How to use carbonation drops for brewing beer and cider

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Using carbonation drops for secondary fermentation in beer brewing

A common way to bottle beer or cider is to add sugar to each bottle individually using a spoon or by batch priming.

That can be messy or take a bit of time.

For faster bottling times, many brewers use carbonation drops to make bottling quick and error-free.

Once the beers have been sealed with a drop safely inside, the process of secondary fermentation begins as the yeast eats the sugar in the carbonation drops.

Too easy!

You may have heard of Coopers Carbonation Drops?

using carbonation drops for beer

They are pretty well known and are they are a reliable brand. Mangrove Jacks drops are also pretty popular.

What are the ingredients of carbonation drops?


That's it, sucrose is the only ingredient.

So there is no difference between a carbonation drop and sugar.

The reason for using them is simply for ease of use.

You can try other alternative methods of adding sugar to the beer - such as 'priming' the whole batch of beer or by adding sugar to each bottle using a funnel or spoon.

That can be a bit messy though!

So, you should use carbonation drops if you want an easy bottling process and wish to save some time and keep things nice and clean.

Using drops also allows you to ensure that each bottle is given the same sugar dosage - this will allow for a consistent brew and also will help prevent 'gushers' from occurring (more on avoiding beer gushers later on).

Because the drops are just simple sugar and used at low volumes, they leave no 'off-tastes' in your beer. 

So how do you use carbonation drops? 

It's actually probably the easiest part of making beer!

Once you have added the beer to your sanitized bottles, all you need to do is literally drop a carbonation drop into the bottle.

Instantly, you are done. Easiest instructions you will follow all week!

You then cap the bottle so that carbonation can commence and the CO2 becomes trapped in the bottle.

You might now be thinking:

How many carbonation drops do I add to each bottle? 

It depends on how big the bottles are. 

It's not an exact piece of maths but here are the standard practices:
  • 1 drop for a beer bottle that is around 350 to 375 mls or 12 OZ. Even 500 mls will cover you
  • 2 drops for a 750 mls bottle (your standard crate size bottle) or 25 OZ but you are probably pushing the limits.
  • If you're doing anything bigger like a litre, you may wish to consider 2 and a half drops or possibly 3 but you're risking over sugaring your beer and this may cause beer gushers.
  • Another rough rule of thumb is one drop for one pint which is possibly on the light side if an Imperial pint equals 540 mls but prob OK for an American pint of 473 mls.
Once you have added the drops, give them a chance to dissolve. When they've had long enough after capping, give the bottle a firm shake to ensure each drop has dissolved completely.

Actually, you really shouldn't have any problems with drops dissolving so you can feel free to skip this step.

If you have added sugar using a spoon or funnel, you should definitely shake the bottle so any sugar stuck inside the bottleneck gets into the beer.

Do I need to sterilize carbonation drops?

No, you do not need to take such a step.

If you take the drops straight from a freshly opened packet and use clean hands, you should be absolutely fine.

No one ever sterilizes their sugar when brewing so we don't see any reason to do this. 

Not sure how you would either, maybe dissolve them in boiling water? ... and if so you may as well just use ordinary sugar.

The reality is I have a bag of sugar that I keep in my brewing shed. It's in a plastic container but it's manky - I've never had any issues with using sugar that's not sterilsied. You just don't need to do it. 

Do different beer styles affect my use of drops?

Ales generally need less sugar than lagers however we really don't think you should worry too much about it when you are at a beginner stage of home brewing.

When you are more experienced and understand what sugar content suits your beer, you'll probably want to think about batch priming more so you can be more targeted with your sugar content.

Though to stay on target, do not over carbonate - using one drop per bottle is a good way to avoid this issue. Why waste your brewing efforts by spilling beer?

How long do carbonation drops take to work / carbonate?

The same amount of time as simply adding sugar does!

Basically, carbonation will take place fairly quickly, a matter of days.

A good length of time is then needed to let your beer condition properly and we recommend an absolute minimum of 2 weeks for that (we won't begrudge you a taste tester one though eh?).

