Bottle-Conditioned Perry and Cider

A Bit of Sparkle 

WPCS Cidermaking Consultant Dave Matthews wants to add some sparkle to your lives

Producing a sparkling, naturally carbonated, cider or perry is relatively straight forward. All you have to do is to rack off your fermenting cider into a bottle before fermentation is complete, and the remaining sugar will ferment in the bottle, giving bubbles of carbon dioxide. But beware! Too much sugar will give too much carbon dioxide pressure, resulting in exploding bottles with all kinds of injury and death!

Using a hydrometer, it can be done safely. Here are the safe upper limits for two kinds of bottles, if all of the sugar ferments out:

SG            /       Sugar/g per litre        /         Pressure atm or psi       /       Safe Bottle

1.005        /                  10                   /            3 or 45                          /       Beer/Crown Cap

1.010        /                   20                    /            6 or 90                            /       Champagne

Bottling

I use champagne bottles, and to be on the safe side I use the heaviest (900g) strongest ones, with the big dimple underneath. They need to be clean, but not sterile, since the fermentation will kill any microbes. I rack in my perry or cider at a specific gravity of 1.010, and then seal the bottles with either a plastic cork and wire (both available from homebrew shops or Vigo) or with the larger 29mm crown caps.

Storage

Bottles should be stored on their side (to ensure an air lock) in a cool dark place, for at least six months. If they are opened earlier, there probably won't be enough carbonation, and there may well be a sulphurous 'green' aroma. During this time, the original wild yeasts will have been multiplying, and will form a sediment at the lower side of the bottle.

Drinking

Several hours before you want to drink it, but your bottle in the fridge, upright in the door to allow the yeast sediment to drop down to the base of the bottle. Serve in champagne glasses, pouring carefully to leave the sediment in the bottle. Enjoy!

Cider Varieties

Not all cider apple varieties are suited to this style of bottling. You need some acidity! A single-varietal bitter-sweet like Perthyre won't work at all, and will taste 'flat' and lifeless. Instead use sharp and bitter-sharp varieties such as 'Frederick' and 'Breakwells Seedling' from Wales, or 'Kingston Black' and 'Stoke Red' from Somerset. Any blended cider must have a fair bit of acidity in it.

Of all of the cider and perries that I've ever made, the one people seem to remember the best was a bottle-conditioned single-varietal Frederick. Frederick is a full sharp, and as a draught cider is too acidic to drink. But the bottle-conditioning seems to bring out the best of it, and perhaps a blend of 80% Frederick with 20% something else would be the ideal thing.

Perry Varieties

Most perry varieties have a fair level of acidity, and so most are good for bottle-conditioning. Perhaps the most famous is 'Taynton Squash', a Gloucestershire variety, that was reputed to be used instead of champagne when the wars with Napoleon prevented access to French wines. Another good variety is 'Moorcroft' from Herefordshire, and the Welsh varieties 'Burgundy' and 'Berllanderi Green' both make stunning drinks.

'Thorn' is a variety that can be sulphurous at the best of times, but bottle-conditioning seems to accentuate this, so it's perhaps one to avoid using!

In Summary

Bottle-conditioning is simple and effective, and is an excellent way of preserving cider or perry. About seven years ago, I tried a perry that had been bottled in the 1930s, and was still drinkable!

For the true Bottle Fermented technique, as used by the Champagne wine people, please see the article by Michael Penney.

 

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