Carbonation is the final ingredient we as brewers add to our beer to provide you(!) the consumer, with pure, cold, bubbly bliss. Carbonation is the most under appreciated ingredient in the brewing process. Too much can be a downright pain in the ass- this is when you can cue up the “This keg is way too foamy” sound bite and too little is borderline un-appealing. But per-style of beer, brewers choose to add just the right amount of carbonation to balance the whole beer.
At Roadhouse, we choose to package and serve Tower of the Castle (Our Sweet Potato Porter) with a little less carbonation than our Wilson IPA. We feel the lower carbonation level on Tower of the Castle allows the malt complexities to balance and compliment the hundreds of pounds of mashed sweet potato we use to make this beer and the low levels of carbonation make it easier to sip on a cool fall day. Wilson IPA is charged with carbonation because the tiny little miracle bubbles actually enhance your hoppy beer drinking experience! Carbonation helps to bring out the beautiful tropical and citrusy flavors and aromas our Northwest Hops provide to Wilson. Think of the little carbonation bubbles as little sensory curriers, trying to deliver the freshest hop flavors and aromas they can! You know the foamy head you get with your beer? A foamy head about 1-2 fingers deep is actually a very good thing in your beer- it is a sign of a well-cleaned glass, and also the sign of a well brewed beer. The foamy head traps all of the hop oils and allows you to smell them each time you put your glass to your lips for a taste.
In craft breweries today, there are almost always a few tanks dedicated to holding beer destined for packaging. These tanks are called Brite Beer Tanks and are where brewers can add carbonation to the beer by diffusing it through a very porous stainless steel or ceramic stone. We can then test the beer through a variety of ways to measure the exact amount of carbonation in the beer. While this way is certainly the quickest, and easiest way to carbonate beer, we have chosen to carbonate our Belgian Golden Strong Ale Avarice & Greed the traditional way- through bottle (or keg) conditioning.
Before packaging A&G, we add a small amount of sugar and Champagne yeast to the Brite Tank so that each bottle receives the same amount of sugar and yeast to create, in this case, a third fermentation. This third and final fermentation creates the carbonation and produces an extremely “fine” mouth feel and highly effervescent beer. Tiny bubbles, and a thick frothy head are extremely common with bottle conditioning, and it is just the way we like it. Also common with bottle conditioning, is a thin layer of yeast on the bottom of the bottle.
Bottle conditioning isn’t common in commercial breweries, it takes a lot of time and effort, but it is all worth it in the end!