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Cider racking

Today I 'racked' my hard cider. Racking is a fancy brewing term for siphoning the juice through a tube from one bucket into another bucket. It's not very complicated, but I still prepared a multi-photo blog post to display the process.

It turns out that homebrewing is just a few simple activities, separated by long periods of waiting. Dump stuff into a bucket, wait; transfer it to another bucket, wait; open it up and drink it. In that framework, racking is an EVENT! and that makes it noteworthy by default. Nearly two full months after I started the process, I was very excited to pop open the airtight seal on my primary fermenting bucket, and see what was inside.
Before I got to that, though, my first step was sterilizing all the equipment I'd be using (we're at the first image now, if you would like to follow along). This is a very important step. It ensures that we don't get any crap into the cider and mess stuff up. Interestingly, I am doing some research at work that has to do with sterilization of medical equipment, so it's a topic that has been on my mind lately. For homebrewing, I fill the bucket with water and cleaning solution and just dump everything inside. It is clean like magic!

On the second photo, you can see my improvised mortar and pestle. I crushed 5 Campden tablets and put the powder into my secondary bucket. This stuff will help to kill bacteria and preserve the cider. If I was labeling my drinks, I would have to write 'contains preservatives' on the label.

Okay, time to open up the bucket and make the transfer! The third and fourth images show different stages of the racking process. The cider in the primary bucket (on the right) is a very deep color, kind of like, well, fresh apple cider. With only a little juice in the secondary bucket, it's very light and yellow. Once a gallon has been siphoned across, it has already darkened significantly.

When I got to the bottom of the bucket and took out the siphon, there was a layer of dark muck on the bottom. This sludge is full of the dead yeasts that fermented my cider for me. Their sacrifice was not in vain. But although we appreciate their contribution, we don't want to drink them, so they got left behind.

The lid goes on the secondary bucket, full of fermented apple juice (minus yeast). It was probably a bit lighter in color than the cloudy juice in the primary. I didn't take a picture, though, so the world may never know. Now that it's sealed around the rim and air-tight with a fancy airlock, I can forget about it again for several months. It's supposed to 'clarify' during that time, improving in taste and appearance. But... what does it taste like now? I was a little nervous to find out. Before we get to the tasting, let's have a Science Moment. Next slide, please.

In the second-to-last photo, you can see the bottom of a half gallon apple juice bottle. I was saving these on purpose. I planned to use them for storing the finished cider. I changed my mind about that, because I learned an important lesson today about cleaning: if you don't wash out all the juice from your bottles, you'll get to see the results of natural fermentation! That's two months' worth of mold and slime. Gross. But also kind of cool.

Finally, I worked up the nerve to actually taste my hard cider. The juice is cloudy, which should decrease over time. I tapped all my wine tasting experience, took a sip, and detected... a distinct taste of apples. It seems to be on the low end of ABV, somewhere around 5% alcohol, which would be about right. Next time I'll buy a hydrometer and find out for sure. Overall, it tastes pretty good, so I'm happy! It would probably be fine to drink it all now, but I've got five gallons of the stuff and besides, I'm eager to see how it changes with aging.


E. McPan said...

Nice! I miss home brewing. Or maybe I just miss the end product. :)

ukmark said...

I made my first cider last year. Made the mistake of drinking it way too soon. I think we drunk it all within two months. Luckily we had accidentally forgot about one bottle until four months later, so in all this bottle had been maturing for 6 months, wow it was the best cider I have ever tasted. Goes without saying, I'll be leaving my cider this year for at least 6 months.. the difference in taste is well worth it.

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