Bottle Conditioning

February 2, 2010

Cider, beer, and wine are all naturally still unless carbon dioxide is somehow added to make it sparkling. With a keg system, this is easy, as the drink is held under pressure, forcing it to absorb CO2. However, to make a drink in a bottle be sparkling, large bottling plants force carbonate their drinks, a method not available to the home brewer. Instead, the home brewer needs to employ a technique known as “bottle conditioning.”

Bottle conditioning can be done with near dry (1.005 or less) wines, ciders, or beer or a dry wine, cider or beer with a small amount of sugar, usually referred to as “priming sugar,” added to the batch. The batch is promptly bottled without preservatives. The yeast will begin eating the sugar and releasing CO2, but there is no place for the CO2 to go, so the liquid absorbs the CO2. For beer and cider, they are drinkable in about two weeks, and not waiting to consume the beverage helps reduce exploding bottles from building pressure from the CO2.

One can tell if the drink was force carbonated or bottle conditioned by looking at the bubbles. Bottle conditioned bubbles are smaller, more consistent in size, and last longer.

One draw back to bottle conditioning is that there will be a little bit of lees that form in the bottle. The trick is to not pour the lees when pouring the cider, as the lees will create cloudiness in the drink, and can affect the flavor when drinking the cider. Otherwise, the lees can be removed with a champagne technique called degorging. After being bottled in champagne bottles, which can handle higher pressures, and then allowed to age for a year, the bottles are slowly turned upside down, allowing the lees to collect in the neck of the bottle. The necks are submerged into a very cold solution that causes the necks and their contents to freeze, allowing the bottle to be opened, the lees to be removed in the frozen ice, and the bottles to be recorked before the majority of the gas to escape.

Due to the addition of yeast in the presence of residual sugar in a sweet cider, bottle conditioning is tricky and recommended being avoided on the small scale.  It is possible after adding the solution and waiting a few days to pasteurize the bottles, but as Andrew Lea cautions, “I suggest goggles and strong gloves for this an a rehearse procedure for dealing the broken glass since burst bottles are a very real possibility.” Instead, consider using a keg system or forced carbonation for a sweet carbonated cider.

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7 Responses to “Bottle Conditioning”

  1. […] Is it going to be bottle conditioned if […]

  2. […] color. The bubbles were really tiny and coming from localized places in the bottle, both signs of in bottle natural carbonation. The label reads, “Vintage Blend is refreshingly light in alcohol with a delicate petulance that […]

  3. […] for the home beer maker who bottles, the method used is bottle conditioning. When the beer, wine, cider, etc is dry and has little to no remaining sugar left in it, leaving a […]

  4. […] beer, around 1-3% AVB. These beers, which lead the names Ginger Ale and Root Beer, would have been bottle conditioned to make them carbonated. This is where the term “soft drink” comes from, as it has traces of […]

  5. […] later from beer drinkers. Thing is, I bottled it about nine days before the judging and I did a bottle conditioning, which may not be enough time and could have used at least five days more for the competition. For […]

  6. […] needs to be a sparkling cider for this event, not a still cider. Beer bottles would allow me to bottle condition, but it makes a lot of bottles. Wine bottles are larger and provide more servings, but cannot hold […]

  7. I do not disagree with this post…

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