Low carbonation in ciders? - with data to share

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Upstate12866

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Sorry for another post about this, but I wanted to collect and share some of my records to help paint a picture...

Basically my ciders are typically rather low carbonation, especially compared to my beers. They are more like a lightly sparkling wine. This isn't so bad but I'm just so curious.

I have made a lot of ciders, mainly from store bought juices because it is so easy for me to make. I took detailed records for the last 18 cider brews.

I have used two yeasts: most often Safale 04 English Ale yeast (12), and less frequently a generic Cider yeast bought from CrossmyLoof. I think the low carbonation is more extreme with the 04 yeast. This makes sense because English Ale yeasts don't ferment all the sugars, right? But my gravity readings suggest they run it dry.

My OG is usually 1.046-1.050 for a around 6% alcohol or so.

Since this is my standard and easy recipe, I don't take FG every time. But a sample of my last few records, all with 04 Eng Ale yeast, are as follows, typically after 4 or more weeks in primary:

FG after primary

1.001
1.001
1.000
1.004 (included 33% pear juice, fermented in February in fairly cold upstate NY basement)
1.002
0.998
1.001

After taking FG, I prime to 2.5-2.8 vol CO2 with white sugar. I have been upping it towards 2.8 in the last few brews due to the low carbonation. I find 2.8 is too high and scary for me to do with beers. My beers are all 2.5 vol CO2 and come out OK. Not super poppy but I always fear bottle bombs and like to err towards caution.

Also worth noting, I like to use a few plastic bottles to tell me when priming is complete. In beers, these get very tight from CO2. But my ciders remain a bit squishy, even after several weeks. I prime from 10-14 days and since I don't drink fast enough, it's common to have ciders left for a couple months afterward. So I don't think that I'm rushing priming.

And when I pour, again, I have low carbonation so it's like a sparkling wine.

So my question is, how can a yeast eat up sugar and not make CO2? That process seems to defy me. These yeasts are not leaving residual sugars (though I admit I haven't taken readings after carbonation is complete). They seem to dry out the juice completely, but without making much CO2.

I have been thinking about the factors that could be at play:

less CO2 in suspension to begin with before priming--but why? This would be interesting to me.

False FG readings--but why so consistently off and no false readings for beers, which are never anywhere near so low?

Maybe my bottles are faulty--but the sheer number of bottles and bottle types involved (a mix of plastic, flip top, capped, all different brands) makes this very unlikely.

Does anyone have any idea? I am super curious. The cider is fine to drink I suppose, and I don't see myself priming to 3 vol CO2 to push at the problem. So it's just a peculiar pattern to me. Thanks for any experience you can share. :)
 

Chalkyt

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Those numbers seem to be normal enough. You might see from an earlier post of mine, that for the first time I have come across a similar problem with a batch of granny smith/cox's orange pippin cider, fermented with S04. The pressure test bottle was O.K. when I pasteurised the batch, but on opening some after a few months, all but one bottle was flat. The SG is 1.015, which is where it was when I bottled, the aim being to pasteurise at 1.010 for a medium slightly carbonated cider with some sweetness.

I have decanted some of the bottles into a 2 litre carboy and added 1/2 tsp of SO4 and 1/2 tsp of DAP. It is slowly chugging along after five days but nothing spectacular (about 1 - 2 bloops in the airlock per minute at 14C) I will check the SG after a week. The aim is to bottle and pasteurise again.

So my areas of suspicion are similar to yours...

- Crown caps leaking under pasteurisation pressure.

- Something in the bottles killed the yeast (the test bottle was different and O.K.)

- ran out of nutrient or yeast.

- the temperature was too low (it has been below zero a few times but the cool store doesn't get that low)

None of these really make sense as I have used the same cleaning and sanitising (PBW and Starsan), yeast, crown caps and process lots of times without any problems. Flip tops tend to start leaking at around 80psi but these bottles are crown sealed.

I know this doesn't answer your questions, but it might prompt some suggestions that help us both.
 
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Upstate12866

Upstate12866

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Those numbers seem to be normal enough. You might see from an earlier post of mine, that for the first time I have come across a similar problem with a batch of granny smith/cox's orange pippin cider, fermented with S04. The pressure test bottle was O.K. when I pasteurised the batch, but on opening a bottle after a few months, all but one bottle was flat. The SG is 1.015, which is where it was when I bottled, the aim being to pasteurise at 1.010 for a medium slightly carbonated cider with some sweetness.

I have decanted some of the bottles into a 2 litre carboy and added 1/2 tsp of SO4 and 1/2 tsp of DAP. It is slowly chugging along after five days but nothing spectacular (about 1 - 2 bloops in the airlock per minute at 14C) I will check the SG after a week. The aim is to bottle and pasteurise again.

