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Carbonation demystified

In a competitive market where your customers are seeking a quality differentiated product, carbonation allows you to present your cider in its best possible condition and in the style consumers are now demanding.

Whereas draught cider is typically sat on the bar back and dispensed flat and at room temperature from a bag in box, carbonated cider is (or should be) stored and served chilled in either bottle or keg. As well as allowing a controlled serve from the keg, chilling also maintains your product in its peak condition right up to the point of serve.

As the market continues to demand top quality, lower ABV and even fruit ciders, carbonation allows you entry into this market – giving your cider the chance to shine and compete with some of the major producers currently dominating the bar.

What is force carbonation and how does it work?

Force carbonation is the quicker and more repeatable alternative to natural carbonation. Rather than sealing residual sugar and yeast into a keg or bottle and allowing CO2 to be naturally created, force carbonating is directly infusing CO2 into the beer from a CO2 cylinder. There are a couple of variables to be considered when carbonating:

  • Temperature – the colder your product, the faster CO2 will dissolve into it and the better the CO2 will remain in solution
  • Surface area – the larger the contact area between the CO2 and your product, the faster the CO2 will dissolve. Depending on the method used to carbonate, surface area is increased either by creating ‘turbulence’ such as rotating the bottle holding apparatus of the manual in bottle carbonator or by creating lots of small bubbles, such as in the ‘in-tank’ method and bubbling these through your product.
  • Pressure – the higher the pressure of CO2 gas, the more quickly and completely it will dissolve into your product.

How can I force carbonate my cider?

There are various options, and the right option for you will depend on a few key factors:

  1. Your batch size - are you looking to carbonate a very small volume or 1,000s of litres at a time?
  2. The speed you require - how much time can you allocate to carbonating and filling?
  3. Your budget - how much money do you have available to invest in carbonation equipment?

What types of setups can Vigo offer for carbonation on a ‘craft’ scale?

We’ve listed below three typical setups for carbonation, filling and pasteurisation at three different scales, giving you an indication of the minimum budget required to begin carbonating; we always recommend pasteurisation of product when going into a glass bottles owing to the potential risk posed by not doing so. Each setup lists the major component (equipment) costs* but please note it does not include the additional connections/fittings which will also be required, nor any extras which might be necessary to suit a particular application.

Setup 1: Manual Carbonation

Around 100 bottles per hour, packaging 1,000 litres into 750ml bottles in around 13 hours

Minimum budget: £6,931 ex-VAT

Pro:

  • Allows you to carbonate product on a small scale to ‘test the market’ prior to a larger investment

Cons:

  • Double handling of bottles between original filling, chilling and then carbonating
  • Keg filling cannot be integrated into this setup
  • Carbonation level is less than would be achieved through counter pressure filling

Setup 2: Small in-line system

Around 200 bph, packaging 1,000 ltrs into 750ml bottles in around 6 hours

Minimum budget: £18,069 ex VAT

Pros:

  • Single handling of bottles
  • Easy setup and operation
  • Easy to integrate a manual keg filler if required
  • Counter pressure filling for more controlled fill at higher levels of carbonation

Con:

  • Still a relatively manual fill

Setup 3: In tank method

Around 400 bph, packaging 1,000 ltrs into 750ml bottles in around 3.5 hours

Minimum budget: £61,889 ex-VAT

Pros:

  • More automated fill
  • Guaranteed consistency of carbonation levels across the batch
  • Pressure tank can feed a manual keg filling head or even a canning machine

Con:

  • Will likely require 2 operators at the filling machine to maximise efficiency.

Need a faster speed?

For faster speeds and/or fully automated in-line systems which include a CIMEC automatic triblock rinser, counter pressure filler & capper, please contact us for more information.

So is carbonation worth the investment?

This isn’t something we can say for sure as the answer will very much depend on your own market. We suggest speaking to your trade contacts and asking some key questions, such as ...

  • What are their customer’s buying elsewhere at the moment because they can't buy direct from them?
  • Would they sell more of your product if it was carbonated?
  • What do they see drinkers asking for at the bar?
  • Are they still getting strong demand for bag in box cider?

Or, if you sell solely direct to the consumer, ask them direct.

Next step?

If carbonation is something you want to explore further at any of the levels mentioned above, please contact us today and we will be happy to discuss what will work for you. We can issue you with a formal quotation for a setup to suit your particular application, to include all necessary equipment, connections and current prices, including installation and training by our engineers when required.

(*) Please note the prices listed above were correct at the time of publication, but are subject to change as a result of supplier price increases and/or exchange rate fluctuations. They are for guidance only. See 'Next Step' above.

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