How To Carbonate Cider With Sugar

There’s nothing more refreshing than a cold glass of cider on a warm evening. It tastes even better when you have brewed it yourself, using your own finely tuned recipe. 

Although making cider is a fairly straightforward process, there are several decisions to make along the way. The most important decisions relate to the blend of juice used, strain of yeast added, level of sugar, and the vessel used for fermentation. 

However, you will also need to decide if you are going to carbonate your cider. If you do opt for carbonation, you will then need to choose a carbonation method.

Contrary to popular belief, there are multiple ways to carbonate cider. In this guide I’m going to identify three cider carbonation methods, then explain how carbonating cider with sugar works.

Why Carbonate Your Cider At All?

As the CO2 bubbles rise in a glass of cider, aromatic compounds attach to their surface. When the bubbles reach the top of the glass, they can pop and release aromatic compounds into the air, where they are intercepted by your nose. 

Smelling these compounds provides a heightened perception of flavor as you drink. In other words, it can make your cider even more enjoyable.

The Basics Of Cider Carbonation 

A picture of hard cider in a glass sitting on wooden planks with apples sitting around it.

Here is a quick overview on how cider carbonation occurs. Soon after adding yeast to your home brew cider, you will notice that little bubbles begin to form on its surface. These bubbles are produced by yeast eating sugar molecules, then releasing CO2 and alcohol. This process is referred to as natural carbonation.

When there is more sugar available, the yeast can eat more and reproduce at a faster rate. This results in more CO2 and alcohol being produced (more sugar = faster yeast reproduction = more CO2 = more alcohol). 

The temperature of the fermenting juice will also play a role in determining how quickly the yeast grows and how much CO2 is created. 

The process of natural carbonation will only add a relatively small amount of CO2 to your solution. To carbonate your cider so it is ‘fizzy’ you have three options:

Almost Exhausted Carbonation

This carbonation method isn’t particularly accurate, however many people do use it successfully. You monitor the carbonation levels of your cider as the yeast consumes the available sugar. The cider is then bottled before the fermentation process is finished. By timing it right, there will still be enough sugar and yeast captured in the bottle to create carbonation.

Back Carbonation

This is a more controlled option as you can precisely measure the amount of sugar available to the yeast after bottling. This process involves a longer fermentation period, where you wait until the yeast has consumed all of the natural sugars available in the cider juice. This process usually takes about 4 weeks if the temperature is close to 74 degree F. 

Just before bottling, an additional source of sugar is added. In most cases, this will be corn sugar (dextrose), brown sugar, or fruit juice concentrate. This will provide the remaining yeast with food, creating carbonation in the bottle. This is the method most commonly used when carbonating cider with sugar.

Forced Carbonation 

Once the cider is completed, CO2 is injected from a tank. This is how virtually all commercial cider makers produce carbonated cider, as it is a fast, efficient, and reliable method of carbonation. If you would prefer to avoid using a CO2 tank, there are other gadgets available for forced carbonation, including the FiZZ GiZ-III Soda Rope and the Soda Maker.

Benefits Of Carbonating Cider With Sugar

Corn Sugar (Dextrose) priming sugar for beer brewing 4 Pounds
  • Corn Sugar
  • 4 lb
  • Use for priming sugar when bottle conditioning beers

Carbonating cider With sugar is a simple and reliable process. Sugar, fruit juice, and dextrose are easy to find, affordable, and all-natural ingredients. It is an easier technique than Almost Exhausted Carbonation and you avoid the hassle of working with a CO2 tank or using other gadgets.

How Long Does It Take For Cider To Carbonate? 

In most cases, back carbonation will take between 2 to 3 weeks. This can vary based on the temperature where the bottles are stored and how much sugar has been added.

How Much Sugar To Add To Carbonate?

Sugar that is added for carbonation purposes before bottling is called priming sugar. Most cider makers will use dextrose as a priming sugar, simply because it is highly fermentable and consistent in terms of sugar levels. 

If you use fruit juice concentrate, honey or other sources of sugar you may end up with different sugar levels than you may have expected. 

The amount of priming sugar that needs to be added will vary based on

  • The volume of cider you are bottling
  • The CO2 content of the cider before bottling 
  • The amount of CO2 you want to add (how fizzy you want it to be) 
  • The temperature at the time of bottling

To deal with these variables, beer and cider brewers have created a formula for calculating priming sugar. The bad news, for people who don’t like mathematics, is that the formula looks like this: 

Cbeer = Cflat-beer + 0.5 * 0.91 * mcorn-sugar / Vbeer

Where:

Cbeer – the final carbonation of the beer (grams/liter)

Cflat-beer – the CO2 content of the beer before bottling (grams/liter)

mcorn-sugar – the weight of the corn sugar (glucose monohydrate) (grams)

Vbeer – beer volume (liters)

Fortunately, there are several online calculators available, where you simply enter the amount of cider you have, the bottling temperature, and desired carbonation levels to receive the amount of sugar you should add.

Using the calculator linked above, if you had 5 gallons of cider at 65 degrees F and were aiming for 2 gallons of CO2 (as fizzy as a Belgian ale), you would need 3.3 ounces of corn sugar.

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Wrapping Up

Carbonating your ciders can really improve their flavor and aroma. Experiment with carbonation levels until you develop a cider that suits your personal preferences.