So my areas of suspicion are similar to yours...

- Crown caps leaking under pasteurisation pressure.

- Something in the bottles killed the yeast (the test bottle was different and O.K.)

- ran out of nutrient or yeast.

- the temperature was too low (it has been below zero a few times but the cool store doesn't get that low)

None of these really make sense as I have used the same cleaning and sanitising (PBW and Starsan), yeast, crown caps and process lots of times without any problems. Flip tops tend to start leaking at around 80psi but these bottles are crown sealed.

I know this doesn't answer your questions, but it might prompt some suggestions that help us both.
Thanks a lot for posting. And I'm very interested to hear about the results you've been getting. Maybe carbonation works differently with cider? It really is curious to me. Next up I need to take FG of primed ciders I suppose. :)
 

Kickass

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I stabilize my ciders with campden and potassium sorbate then back sweeten and keg. I have 4 kegs running off the same pressure regulator, so they all have the same psi being applied to them. My ciders are frequently less carbonated than the beers on either side of them.

My unconfirmed conclusion is that the proteins and other compounds in beer allow for the CO2 to be expressed differently.

Furthermore, I’ve read about people having to really crank up the pressure, like 30-50psi, on sparkling water. This seems to support my thoughts that a lack of compounds required more pressure to perceive carbonation.

Maybe someone smarter than me can explain this more thoroughly or shoot it down.
 

dmtaylor

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I've never had a problem with carbonating my ciders with priming sugar, I've made cider probably 20 times. I prime with the same amounts as for a standard beer, 2 tablespoons white sugar per gallon or 4.1 oz in 5 gallons. You talk about volumes of CO2, but.... I'd like to know exactly what weight or volume of sugar are you using in how many gallons?

Maybe you just don't like a moderate amount of carbonation. If you want more, go ahead and prime extra.

Also maybe your ale yeast is too tired. Try a white wine yeast. I love Cote des Blancs, makes an excellent cider every time, albeit more dry than yours with FG about 0.997-1.000 if you let it go long enough.

And if you are using sulfite or sorbate at all, stop. It could inhibit carbonation. I don't use these, though I think I might start adding just a smidge of sulfite at bottling to limit oxidation because I have had some oxidation issues.
 
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Upstate12866

Upstate12866

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Thanks for the reply! I use a priming calculator that offers just one suggested priming amount for both cider and beer (or whatever liquid). It suggests a weight of various sugars if I give the liquid temp and how carbonated I want it. My standard is 2.5 vol CO2, and I've been upping it to 2.8.

I don't use anything but yeast and juice most of the time. Sometimes I add tea or flowers or lemon.

Interestingly, I also reuse the hell out of my yeast, up to 7 times. So the yeast is capable of going into the fridge for a month, then blasting the next batch down to 1.002.

I'm kicking myself for not having any gravity readings of the cider after it primes. I expect it would be about the same as the readings I listed above though since the same yeast runs through all the sugar in the next batches.
 

Kees

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At the moment I have a batch of cider that I added some fermenting apple juice to when bottling. The apple juice was made a few days earlier with a slow juicer. In order to avoid losing about half the cider as a foam I have to let the CO2 escape slowly which isn't hard with Grolsch bottles. As soon as I can open the bottles all CO2 is gone and cider is flat. Looking into the bottle it looks like the flakes in the lees act as powerful promotors of CO2 bubble formation.
 
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Upstate12866

Upstate12866

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In order to avoid losing about half the cider as a foam I have to let the CO2 escape slowly which isn't hard with Grolsch bottles. As soon as I can open the bottles all CO2 is gone and cider is flat. Looking into the bottle it looks like the flakes in the lees act as powerful promotors of CO2 bubble formation.
Thanks for your reply! I think the inability to hold CO2 is worthwhile info for me. Seems something others report as well in previous threads.

In my experience, I can feel the plastic bottles I use and tell that there is less CO2 than in comparable beers. Just to clarify, my thinking is that somehow the cider is producing less CO2 as it eats sugar. I know this sound like nonsense! :) I can prime to 2.8 vol CO2 without plastic bottles getting stiff.
 

Kees

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Yeast cells ferment flructose less well than glucose. Maybe another bug in you juice with a different metabolism has been eating fructose without producing CO2.
This is just a wild guess, it is just something that came up in my brain. I have learnt that some wild guesses may be very useful. That's why I wrote it down.
 

Kickass

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my thinking is that somehow the cider is producing less CO2 as it eats sugar.
Im not disagreeing with you but this doesn’t take into account that force carbed cider can also be perceived as beingless carbonated. When I keg my ciders, I can reasonably guarantee that the volume of CO2 in solution is exactly the same as my beer, yet the cider is perceived as less carbonated. This is why I think proteins and other compounds are playing a role.
 

