How to Bottle Cider

Bottling cider is one of the final stages of cider production and is critical to making sure you can get the perfect carbonation and flavour. It can truly make or break your creation. During the bottling stage, the fizziness and how sweet or dry you want your cider to be are determined. From selecting the right equipment to perfecting storage methods, understanding each step ensures your cider reaches its full potential, providing a satisfying and delicious end product.

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martin harris

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Choosing the Right Bottles

Selecting the right bottles is essential for ensuring your cider carbonates correctly and remains fresh. High-quality bottles, such as swing-top or standard beer bottles, are necessary as they can withstand the pressure of carbonation. Swing-top bottles are a popular choice due to their built-in seal, making them easy to open and close.

At Butford Organics we use standard 330ml bottles and 750ml champagne bottles as these are the most economical for the quantities we produce. You can see this process for yourself during one of our cider tours.

Essential Bottling Equipment

Before starting, ensure you have the following equipment:

  • Bottling bucket
  • Siphon and bottling wand
  • Hydrometer
  • Priming sugar or carbonation drops
  • Sanitising solution

Using high-quality and properly sanitised equipment will help prevent contamination and ensure a successful bottling process.

Preparing for Bottling

Sanitising Your Equipment

Sanitisation is a crucial step in the bottling process. Clean and sanitise all equipment, including bottles, siphons, and caps. Use a no-rinse sanitiser, following the manufacturer’s instructions, to ensure all bacteria and wild yeasts are eliminated.

Checking Fermentation Status

Before bottling, ensure fermentation is complete to avoid over-carbonation, which can cause bottles to explode. Use a hydrometer to check the specific gravity (SG). The SG should be stable for a few days and below 1.010 to indicate fermentation is complete.

For clearer cider, you may want to use fining agents or cold crash your cider. This step is optional but can improve the appearance of your final product.

Adjusting Sweetness and Fizziness

The sweetness and fizziness of your cider can be adjusted at this stage. If you prefer a sweeter cider, add a non-fermentable sweetener like xylitol or stevia. Adding regular sugar can restart fermentation, so it’s essential to use a sweetener that won’t ferment. To achieve different levels of fizziness, adjust the amount of priming sugar. For fizzy sweet cider, use both priming sugar and a non-fermentable sweetener. For fizzy dry cider, add priming sugar without additional sweeteners. To make a still dry cider, avoid adding priming sugar altogether and stabilise the cider with potassium sorbate or Campden tablets to prevent further fermentation.

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Calculating Priming Sugar

Understanding Priming Sugar

Priming sugar is added to the cider before bottling to provide the yeast with a food source, creating carbon dioxide (CO2) for carbonation. The type and amount of priming sugar used will affect the level of carbonation (fizziness) in the final product.

Calculating the Right Amount

To calculate the amount of priming sugar:

  • Measure 0.5-1 ounce of priming sugar per gallon of cider.
  • Dissolve the sugar in a small amount of boiling water to ensure even distribution.

Using a priming sugar calculator can help you determine the exact amount needed for your specific batch.

Priming Sugar Alternatives

While traditional priming sugar is commonly used, alternatives such as honey, maple syrup, or commercial carbonation drops can also be used. Each alternative will impart a slightly different flavour to your cider, so feel free to experiment to find your preferred taste.

Bottling Process

Filling the Bottles

  1. Place your bottling bucket on a tabletop and position your cleaned and sanitised bottles below.
  2. Attach the bottling wand to the siphon and fill each bottle, leaving about 1 inch of headspace.
  3. Ensure the cider is transferred gently to avoid introducing oxygen, which can spoil the cider.

Capping the Bottles

Once the bottles are filled, it’s time to cap them:

  • Use a bottle capper for standard beer bottles or simply close the swing-top bottles.
  • Ensure the caps are tightly sealed to maintain carbonation.

Carbonation and Storage

Monitoring Carbonation

After capping, store the bottles at room temperature for 1-3 weeks to allow carbonation to develop. You can monitor the progress by using a plastic soda bottle as an indicator. When the plastic bottle becomes firm, your cider is likely carbonated.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Under-carbonation: If your cider is flat, it may be due to insufficient priming sugar or inactive yeast. Consider adding more sugar and allowing more time for carbonation.

Over-carbonation: If your cider is too fizzy or bottles are exploding, you may have added too much priming sugar. Always measure carefully and ensure fermentation is complete before bottling.

Storing Bottled Cider

For long-term storage, keep your bottled cider in a cool, dark place. This will prevent over-fermentation and maintain the cider’s quality. For immediate enjoyment, refrigerate the bottles once carbonation is achieved.

Enjoying Your Cider

Serving Tips

For the best experience, serve your homemade cider chilled. Pour it gently to avoid disturbing any sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Enjoy your cider on its own or pair it with foods like cheese, pork, or spicy dishes to complement its flavour.

Food Pairings

Cider pairs wonderfully with various foods. Here are some suggestions:

  • Cheese: Soft cheeses like Brie or sharp Cheddar.
  • Meat: Pork dishes, especially those with apple-based sauces.
  • Spicy Foods: Cider’s sweetness can balance out spicy dishes.