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Carbonation : A Chemistry

Carbonation : A Chemistry

Written by Rachel Hendry 

I’ve yet to meet a sparkling wine I haven’t liked. 

Whilst there is so much magic to be found in fizz, the science and history of carbonation across beer, wine and cider is a fascinating study in itself.

Carbonated drinks are drinks with the presence of carbon dioxide, and it’s that gas that makes them so deliciously bubbly. These bubbles are naturally formed during the fermentation process: yeast feasts upon sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide as it does so. 

Of course, as with all things alcoholic, this simple and natural occurrence has been harnessed to create many different types of carbonation. So how are the effervescent drinks known and loved today produced?

Let’s start with beer first.

Whilst all beer will have some form of natural carbonation as a result of fermentation, a big percentage of beers sold today will be force carbonated, in a process not dissimilar to that of a soda stream. There are, of course, many exceptions to this rulecask beer is “live” and naturally fizzy, for example—but force carbonation has become popular as a result of its speed and minimal margin for error.

Force carbonation is not just a tool for beer, it can be applied to wine and cider too. Prosecco is perhaps the most famous example of force-carbonated wine to be found at the moment, and it’s method of carbonation is perhaps the reason why.

You see, whereas Champagne is carbonated through the traditional method (I’ll come to this later) Prosecco achieves its fizzy fun through a process called the tank - or charmat - method. Still wine, made from the Glera grape, is added to a big tank where more yeast and sugar is added to create a second fermentation. The tank is sealed and the carbon dioxide is trapped as a result, forming bubbles in the wine itself. It’s a less time consuming process and prioritises the fruity flavour of the grapes as opposed to encouraging yeasty notes found in other sparkling wines.

Of course—not dissimilar to cask beer—the form of sparkling wine that is prized the most are those that are naturally occurring. And this is where Champagne comes back in. 

Champagne method, also known as the traditional method, is where a secondary fermentation takes place after the base wine has been bottled. It’s a complex, industrialised process that in short involves an addition of sugar and yeast to an already fermented wine. Carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle causing the famous fizz and the time it spends in contact with the yeast gives the wine all those lovely pastry and biscuit like aromas. 

The world of carbonation is vast and I’ve only just scratched the surface here. If you want to try some of these styles—and more!—out for yourself, or if you've just developed a thirst for fizz this weekend head over to Two Belly for a range of beer, wine and cider  that sparkles in every sense of the word and treat yourself to a bottle of magic.

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