Maylar

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Im not disagreeing with you but this doesn’t take into account that force carbed cider can also be perceived as beingless carbonated. When I keg my ciders, I can reasonably guarantee that the volume of CO2 in solution is exactly the same as my beer, yet the cider is perceived as less carbonated. This is why I think proteins and other compounds are playing a role.
That's interesting. I keg my ciders at 12-13 psi at 38-40 °F. That should be 2.4-2.5 vols. I've never made beer, but my ciders always seem nicely carb'ed and they have a visible albeit short lived head when poured. With beer the head is definitely associated with the proteins, and cider has none. I can bottle from the keg without any fancy gear and the foam subsides quickly (bottled at 2-3 psi).

I know that most commercial ciders are carb'ed to about 3 vols, but I never saw the need to go that high.
 
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Upstate12866

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Bottled another batch today to 2.7 vol co2. Also bottled a Saison beer to 2.6 vol. When it is ready, maybe I can take pics of me squeezing the plastic bottles to show the difference. I should have had that ready before I made this post :) I'm not concerned about carbonation after the pour, since I can feel less carbonation in the plastic bottles before I pour.
 

teddyearp

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My bottle carbs are almost always less and slower with S-04. One thing that has made all my bottle carbonation dreams come true is using the gauges that Mylar posted about here and there for my 16.9 oz. empty soda bottle letting it get to about 35psi. I've stopped measuring, but my cider ferments down to at least 1.000. Then I add one can of FAJC and .5 grams of bottling yeast per gallon when bottling. Well, it's easy for me since I only make one gallon batches.
 
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Upstate12866

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I wanted to update now that I have some batches to compare. The cider I bottled 9/18 performed typically, very low carb level. I compared that to a brown ale bottled 10/10, which is quite tight in the plastic bottle, as usual. Both are primed to 2.6 vol CO2 using a calculator.

I included pics where I'm trying to drive my fingers into the bottle to show how much it will flex. It's hard to demonstrate visually but trust me, the difference is big.

Cider, dark red from hibiscus, in a soft plastic bottle:
20211016_122327.jpg


Amber Beer, in a firm plastic bottle:
20211016_122303.jpg


My current best guess is that when I rack into a bottling bucket, the cider can't hold in its carbonation and loses more than beer during that process. There certainly are lots of bubbles after transferring-- perhaps more than a beer would release (or so I wondered on bottling day)?

Losing carbonation during the transfer would give away much of the inherent carbonation from primary fragmentation. So the total carbonation after priming would come out lower for ciders. My two cents, anyway :)
 
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Orerockon

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I too have struggled with proper carbonation in both cider and mead. Right up front, carbonation is much easier and much more consistent for my mead. I think that where the cider is at when you bottle has a lot to do with it. Virtually all my ciders finish at 0.994-0.996, but I purposefully shoot for pucker your mouth dry (which is "English style", despite what 99% of cider drinkers in the USA think), and I always do malolactic conversion. After years of experimentation, a few things come to mind.

1-absolutely perfect seals. You would think this is a no-brainer but if you're using ceramic tops the rubber ring shouldn't be used more than 3 or 4 times. It took me a few years of foaming out the neck and dead bottles (mostly mead) to figure that out. I stopped capping ages ago, it's just too hard to control sealing.

2-let it completely finish. Having still active yeast at bottling is not the way to control carbonation. for me that's a solid month in the carboys after 2 weeks in fermentation buckets (MLB takes just as long as yeast if not longer to convert sugar into alcohol). As close to zero sugar as you can get gives the most consistent results. You want the priming sugar to be all the sugar available to the yeast. Any cloudiness needs to be taken care of first to be safe. Always add pectin before potassium metabisulfite (ditch the Campdens and get the powder from a winemaking supplier). Super Kleer always works for me if a carboy refuses to clear up.

3-find the best priming ratio for your desired carbonation. I keep notes too and 1/2 c. per solid 5 gallons (as in up to the neck) gives a light carbonation. 1 c. and you risk foaming bottles. Lately I've been doing 3/4 cup. This is a pretty good reference although I don't follow it to the letter Homebrew Priming Sugar Calculator

4-and this is important for consistent carbonation and I've never seen it mentioned anywhere. Make a starter for your priming and use the SAME yeast you did for fermentation and keep it mixed up while filling your bottles you will still get inconsistent carbonation. I don't care how hard you stir dry yeast, the last bottles will always have more yeast grains in them than the first. If you just dump a packet of dry yeast into water and shake it up that's what you'll get.

