I just opened up a couple bottles of a brown ale I just brewed, and there is much less carbonation then I had hoped. The beer was in the primary for a week, secondary for 3 weeks, then primed and bottled for two weeks before tasting. Is there anything I can do at this point? In the future, what should I be looking out for to prevent this?
I'd give it another week or two before opening any more. Sometimes you need 3 - 6 weeks to get full carbonation.
That said, you may not have used enough priming sugar. Using this priming sugar calculator can help in future batches: http://www.tastybrew.com/calculators/priming.html
(There could be other problems, but this is the most likely one. Other potential causes are too little head space between the beer and cap, using screw top bottles that can allow air to escape, and a few other random issues, but the priming sugar is likely the culprit.)
I'm adding this as another answer because I agree with all of Markskar's answer and the first part of Jordan's (though I admire his dedication re: the 2nd part of his answer).
I'd just wait. Make sure to age them in an area that doesn't get too cold or too hot-- like 60 - 70º. Depending on your ABV and the amount of priming sugar you used, carbonation time varies. I made a barleywine last year and the 10% ABV killed off the majority of the yeast in there. It took 3 months to fully carbonate, but now it's pouring a head you can almost stand a fork up in. So be patient and see what happens. So if you have high ABV, that's a factor for sure. It was also quite cold in my garage for the first month, and I'm suspecting that summer temps encouraged the remaining yeast to come out of hibernation.
I've definitely seen carbonation increase substantially in the third week. Beyond that, it drops off, but doesn't stop. I tend to bottle in various sizes (12oz, 500ml, 22oz, 1L). I've heard others say that the bigger bottles tend to get more carbonated than the smaller ones, due to an approximately equal amount of head space for a larger volume of beer.
After a week, try a couple of bottles of the same size from different sides of the batch. If you get different carbonation levels, it may be that you didn't have your priming sugar adequately mixed through your batch. To mitigate this:
- Don't make your priming sugar solution too thick
- Put it in the bottling bucket first
- Rack your beer on top of the solution to mix well
- Give it a gentle but thorough stir with a sanitized spoon
- Give it another stir halfway through the bottling process
- Try to maintain consistent head space in filling
- I've never tried this, but you might try opening the bottles, throwing in a couple of Munton's Carb Tabs (one to replace the carbonation you just let out, one to add some extra) into each 12 oz bottle. They get mixed reviews, though, so I'd be more likely to try one Cooper's Carbonation Drop per 22 oz bottle. Might get a gusher. Might hit it just right. If I were to do this, I would condition the bottles in a container that's going to be able to mitigate the damage of a bottle bomb.
- Time. Leave them alone and come back to them later. You might see better results as time goes by.
I had this same issue back a few months ago. The problem was that there were not enough yeast still alive to consume my priming sugar. I ended up dumping out every bottle very carefully into a bucket, boiled some water and added 2 cups of priming sugar to it, siphoned all of it back into a carboy, added more yeast, and let it ferment out. Then I rebottled and everything carbonated fine and the beer turned out just fine. This probably is not the proper way to handle the situation, but it worked.
I had the same problem about a week ago. Cracked open my 1st 6 pack of an Irish Red Ale, came to find out it had no carbonation (didn't stop me from enjoying the taste). I experimented with another bottle from the same batch, giving it a good 3-4 hard shakes and placed it in the fridge. Sure enough I popped the top to this bottle a day later and was not disappointed. It hissed and as I poured it into my glass it started to create a beautiful tan head! I'm thinking I agitated the little bit of sediment/yeast/sugar in the bottom of the bottle.