Is Beer Carbonated? Yes, Beer is indeed carbonated; in fact, carbonation is actually one of the defining characteristics of beer. Carbonation itself is a process where carbon dioxide gas is dissolved in a liquid, which results in bubbles and a fizz-like mouthfeel. The carbonation helps to give beer its refreshing and sparkling qualities; it also helps to contribute to the aroma and taste of the beer.
The level of carbonation in beer will vary depending on the type of beer and the processes used to brew it. Some beer styles, like lagers, typically have higher levels of carbonation than other styles of beer. This is because lagers are usually fermented at cooler temperatures, which results in the yeast producing more carbon dioxide. Whereas other beer styles, like stouts and porters, usually have lower levels of carbonation, which allows their rich and roast-like flavors to shine through.
What is Beer Carbonation
Beer carbonation is the process of dissolving carbon dioxide (CO2) gas in the liquid itself in order to create a fizzy and bubbly like mouthfeel or texture in the beer. There are two main methods used for carbonating beer: natural carbonation and forced carbonation.
Natural carbonation happens during the fermentation stage of the brewing process when the yeast consumes the sugar and produces alcohol and also CO2. This carbon dioxide dissolves in the beer, creating carbonation. To keep the CO2 inside the beer keeping it carbonated, pressure is needed. Beer bottles typically use an air-tight seal or a cap to keep the CO2 from escaping and maintaining the pressure.
Additionally, some brewers will use a technique referred to as bottle conditioning, where a small amount of sugar is added to the beer before it is bottled and capped. This results in secondary fermentation occurring within the bottle, resulting in further natural carbonation of the beer.
Forced carbonation, on the other hand, occurs when CO2 is artificially introduced into the beer. This method is typically used for kegged beer or homebrewed beer and is a quicker method to carbonate the beer as a result of pressure being applied.
During forced carbonation, CO2 gas is introduced to the beer through a CO2 bottle attached to a regulator. The regulator is used to control the pressure. Both the pressure and temperature levels are important for achieving your desired level of carbonation. The beer should first be chilled, and then the CO2 gas is forced into the liquid under pressure, resulting in a carbonated beer anywhere between 2 – 10 days, depending on the level of pressure used.
Forced carbonation also allows the brewer to have more precise control over the amount of CO2 gas dissolved in the beer, which influences the beer’s final taste, mouthfeel, and amount of head as well as its retention.
Carbonation in Different Beer Types
Carbonation also plays a significant role in the overall character and taste of different beer styles. In this section, we’ll take a look at the different carbonation levels and how it affects Ales, Lagers, Stouts, and Lambics.
Ales are known for having a wide range of flavors and aromas, and of course, the carbonation levels of each ale play a key role in enhancing these characteristics. The carbonation level in ales will vary depending on the specific style. For example, American Amber Ales have a carbonation range of 2.3-2.8 volumes, whereas American IPAs range between 2.2-2.7 volumes.
Lagers are known for having a crisp and clean taste and mouthfeel, and they rely on carbonation to maintain these refreshing qualities. Carbonation levels in lagers vary, but they do typically fall within a similar range as ales.
Stouts, known for their rich and bold flavors, are also ales but do often have lower carbonation levels than other ales and also lagers. This allows for a smoother, creamier mouthfeel that complements the robust flavors of the roasted malt, coffee, and chocolate.
Lambics are a type of sour beer originating from Belgium and are unique beers in that they are spontaneously fermented. These beers are characterized by their fruity, tart, and sour flavors. The carbonation in lambics contributes to their refreshing mouthfeel, helping to enhance the bright and acidic flavors they are known for. Carbonation is especially important in gueuze lambics, which are made by blending young and old lambics together and often have higher carbonation levels in order to add some depth and additional complexity to their flavor.
The Fermentation Process and Carbonation
Surprising to some, the carbonation level of a beer is closely linked to the fermentation process it undergoes during brewing.
Primary fermentation is where the yeast consumes the fermentable sugars in the wort (unfermented beer), which is a mixture of malted grain and water. Natural carbonation of the beer actually occurs during this stage as the CO2 that is produced is then dissolved into the liquid. However, as the primary fermentation continues, most of the CO2 escapes through an airlock, leaving only a small amount dissolved within the beer.
Secondary fermentation takes place after the primary fermentation has finished; at this stage, the beer is racked (transferred) to a secondary fermenter (container). During this stage, any remaining fermentable sugars will be consumed by the yeast, and the beer will also be further clarified, which results in a better flavor and an increased level of carbonation. Like primary fermentation, during secondary fermentation, a small amount of CO2 will be retained in the beer but not enough to call it a carbonated beer.
