Cooling, Carbonating, and Bottling
The fresh taste and clarity of Merridale Cider comes from bottling a living cider that is naturally and slowly fermented and then carbonated to keep alive the best flavours from the cider apples. While others use fining agents to clarify the cider, Rick prefers a wine-style pad filter to “polish” the cider.
Bottling is an ongoing activity at Merridale Ciderworks, as the various cider products mature throughout the year. Once filtered, the cider is cooled before being bottled. Cooling the cider at this stage achieves three things: it slows down the remaining yeast from fermenting, it keeps the cider fresh, and it maintains the consistency of the carbonation. All the Merridale ciders products are “frost packaged” at temperatures below the frost level, which is around 34°F (1.2°C).
The cool cider is then pumped to the carbonator, which forces the CO2 into the cider at high pressure in a process called “force” or “pinpoint” carbonation. Carbonating a warm cider would result in larger, coarser bubbles that would overwhelm the fine flavours, while “frost-packed” cider produces a smaller, more refined bubble that enhances the taste and tickles the tongue.
The 1963 German Seitz Champagne filler at Merridale can fill a variety of bottle sizes. It is a counter-pressure filler, which removes the air before filling and pressurizes the bottles to prevent foaming. The cider bottles are then hand capped, washed down, and labelled using a recycled Italian labeler. Then the bottles are ready to be taken to the cooler to await distribution to the Cider House on site, or to retail outlets, pubs and restaurants in Southern British Columbia.
Merridale produces “living” ciders that contain active yeast cells, so all of their cider products must be kept refrigerated during shipping and storage so that they do not re-ferment. The cider that is leaving the farm is shipped to refrigerated warehouses in Victoria or Vancouver, from where it is distributed to the retailers within 2 months. Rick and Janet educate the retailers and the consumers to keep their cider in the fridge to maintain the freshness and integrity of the product.
The Cyser, MerriBerri, and House have higher sweetness levels and so are more likely to re-ferment if allowed to warm. The Traditional, Somerset, Cidre Normandie and Scrumpy are drier and therefore more stable in the bottle for longer than 6 months.
The choice of bottles was a long a difficult one for Rick and Janet to make, but in consideration of flavour, freshness, safety and the environment, they have chosen to use recyclable plastic bottles.
In order to retain the flavour and freshness of a cider that is still living, rather than pasteurized, it is important to maintain its stability and its anaerobic environment, so the capping must be secure. Other cidermakers chose to bottle in glass, often with a traditional pop-top ceramic cork, but there is a real danger of the glass exploding if the cider is not bottled or stored carefully. Plastic bottles offer a safer option yet still maintain the freshness and stability of a living cider.
Plastic bottles also have a much smaller carbon footprint than their glass cousins do. Some of the plastic bottles that Merridale uses are shipped from Calgary, while others come from Kelowna. Glass bottles must be sourced from overseas, and the recycling costs are much more for glass. On the contrary, the green plastic bottles are not shipped off the island to be recycled. Clearly, Janet and Rick have made the right choice, albeit difficult, because the carbon footprint of plastic bottles is less than 25% that of the glass options.