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Completed my first fermentation of home-brew bitter which finished at 2.5% alcohol after 2 weeks. Transferred the beer to a pressure barrel and added a level teaspoon of sugar per pint to start secondary fermentation along with extra pressure using a screw on CO2 "bomb" for a couple of seconds. After about a week ( probably longer that normal due to the fact that the barrel was in the loft where it was quite cold ), the beer started to secondary ferment and reached a high of approx 6% alcohol. Tried the beer which tasted great, but had no "fizz", i.e. it was virtually flat.

Could anyone tell me what I have done wrong, or if I need to bottle it and add a little bit of sugar per bottle to re-invigorate the beer?

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How are you determining the alcohol percentage? It's unusual to transfer the beer to a keg before it's completely finished it's fermentation. So either you're wrong about the alcohol percentages, or you're moving your beer before it's ready. Also, 1 tsp of sugar per pint will provide maybe 0.5% more alcohol -- nowhere near the 3.5% you've described. Also, how do you know that there was fermentation after you added the sugar? Is there an airlock on the pressure barrel? –  Tobias Patton Dec 1 '12 at 21:40
    
Actually if the poster is from the UK and is referring to cask conditioning a bitter, then moving the beer a few point before finishing is exactly how its done. Using the residual carbonation and suspended yeast with a secondary charge of sugar is how you'd obtain carbed beer in a "real ale" cask setting. –  brewchez Dec 2 '12 at 2:31
    
@brewchez yes, but to go from 2.5% ABV to 6% is more than a few points of gravity. –  Tobias Patton Dec 2 '12 at 16:57
    
See my answer below, but as a side note this is not generally considered "secondary fermentation". It is technically a second fermentation stage, but it's usually called priming, cask/bottle conditioning or just cask/bottle /natural carbonation. Secondary fermentation is an optional step where you transfer the beer to a second fermentation vessel to remove some of the yeast and trub and enhance the clarity of the beer. –  paul Dec 4 '12 at 20:26
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3 Answers

Sounds to me that you may have not had a properly sealed pressure barrel. So I think your CO2 was escaping during the secondary ferment. You could add more sugar after you ensure that you've identified where your gas leak is from.

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Next time try bottling instead of using the pressure barrel. That's probably the main culprit (CO2 leak). I'm assuming you're in the UK as almost no one uses those in the states. Homebrewers in the US almost all use capped or corked bottles or cornelius kegs, which will also work fine with a good seal (for which you probably need a CO2 tank). I can understand wanting to use the pressure barrel to get the cask experience though. I don't own one, but with kegging, you can lose CO2 if the seal is leaky. They make petroleum-based, food safe keg lube that you put on the rubber O-rings for corny kegs - you might also try that on your pressure barrel. But bottling is probably your best bet. You could also go to the store that sold you the barrel and ask them for tips on sealing it.

Assuming your pressure barrel is plastic - did it ever swell and get taut? You should have enough beer in there so that there is not a ton of headspace. Then the CO2 will fill up the head space and be forced to dissolve into the beer. Once it the barrel swells, you could spray the seals with soapy water or star san and look for bubbles to detect leaks. If it never swells and gets taut, you probably have a leak.

The temperature could have also affected things - if the temp is too low, the yeast could go dormant. Ale yeasts are generally ok in the 60s, but below that you might have trouble.

Lastly, a level teaspoon of sugar per pint is not the best way to carbonate. You should use a carbonation or priming calculator - there are many online and they are in any good brewing software package. You calculate based on the volumes of CO2 desired for your style (e.g. 1.5-1.7 volumes for bitter). But you generally want to dissolve your calculated amount of priming sugar in boiling water and cool it before adding it to the beer. Boiling will sanitize, remove some oxygen from it, and having it in liquid syrup form will ensure that it dissolves much more evenly than adding solid sugar, as table sugar dissolves better in hot water. Once in liquid form you can mix or shake it in to ensure even distribution, but avoid agitation and exposing it to air as much as possible. Refer to Palmer's How to Brew (or better yet buy the book).

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I found my plastic keg had a uneven seam in the top where the seal shud sit against.I sanded and filed it flat then lubricated the seal with vaseline that solved the problem and tested with soapy water for escapeage

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