Unusual primers when bottling beer

When bottling your homebrew, you typically need to "prime" the beer with a bit of sugar to reinvigorate the yeast enough to produce the desired carbonation in the bottle. This primer can be straight sugar (corn sugar is typical, but table sugar would work too), or another source of fermentable sugars, like honey, malt extract, etc.

In the "old days" one method of priming was to add a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle before filling it, which of course would lead to widely varying degrees of carbonation per bottle (and would often cause the infamous exploding bottle problem). Consistency in the amount of primer per bottle is key to avoiding problems like these.

Most modern homebrewing books and techniques call for priming the beer with no more than one cup of sugar (typically one-half or three-fourths of a cup). Usually you boil this with a cup or so of water to dissolve and sterilize, and then add it to the beer before you bottle it, to ensure a uniform distribution of sugar in the brew.

I’m running through the Brief History of Priming here because I remembered a story about an unusual primer a friend told me about: Gummi bears. Yep. My friend Justin knew a guy who tried priming his beer by putting a gummi bear in each bottle before filling it, the idea being the gummi bear would dissolve and the sugar would prime the yeast… needless to say, the result was about as nasty as you’d imagine.

In theory, you could use any fermentable sugar source to prime the beer. Aside from the usual suspects I mentioned above, what other kinds of crazy or unusual things could you prime the beer with? Pieces of candy is the obvious choice; you’d want to stay away from chocolate, though, since the oils would affect head retention and possibly other things. Mints? Jolly Ranchers? Rock candy?

That’s what you gotta love about homebrewing: You can experiment with every single step of the process.

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