Today, most beers are carbonated at least to some extent. While this was not always the case, most of us have come to prefer the carbonated varieties to “still” brews. There are two types of carbonation that you need to know about for home brewing: forced and natural carbonation. Which is better? Which option offers the best results for the home brewer? Let’s take a closer look at each option.
For those who want the best looking beer, forced carbonation is the best option. This method uses a carbonation stone (or other mechanical system) to force CO2 into your brew. It can be done in almost any size container, but is most common with kegs. Most breweries use this method, as it is faster and helps you to achieved “finished product” more quickly. Because there is no yeast left in the beer, the bottom of the bottle is clean, and the beer is not cloudy (obviously, this is not the case with all styles of beer).
Natural carbonation is a longer process though it requires no extra equipment. However, it doesn’t leave you with that “clean” look to your beer. In the natural method, yeast remains in the brew and continues to ferment after you have bottled or kegged the brew. Added sugar provides the impetus for yeast to continue living after bottling, putting off CO2 in the beer.
As noted, there are several differences between these carbonation methods. Forced carbonation is cleaner and faster, while natural carbonation is more affordable to the average home brewer. There are other differences, too. For instance, naturally carbonated beer usually has a more complex flavor thanks to the remaining yeast in the brew. This can be a good thing if you are using a yeast noted for its flavor characteristics.
Natural carbonation also helps create a thicker head on the finished beer than what can be attained with a forced system. It also helps create a smoother mouth feel.
Which Is Better?
In the end, the question of which method is better for your brewing comes down to your personal preferences. Many home brewers try to avoid the sometimes “bready” flavor that comes from leaving yeast in bottles to carbonate the beer. However, some prefer this, as well as the enhanced flavor characteristics offered. Still others go the natural route only because they cannot afford the forced carbonation equipment.