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A Connoisseur’s Guide to Sparkling Cider

The world of sparkling cider is a vast and wondrous one. We’ve explored some of it already by looking at the science behind the little bubbles that dance around in our glasses of cider, as well as some of the key historical events that went into harnessing the bubbles in our favourite alcoholic drinks.  Now the fun begins—tasting and exploring our way across the different types of sparkling cider that there is on offer. So let’s look at the main types of sparkling cider you might come across, how they work to produce carbonation, why makers may opt for these methods and some examples of ciders if you want to try these methods for yourself. Then, to help you get the most out of your bubbles, we’ll take a little look at some of the best ways to store and serve your sparkling cider. Getting thirsty? Let’s dive right in.

Photos by Rebecca Fletcher

Rachel Hendry

A wine and cider writer, featured in Wine52’s Glug magazine, Pellicle magazine, Burum Collective and Two Belly. The mind behind wine newsletter J’adore le Plonk and an untiring advocate for spritzing every drink she can get her hands on.

Connoisseur’s Guide to Sparkling Cider

The world of sparkling cider is a vast and wondrous one. We’ve explored some of it already by looking at the science behind the little bubbles that dance around in our glasses of cider, as well as some of the key historical events that went into harnessing the bubbles in our favourite alcoholic drinks.

Now the fun begins—tasting and exploring our way across the different types of sparkling cider that there is on offer.

So let’s look at the main types of sparkling cider you might come across, how they work to produce carbonation, why makers may opt for these methods and some examples of ciders if you want to try these methods for yourself. Then, to help you get the most out of your bubbles, we’ll take a little look at some of the best ways to store and serve your sparkling cider. Getting thirsty?

Let’s dive right in.

Rachel Hendry

A wine and cider writer, featured in Wine52’s Glug magazine, Pellicle magazine, Burum Collective and Two Belly. The mind behind wine newsletter J’adore le Plonk and an untiring advocate for spritzing every drink she can get her hands on.

Pétillant-Naturel

Pétillant-Naturel the oldest method in the book when it comes to sparkling drinks, so where better to start? So old, in fact, it is often referred to as the Ancestral Method—or Méthode Ancestrale—and dates back to the 16th Century.

Pétillant-Naturel, or Pét-Nat as it is commonly abbreviated to, involves bottling cider before its first fermentation has completed. As the last of the fermentation occurs inside the bottle— which can lead to this method being referred to as a form of bottle conditioning—the yeast eats the remaining sugar and the carbon dioxide made as a result becomes trapped inside the pressure of the closed bottle.

Two things happen as a result of this. First of all, the trapped carbon dioxide causes a soft, smooth fizz that froths and foams like a very good bubble bath. The bubbles are bigger and the speed of the carbonation is slower creating a friendlier mouthfeel than the slightly pricklier Traditional Method we’ll come onto.

The second is that once the yeast has fermented all the sugar into alcohol it dies, turning into dead yeast cells—or lees—often resulting in a harmless sediment that settles on the bottom of the bottle.

Pétillant-Naturel

Pétillant-Naturel the oldest method in the book when it comes to sparkling drinks, so where better to start? So old, in fact, it is often referred to as the Ancestral Method—or Méthode Ancestrale—and dates back to the 16th Century.

Pétillant-Naturel, or Pét-Nat as it is commonly abbreviated to, involves bottling cider before its first fermentation has completed. As the last of the fermentation occurs inside the bottle— which can lead to this method being referred to as a form of bottle conditioning—the yeast eats the remaining sugar and the carbon dioxide made as a result becomes trapped inside the pressure of the closed bottle.

Two things happen as a result of this. First of all, the trapped carbon dioxide causes a soft, smooth fizz that froths and foams like a very good bubble bath. The bubbles are bigger and the speed of the carbonation is slower creating a friendlier mouthfeel than the slightly pricklier Traditional Method we’ll come onto.

“…looking at the science behind the little bubbles that dance around in our glasses of cider.”

— Rachel Hendry

“After just a year of formation the CIU had helped 13 clubs to begin, growing to 55 by its second.”

— Rachel Hendry

There are many reasons a producer may choose this method of carbonating their cider. As you’ll soon see, Pét-Nat involves slightly less stages and interference in comparison to other methods, making it a favourite amongst natural cider producers. It is also a much speedier way of naturally carbonating cider as the maker only has to undergo one fermentation, as opposed to two.

A downside to this is that once the cider is in the bottle there is no room for error. Bottle too early and you may find yourself with an exploding cider and bottle too late and the fermentation may leave very little sparkle in the glass. So it’s always a sign of an expert maker when you get a bottle that is bang on.

Here are some examples if you want to see for yourself:

Find & Foster, Pét-Nat Cider

Artistraw, Duffryn Pét-Nat

– Welsh Mountain Cider, Ping Pong Pét-Nat

 second is that once the yeast has fermented all the sugar into alcohol it dies, turning into dead yeast cells—or lees—often resulting in a harmless sediment that settles on the bottom of the bottle.

There are many reasons a producer may choose this method of carbonating their cider. As you’ll soon see, Pét-Nat involves slightly less stages and interference in comparison to other methods, making it a favourite amongst natural cider producers. It is also a much speedier way of naturally carbonating cider as the maker only has to undergo one fermentation, as opposed to two.

A downside to this is that once the cider is in the bottle there is no room for error. Bottle too early and you may find yourself with an exploding cider and bottle too late and the fermentation may leave very little sparkle in the glass. So it’s always a sign of an expert maker when you get a bottle that is bang on.

Here are some examples if you want to see for yourself:

Find & Foster, Pét-Nat Cider

Artistraw, Duffryn Pét-Nat

– Welsh Mountain Cider, Ping Pong Pét-Nat

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