Racking Hard Cider
In homebrew terminology, racking is simply moving liquid from one container to another. In most cases, this is done by using a siphon. This page will give an overview of all the techniques you can move the hard cider.
In many cases, racking is done to remove the hard cider that is sitting on top of sediment (yeast that has died and settled). It is important that you not move the sediment along with the hard cider. To accomplish this, it’s best to use a ‘gentle’ method, don’t jostle the container with the sediment, and leave the last bit of hard cider behind.
You will likely need to rack your cider several times when making hard cider. Most likely, you will rack the hard cider between primary and secondary fermentation, and again from secondary fermentation into bottles. The process is very similar each time. Here’s what else you can expect to find in this page:
Equipment and Sanitation
Here is some of the equipment you may need to use in the techniques covered in this page.
Funnel – Great for cleanly moving the hard cider. Make sure to get a food-grade funnel. They come in a variety of sizes.
Racking Cane – A racking cane is a long rigid tube that is designed to extend down into the bottom of a fermentation container, then has a sharp bend just outside the container. It makes it easy and convenient to get the tubing into the container.
Auto Siphon – An auto-siphon looks very similar to a racking cane, but an auto-siphon is much easier to use. An auto-siphon has a manual pump built into it allowing you to quickly and easily get hard cider into the tubing to start the siphon. I strongly recommend getting an auto-siphon and not a racking cane.
Food-grade Tubing – Tubing has an inside diameter and an outside diameter. Make sure to get the tubing where the inside diameter fits your racking cane and your bottle filler.
Carboy Cap – A carboy cap is a device to put over a carboy which has 2 openings. You use one opening to for a racking cane and the other to blow air into, causing hard cider to travel through the racking cane.
Bottle Filler – It effectively gives you a way to stop the flow of hard cider you are siphoning. The advantage is that it cuts the flow off quickly, which allows you to fill your bottles with precision. It also keeps the tubing full of cider, preserving the siphon.
Since the equipment you will use will come into direct contact with the hard cider in the process, it is very important that you sanitize each piece of equipment prior to use by using a no-rinse sanitizing solution.
Pouring by Hand with a Funnel
The simplest way to rack the cider is simply by pouring it by hand and using a funnel. This method works particularly well when starting a new batch, or when transferring a small batches with minimal sediment.
In almost all cases, it is wise to use a funnel in order to prevent spilling. When pouring by hand, it can be very hard to keep all the sediment from coming with the cider.
What is a Siphon?
A siphon is simply a way to move liquid in a way that utilizes gravity. You do this by placing the container with the liquid higher than the empty container. Then connecting a hose between the containers.
You will need to somehow force liquid into the tube (called priming) to get the process started (more on that below). Once liquid is forced into the tube, that liquid will ‘pull’ the rest of the liquid into the lower container without ongoing force being applied.
How to Start a Siphon
As mentioned above, the tubing must be primed to start the siphon. There are 4 main ways to prime the siphon:
The 'old fashioned' way - use your mouth
The ‘tried and true’ way to force hard cider into the tube is by sticking the bottom side into your mouth and sucking, thus drawing the hard cider from the top container into the tube. While effective, in the world of homebrewing, this technique has 2 downsides.
- You are likely going to get a mouthful of hard cider if your timing isn’t perfect. Anyone who has ever tried to siphon (especially gas) has likely encountered this issue.
- You spent a lot of time and energy to make sure everything is sanitized, then put your mouth directly on a component that cider will touch. This puts you at risk for an infection
Submerge the tube in sanitizing solution
The next way to force hard cider into the tube is to submerge the entire tube into a tub of sanitizing solution. Then, carefully lift one side of the tube out of the solution while pinching the other side to keep the solution in the tube. Put the top section of the tube into the container with the hard cider (trying not to spill too much solution into the hard cider). At this point, the siphon is primed. Still pinching the end, put the tube over a secondary container and release. When all the solution is pushed out of the tube (replaced with hard cider), pinch the end of the tube again. Now place the lower section of tube in to the real lower container and release to start the siphon.
Use the pumping action of an auto-siphon
An auto-siphon is a device that has a manual pump built into it allowing you to quickly and easily get hard cider into the tubing to start the siphon. This is a very good choice and a very commonly used piece of equipment in homebrewing.
Use positive pressure
The last way to prime the pump is to use positive pressure. In this case, you’ll use 2 devices available from homebrew stores. The theory behind this method is that you will seal the full container, except for 2 openings: the tube that leads to the lower container and a small place where you can blow into it.
Next, blow into the full container. This adds pressure into the container, and the easiest ‘release’ of this pressure is out the tube and into the lower container.
Be sure to use a filter when blowing into the container to prevent bacteria from ruining the batch.