Bottle Fermentation of Cider and Perry

Bubble Delight

by

Michael Penney

I do not profess to be any sort of expert on this subject but some of my experiences and observations may come in useful to anyone contemplating having a go. There are two basic natural ways to fizz up a bottle of cider or perry – finish the primary fermentation in a sealed bottle (méthode ancienne) or carry out a secondary fermentation on what is essentially a finished primary product (méthode  traditionnelle). I use the latter as to my mind it is more controllable and predictable, but the choice is yours.

First consider the equipment. As a minimum you will need:

  1. Champagne type bottles – strong, heavy, dimpled and able to withstand up to 10 atmospheres of pressure. You can buy in new (at a price) or recycle. If you recycle ensure you obtain bottles with a 29mm neck as some Californian derived sparkling wine bottles have 26mm necks. Wash very thoroughly and sterilise (the first successful bottle of perry I produced had a pickled money spider embalmed in it but it still tasted very good!)
  2. Crown corks (metal capsules) 29mm size plus a crown corking machine. Crown corks of the correct size are expensive in the UK so I get mine from France where they are readily available and cheap, as are the corking machines.
  3. Somewhere cool to store the bottles on their sides for the fermentation process. For secondary fermentation the fizz is produced within about 4 weeks but the cider/perry will continue to mature and improve for many years (if you can wait that long). Champagne for example must by law remain on the lees for a minimum of 18 months, and top Champagne will mature on the lees for 5 or more years.
  4. A way of filling bottles to a set volume. A jug, funnel and light source will do but will drive you barmy after a while. A manual bottling machine is expensive but worth the investment.
  5. For secondary fermentation a way of injecting a yeast culture and sugar. I use a repeating pipette (called a Zipette) together with a magnetic stirrer to keep the yeast in suspension prior to injection. For the sugar I have no sophisticated meter as yet so it’s a measuring spoon and funnel. Get a friend to do this with promises of unlimited sparkling cider so they go barmy instead of you.

So you are ready to begin.

For méthode ancienne you have to gauge the remaining fermentation is sufficient to obtain the desired degree of carbonation without overdoing it otherwise you will end up with exploding bottles or exciting disgorging sessions. I do not use this method so cannot advise. For méthode  traditionnelle I add 9 ml of a yeast suspension culture containing 15g/L of yeast (Uvaferm BC). I usually bottle in batches of 400 so I make up 4L of yeast culture in advance. To each bottle I currently add 11g of sugar but for the adventurous this could be increased up to 18g for that Formula One driver’s spraying capacity. I usually check that fermentation has been successful after 4 weeks by disgorging a test bottle. Which leads onto disgorging.

This is a dark art on a small scale and I am still experimenting. First you need a pupitre. These are available in France as they are going out of use, and can also be picked up fairly easily in the UK. They usually hold 120 bottles for the riddling process (remuage). Depending how clear you require the finished product and how clear it was to start with then riddling takes between 1 and 8 weeks to complete. At completion the sediment is settled within the crown cork. To freeze the neck of the bottle for a distance of about 10cm you need a freezing bath. I use a domestic chest freezer with a bath of ethylene glycol/water mixture at -20°C. Bottles, now in the inverted position, are lowered into the freezing bath and the liquid/ bottle interface ensures the neck freezes well in advance of the bottle contents. The ice plug takes about 20 minutes to form. The bottle is then removed, traces of freezing mixture are removed from the neck and the bottle is reverted to the upright position. If you get it right the ice plug holds the sediment in place and when you remove the crown cork out pops the sediment disk. You can then add any secret or magic ingredient and cork or recap to retain pressure.

May the fizz be with you.                                                        

M D Penney, Troggi Seidr.   

 

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