One of the biggest jobs for a small operation like ours is bottling. We have a pretty great setup for a small operation, but unless we were to get really big (we won’t) there are no automated equipment options to make the process faster. So all winter, January through May (and a sprinkling throughout the summer) we bottle.
Our friend Camillia took some great shots of us at work and I’d love to show you a window into the process.
Our tractor has no ‘off season’ now as all winter it is used to move the bulk pallets of glass around.
I am proud of the fact I’ve learned to more-or-less operate it without dropping anything (yet).
The bottles are all washed inside prior to being filled.
Many places actually don’t wash their glass as it is, in theory, sterile from the production facility. We feel better ensuring they gets a rinse prior to filling them.
After our first year on our homemade bottler (which the common denominator for successful operation seemed to be alot of childhood hours logged playing video games, which was not me), we bit the bullet and bought “Cabby” ( thus named because the money could have went to the Cab Tractor Dave has long desired ).
Although it’s still a very manual process, it counter-pressure fills beautifully and allows for Dave to spend his time back out in the orchard rather than operating our home-made setup. (He did play alot of video games as a child, qualifying him for the title of master-bottler)
Four freshly rinsed bottles are placed in, caps attached to the magnets, and the “start” button pushed.
After the bottles are full of cider and tightly capped they are placed into a hot-water bath (pasteurized) to ensure there is no viable yeast left in the bottle. Temperature is carefully monitored and lab tests sent to confirm there is no yeast left that could cause a bottle to undergo a refermentation and worse – create a bottle bomb.
Pasteurizing is one of the biggest “bottle necks” in the process but to us an important step as it ensures product safety while not compromising how natural the cider is. Many cideries opt instead to filter and use potassium sorbate as it is much easier. As sorbate is a chemical that does not need to be listed on the packaging, the only way to know if your favourite cider uses heat instead (a much more natural process) is to ask the makers.
Next is on to labelling. Our hand labeller still cranks out all 80,000 bottles we produce, and we write the batch number on each one.
With most of last year’s ciders filled, sold, and hopefully enjoyed by now we are gearing up to start it all again. With one more batch of Cranberry Cinnamon to fill with the last of the 2016 cider, we will roll right into picking and pressing enough apples to make 40,000 L of cider and start all over again.
A note on the stubby bottles – they will be for the 2016 vintage only. Despite loving how they look and differentiate the Botanical line from our Character Series of ciders, we found they broke too much, and too dangerously, during pasteurization. With carbonation dialed back and an hour long cooling procedure implemented it was safe to continue filling them, but not compromises we want to make going forward. We are currently looking at bottle alternatives for these ciders for 2018, stay tuned.