Bottle conditioning, although typically considered as a method of carbonating the beer, it also is another stage where additional fermentation takes place. This technique involves adding a small amount of sugar to the beer before bottling, followed by sealing the bottle. The yeast that is still in suspension within the beer comes back to life and consumes the added sugar, again producing CO2 as a by-product. However, in this case, where the bottle is sealed, the CO2 has nowhere to escape and dissolves into the beer, creating natural carbonation. Bottle-conditioned beers often possess a finer head and a smoother, more rounded taste as a result of the smaller CO2 bubbles produced during this process.
Methods of Carbonating Beer
Carbonation can be achieved through various methods. In this section, we will discuss the three main approaches to carbonating beer: the natural method, the traditional method, and the forced carbonation method.
The natural method of carbonation relies on a process that takes place during fermentation. As the yeast consumes the sugars in the wort, it produces alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). Over time, the CO2 is absorbed into the beer, giving it the desired fizziness. This method takes more time, as the beer must be left to ferment for an extended period of time until the desired level of carbonation is reached. No additional CO2 is added to the beer during the natural process, as the yeast produces it naturally.
The traditional method of carbonation is also known as bottle conditioning, which we have already discussed. With this method, the level of carbonation can be controlled by adjusting the amount of priming sugar you add.
Forced Carbonation Method
Forced carbonation is a highly used, quicker method of carbonating beer. With forced carbonation, the CO2 is actually directly injected into the beer, creating an instant carbonation. Forced carbonation is typically used for kegging beer, as the required equipment can easily be installed on the kegs. The level of carbonation is controlled by adjusting the pressure and temperature settings.
Factors Influencing Carbonation Levels
Carbonation levels in beer are influenced by three main factors: temperature, pressure, and the equipment uses. In this section, we will explore the impact of each factor…
The solubility of carbon dioxide gas in beer is directly affected by the temperature at which the beer is stored. Higher temperatures result in lower carbon dioxide solubility, leading to less carbonation. Conversely, lower temperatures increase the solubility of carbon dioxide, creating a more carbonated beer.
For optimal carbonation, it is also important to maintain the proper temperature during the fermentation process. Ideally, beer should be stored in a temperature range ideal for the strain of yeast being used; the packet of yeast will indicate its ideal fermentation temperature..
The amount of carbon dioxide that can be dissolved into the beer is directly proportional to the pressure that is applied. By adjusting the pressure using the regulator connected to the CO2 tank, brewers can directly control the amount of carbonation in their beer.
A common unit of measurement for pressure in beer carbonation is psi (pounds per square inch). For homebrewers, a pressure of around 12.5 psi is typically set on the regulator to achieve optimal carbonation levels, although this may vary depending on individual preferences and beer styles.
Forced carbonation is a popular technique used by brewers to infuse CO2 directly into the beer. Doing so requires a CO2 cylinder and a regulator that can be adjusted to control pressure levels.
Other essential pieces of equipment that play a role in force carbonating beer include kegs, fermenters, hoses, and related fittings. As always, it is important to make sure that all of your equipment is properly cleaned and sanitized in order to avoid any contamination that might affect the quality and carbonation of the final product.
Comparing Carbonated Beers and Non-Carbonated Beers
Carbonated beers are popular in the world of brewing, but non-carbonated beers, also known as still beers, are becoming more and more popular all of the time. There are several differences between the two categories of beer…
The most obvious difference between carbonated and non-carbonated beers is the presence of carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbonated beers contain higher levels of CO2, which creates the fizziness. Whereas non-carbonated beers have much lower CO2 levels, resulting in a smoother and often creamier texture.
Another difference between these two categories of beers is that in carbonated beers, carbonic acid is formed, which provides for a tangy and sharp taste. This additional acidity can influence the taste of the beer, making it more refreshing and crisp. In contrast, still beers do not have this additional acidity, which allows the malt and hop flavors to shine through more, giving them a rounder and more robust taste.
Carbonation bubbles also play a significant role in beer’s feel and appearance. In carbonated beers, smaller bubbles primarily produce a thicker head, or foam, that rests on top of the beer. This foam also creates what is known as “lacing,” which is the residue left behind on the glass as the beer is consumed. Non-carbonated beers typically have a thinner head or none at all, lacking this visually appealing aspect.
To summarize, here is a brief comparison of carbonated and non-carbonated beers:
|Aspect||Carbonated Beers||Non-Carbonated Beers|
|Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Content||Higher levels||Lower levels|
|Mouthfeel||Fizzy and crisp||Smooth and creamy|
|Carbonic Acid||Present, adds tangy taste||Absent, allows malt and hop flavors to dominate|
|Head and Lacing||Thicker head, noticeable lacing||Thinner head or none, little to no lacing|
To sum it up, beer is indeed carbonated, which contributes to its bubbly and refreshing taste. As we have seen, carbonation happens when the yeast eats the sugar during the brewing process, creating carbon dioxide gas. The carbonation in beer makes it smell and taste better, as well as giving it that satisfying, crisp finish that we all enjoy!
P.S. If you make your own beer, be sure to pick up our gift to you of Big Robb’s top 5 favorite beer recipes from his brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your smartphone. Cheers!