". Dissolve and obi in water, put it in the bottling bucket prior to racking in the beer and all is well. I've never even stirred it up and the bottles are all the same carb level. –  brewchez Jan 14 '11 at 20:38
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I boil a specifically measured amount of sugar, pour it into my bottling bucket, then rack my beer into that. I give it a very gentle stirring then bottle. I don't really have carbonation issues with my bottles. But in theory, with the drops you are assured you have equal amounts of sugar in each bottle. That's all I'm saying. –  Mike Jan 15 '11 at 15:41
    
Actually, the dissolution of sugar and mixing into the full batch is far more consistent than drops or tabs. The tabs rub against each other in the bag and wear against each other. Some of them can even chip off. Using drops from a dropper is not constant at all either. The dropper technology isn't that precise to get the same amount in each bottle. I have never heard a vet brewer complain about sugar distribution with the boil method. I think for newer brewers its a function of a couple over-carbed bottles that got contaminated. –  brewchez Aug 7 '11 at 19:41

If you're bottling into different-sized bottles, then priming the whole batch with sugar is going to give you more consistentcy from bottle to bottle. If you use 1 drop in your 12-ounce bottles, either choice of using 1 or 2 drops in your 16's will make them differently-carb'd from your 12's. You could come closer with "prime tabs", which had a greater granularity because they were smaller, but those aren't being made any more.

I'd prime with plain old table sugar, and hang onto the carbonation drops. I use mine when I occasionally bottle single bottles (like a preview bottle bottled at racking time -- if I'm sure frementation is done) or small (1 gallon) batches.

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