At three weeks your beer should be beginning to become quite drinkable, but as usual, we suggest you wait till that fifth week if you can be so patient.

A wee bit of advice, when you do you first taste, lower your expectations and secondly, make sure you have chilled your bottle in a fridge over night. The lower temperature can reduce excessive fizz when you open the bottle. 

Don't believe me? Open a warm brew that's had a little too much sugar added...

how to use carbonation drops for homebrew beer carbonation

Can I use carbonation tablets instead of drops? 

You can also use 'carbonation tablets' or (conditioning tablets) for bottling which is a different way to carbonation glory.

The tablets usually contain tablets contain dextrose, dry malt extract and heading powder which is clearly different from using sugar for fermentation.

Carbonation tablets work in the same way as sugar in that the more you use, the more carbonation occurs.

In that sense, they are an equivalent alternative product but given the ingredients, they will add more flavour and body to your beer.

This is important to keep in mind as some beers are better with more bubbles (lager) and others are more enjoyable to drink when they have less (heavy ales, bocks etc). The usage is 3, 4 or 5 tablets per 12 ounce bottle (350 mls) for low, medium or high carbonation.

Popular brands are Muntons' 'Carbtabs' and Brewer's Best Conditioning Tablets.

Remember that after carbonating your beer, it's essential that you store the bottles properly so that optimal conditioning can occur.

carbonation drops beer brewing

Is priming sugar the same as brewing sugar?

Yes, they are! Priming sugar and corn sugar are both simply dextrose.

Tips and tricks for when using carbonation drops:

  • You can use drops to carbonate apple cider. The measurements are the same. Just as with beer, be wary of over carbonating the cider. 
  • Once you have added the drops and bottled the beer, it will take about 7 days to condition. This is the bare minimum before which you can drink your beer. The patient beer brewer should wait about 3 weeks before sampling their brew. Leaving your beer in a dark, cool place will help too.
  • Beware of over priming your beer. If you add too much sugar, too much CO2 will be produced by the yeast and it will have nowhere to escape. It will escape in the form of a 'gusher' when you open your beer and it will gush out the next of the bottle like a geyser and go bloody everywhere - and ruin that beer experience you were about to enjoy!
  • Different temperatures will affect the carbonation process as well (the yeast generally enjoys a warmer temperature) - so if you are questioning whether the drops didn't produce enough CO2, bear in mind there are other factors at play.
  • If you do choose to not use drops and just wish to add granulated sugar to the bottle, we recommend the use of an ordinary kitchen funnel as it speeds things up and helps reduce the mess of sugar going everywhere. Get your measurements correct! You can always try to batch prime - we find this method quite effective.
  • We once tried using jelly beans as a substitute for carbonation drops. The results were quite interesting! Basically, you can use any form of sugar lollies for carbonating beer - as long as it fits down the neck of the beer bottle you'll be right! Flavours may vary though...
  • We've used Mangrove Jack's drops many times and had no problems so are very happy to recommend their use.
  • 60 carbonation drops, will be enough drops for one 23 litre brew (i.e. up to that 'line' on a plastic drum.
  • You can use carbonation drops with your ginger beer as well! And though we've never tried it, maybe your hard seltzer. 
  • If you are buying drops online, say Coopers Drops from Amazon, we suggest you order at least a couple of packets - that way the cost of delivery becomes more effective by price per unit.
  • You can use Soda Stream machine device to carbonate your beer. Just be careful how you go about it. 

What is the science behind carbonation drops for secondary fermentation?

The science behind carbonation drops is based on the concept of priming sugar. During secondary fermentation, yeast consumes the sugar added to the beer, producing carbon dioxide (CO2) as a byproduct. This carbon dioxide is then dissolved in the beer, creating carbonation.

The science behind carbonation drops is relatively simple. Each pellet contains a precise amount of sugar that is carefully calibrated to produce a specific level of carbonation. As the yeast consumes the sugar, it produces a known amount of carbon dioxide, which is then dissolved in the beer. 

The result is a beer that is carbonated to a specific level, which can be adjusted by varying the amount of sugar added.


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