This is the starter I do for both initial fermentation and bottling:
Yeast: 1g per gal up to 1.100 OG (6g), 2g per gal up to 1.130 OG, 3g per gal over 1.130 OG
Go-Ferm: 1.25x grams of yeast used (7.5g)
Water for rehydration: 20x by weight of Go Ferm (150g: 1ml of water = 1g)
Example for water: If you use 12.5g of Go-Ferm, you need 250g (250ml) of water (12.5g x 20 = 250g)
Dilute Go-Ferm into measured amount of hot water as stated above (the hotter the better). When solution reaches 104F, sprinkle your dry yeast over the top and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes.
IMPORTANT: Before adding the rehydrated yeast to your must, ALWAYS temper the yeast until it is within 10F of the must. Otherwise, all of the care you took in properly rehydrating your yeast will be ruined by killing most of your yeast with cold shock. This is easily done by adding a tablespoon or so of your must at a time into the rehydrated yeast until it is within 10F, or the same temperature of your must.
The yeast will be foaming mad by the time you rack it off into the bottling bucket.

PS I was using WLP775 religiously but it was always too slow for me, I'm impatient because I've always been long done the previous batch before I even start in on the next one (I use my own and a friend's apples, only when they're ready, have never used juice in my life). Then I tried M02 and it went lightning fast (SG 1.06 to to just under 1 always less than 2 weeks) and I really can't taste the difference. Oh and you might want to do some reading up on wine making forums, cider is more like wine than beer (raw fruit which is highly variable, not perfectly replicateable recipes), and good home winemakers have nailed all all of this down.
 
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Upstate12866

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Thanks for that info! Great to learn from someone with so much experience. I've got my recipe down to where I think it's perfect--clear, tastes great, happy with my yeast choice, etc-- but the low carbonation is the only thing I'd like to improve. And really it doesn't bother me too much, but if I can't account for why it's happening , then I can't risk adding more sugar and potentially making bombs. So it's just part of the recipe for now, Haha..

I have been using S04 yeast (English ale), 2-3 weeks in primary and it tastes good right away, as soon as the yeast drops clear. Since it doesn't carb much, there's not much to wait around for after bottling.

I'm happy to learn more about cider, especially since cider has yielded better results more easily than my beer making. Though I am very basic in my approach, sticking to juice so far. Basic has been appropriate for me so far. :)
 

Chalkyt

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As outlined earlier in the thread, I raised a similar problem as I had a batch that ended up with no carbonation. I have posted an update in "Why no carbonation" and the only conclusion I could come up with is poor capping on my part. The "recovered" bottles with primimg sugar and careful re-capping, are perfectly O.K.
 

Orerockon

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As outlined earlier in the thread, I raised a similar problem as I had a batch that ended up with no carbonation. I have posted an update in "Why no carbonation" and the only conclusion I could come up with is poor capping on my part. The "recovered" bottles with primimg sugar and careful re-capping, are perfectly O.K.
Same with the ceramic flip tops. Since I use a starter for priming now that was the only problem left to fix. You have to make sure every cap seals tightly, and when I open the rare flat bottle I pull off the cap and toss it in a baggie to troubleshoot at the next bottling.
 

Orerockon

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Thanks for that info! Great to learn from someone with so much experience. I've got my recipe down to where I think it's perfect--clear, tastes great, happy with my yeast choice, etc-- but the low carbonation is the only thing I'd like to improve. And really it doesn't bother me too much, but if I can't account for why it's happening , then I can't risk adding more sugar and potentially making bombs. So it's just part of the recipe for now, Haha..

I have been using S04 yeast (English ale), 2-3 weeks in primary and it tastes good right away, as soon as the yeast drops clear. Since it doesn't carb much, there's not much to wait around for after bottling.

I'm happy to learn more about cider, especially since cider has yielded better results more easily than my beer making. Though I am very basic in my approach, sticking to juice so far. Basic has been appropriate for me so far. :)
You will open up a whole new world of flavor pressing your own apples. Getting a balance that you like is something that may take years, but that's years worth of fun. I tweak mine constantly if I have apples to spare and frequently mix in apples from a friend's cider apple trees that he never gets around to using. My preferred mixes (based on what's available to be for free) is a good mix of cider varieties and a few dessert apples (none of mine are sickly sweet lol). If I had to pick one variety it would be Granny Smith. There's a reason you see commercial ciders bragging that they only use Grannies ;) Luckily my Granny is 40 years old and gives up over 100 pounds in a good year. Now that you're done experimenting with your technique and yeast, find a u pick and pick your own so you know they are fresh. Most fruit seller and grocery store apples have been in cold storage for many months. Even after the new crop is harvested you can never be sure you have fresh fruit. Or do like I did, plant cider apple trees and wait 10 years for your first harvest :)
 
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