Most homebrewers bottle their early batches of beer and may wonder what carbonation drops are, how they compare to sugar, and how to use them. Since I had those same questions early on I decided to examine this question today!
Carbonation drops are a pre-measured amount of glucose and sucrose shaped like a lozenge or small candy that do not expire when stored properly. They can be used instead of priming sugar when bottling homebrew beer to carbonate the beer and eliminate the risk of having uneven amounts of sugar inside each bottle.
Despite the fact that carbonation drops are super convenient, not every homebrewer uses them when bottling. Let’s dive into more detail about what exactly carbonation drops are and how to use them!
What are carbonation drops?
Carbonation drops have been around for a long time and they are a staple in many homebrewer toolkits because they are so convenient and easy to store.
Carbonation drops are just sugar formed into the shape of a small candy or marble that are pre-measured with the correct amount to use in one bottle of homebrew during the bottling phase. More than one carbonation drop can be used at a time for larger containers such as growlers. They can also be used for other fermented beverages such as kombucha.
Without these drops, homebrewers would normally measure out enough sugar to carbonate an entire batch, mix it into boiling water, and then mix it into the entire batch of beer.
The biggest danger to using this method is that the amount of sugar inside the beer can be uneven, creating the possibility that some bottles will be under carbonated and others could crack from having too much pressure.
Ingredients in carbonation drops
There are many brands of carbonation drops on the market and they will all have slightly different ingredient lists.
With that being said, all carbonation drops will include some form of sugar as the primary or only ingredient and it will typically be some combination of both sucrose (table sugar) and dextrose (corn sugar). Some brands might include only one or the other.
Be sure to check the packaging or product listing to see the exact ingredients in any drops that you are thinking of purchasing. There is not much difference between the types of sugar used for bottle carbonation but some brewers might have a preference. Dextrose is generally considered to be a bit better than table sugar (sucrose).
Here is a great example of a high-quality carbonation drop from Cooper’s that uses a saccharose and glucose blend.
How do carbonation drops work?
Bottling homebrew beer harnesses the same power the yeast used during fermentation to create a natural carbonation effect.
Essentially, a carbonation drop will add a little more sugar into each bottle of beer which will allow residual yeast to become active again, eat the sugar, and produce enough carbon dioxide to carbonate the beer. Because the bottle is capped, the carbonation will diffuse into the beer itself instead of escaping as it would during the primary fermentation.
This ‘mini fermentation’ is why bottles of homebrew usually have a little bit of sediment at the bottom. The sediment consists of dormant yeast that fell back out of the beer once the carbonation was complete.
Do carbonation drops expire?
As brewers, we want to make sure that we aren’t wasting brewing materials whether it be hops, grains, or priming sugar.
Since carbonation drops are really just sugar, they will have no expiration date as long as they are stored properly. Proper storage means keeping them in a cool, dry place where they are not at risk of being invaded by pests such as ants or mice.
The convenient packaging of most carbonation drops allows for easy storage and they can be kept for many years without issue.
Do carbonation drops increase alcohol?
We all know that one of the byproducts of the fermentation process is alcohol, more specifically, ethanol.
With that said, carbonation drops will increase the ABV of your bottled homebrew by about .2% under normal circumstances.
Traditional priming sugar does not normally increase the ABV of beer because the added water will offset the alcohol produced during carbonation. Although it isn’t a large increase, it should be noted because it might be more noticeable in some styles than others so you will want to plan ahead when creating the recipe for your homebrew.
Carbonation drops vs sugar
Carbonation drops are made of sugar, so technically, they are really the same thing.
The biggest difference between carbonation drops and sugar is the convenience fact of the drops and the fact that they will slightly increase the alcohol content of your bottled homebrew. Using dissolved sugar to bottle your beer can also lead to inconsistencies in the amount of sugar included in each bottle which could cause both under-carbonated beers and even bursting bottles.
Carbonation drops vs conditioning tablets
If carbonation drops are meant to make bottling beer easier and more convenient than traditional priming sugar then conditioning tablets aim to take things one step further by adding heading powder into the ingredients list.
Heading powder is used to help with head retention and clarity in bottled homebrew and it’s a nice addition to help take your bottled beer to present better when poured into a glass.
Conditioning tablets might be slightly more expensive than carbonation drops but they are comparable overall in price and carbonation effectiveness.
How to use carbonation drops
It is incredibly easy to use carbonation drops because they are designed to be, well, incredibly easy to use!
Most carbonation drop instructions will tell you to add one drop per 12 oz. beer, 2 drops per 22 oz. beer, and between 1-6 drops for growlers and other sizes. To use the drops, simply drop one into the bottom of a sanitized bottle just before adding the beer. Once full, just cap the beer bottle and allow 5-7 days for the beer to become carbonated enough to drink.
Of course, just because your beer is carbonated doesn’t mean that you want to drink it right away. You can let your beer continue to condition inside the bottle for as long as you’d like without the risk of losing carbonation in most cases.
How long do carbonation drops take to work?
These drops work the same way as priming sugar when you bottle your homebrew.
Typically, it will take about a week for your beer to be carbonated when using carbonation drops as your sugar source. You should be able to look inside the bottle and see that the drop has dissolved and that the yeast has finished processing the sugar and fallen to the bottom, creating a layer of sediment.
Number of carbonation drops and amount of sugar needed by bottle size
|Bottle or container size||Amount of Table Sugar||Number of Carbonation Drops|
|12 ounce||3/4 tsp||3/4|
|16 ounce||1 tsp||1|
|20 ounce||1.5 tsp||1.5|
|22 ounce||1.5 tsp||1.5|
|32 ounce (1 quart)||2.5 tsp||2.5|
|1/2 liter (500ml)||1 tsp||1|
|3/4 liter (750ml)||2 tsp||2|
|1 liter||2.5 tsp||2.5|
|2 liters||5 tsp||5|
|3 liters||7.5 tsp||7.5|