Racking and Bottling
Now that you have made actual hard cider, it is time to 'rack' the cider in to another jug for "secondary" fermentation. At this point your cider is either almost still (exhausted carb method) OR absolutely still (back-carb, or still cider methods). Either way, it is time to say good bye to all of the sediment nasty that is in the bottom of your jug. This sediment is called "lees" and it is all of the fruit solids and bitter tasting dead yeast left over from fermentation. To get sparkling clear cider into your bottles, we need to leave the lees behind by moving the cider to a clean jug. For those of you with a hydrometer, this step is done at 1.005 S.G.. Some folks have written in wanting to leave it in primary longer, but I feel the risk of the dead yeast adding off flavors it too great. Don't worry, you can let it keep fermenting in secondary, we just need to get the brew off the lees so that it does not impact the flavor.
Secondary Fermentation for your hard cider, step by step:
Racking is a bit tricky the first few times you try it, and it is easy to make a mess! Read through the whole procedure before you begin. Here is the equipment you will need for racking:
- Your jug of hard cider.
- A second, clean sterile and empty glass jug (this is your 'secondary' jug) or clean sterile food grade plastic pail. Again, I recommend clear glass over brown so that you can see the brew and the sediment.
- 4-6 feet of food grade tubing.
- Optional: A lock for the end of the tubing so that you can stop the flow without loosing suction.
- Optional: An auto siphon tool from the brew store (really worth it if you have the $10 bucks to spare).
Step 1. Clean and sterilize all of your equipment. I recommend getting 2 very large mixing bowls out for this process. First, wash your empty 1 gallon glass secondary jug with clean hot water and soap, and rinse well. Then fill the jug half way up with hot water, and add your 'no rinse' cleaning solution (I use 1-step which is an oxidizer). Mix according to the directions on the bag, and shake the jug up to dissolve. Fill the jug the rest of the way up with hot water, and let it sit for a few minutes. Then pour this cleaner solution into the first large mixing bowl. Shake the jug gently to get all the excess water out.
Next fill the empty secondary jug half way up with hot water, and measure just under 1/4 oz Star-san solution for your gallon jug. Please, don't guess on this measurement! Fill the jug up the rest of the way with hot water and let sit for 5 min. to let the kill everything. Meanwhile, get out your food grade hose and soak it for a bit in the mixing bowl with the cleaning solution. After the Star-san has been in the jug for ~5 minutes, pour the Star-san water from the jug into the second big mixing bowl, and move the hose into the Star-san to soak about 5 min. Don't leave the hose in the bowl too long or it will slimy. When you pour out the star-san, do it slowly and don't let the solution-water "glug-glug" when you pour it out, or it will make very persistent bubbles. Save a little solution so that you can add some back into the jug to do a bubble swish-out if need be. Let the jugs drain upside down for a while to empty as much solution as possible. Your just-finished-cleaning dishwasher is a nice sterile place to drain a jug. Questions? Review Clean and Sterile here.
Step 2. Set up the jugs for racking. Here is where the fun of racking (and potentially the mess) comes in. Here is a photo of the equipotent you will need. The "primary" jug is the jugs that currently has the hard cider in it. The lees (sediment) in the bottom is what you will want to leave in the jug as you transfer the cider to the clean "secondary" jug. The food grade hose is the key to moving the cider without pouring it (which obviously would stir up the bottom!). To get the cider to move through the hose, we are going to need to start a siphon (sometimes spelled syphon) that will move the cider via gravity. To coax gravity onto our team, we are going to leave the primary jug with the cider on the counter top, and move the sterile empty secondary jug under it on the ground, like in the photo on the left below:
If you do not have a auto siphon starter (as seen in the photo to the left), stop right now and buy one. They are wonderful tools, and if you plan to rack more than about 3 gallons of brew in your lifetime, they are well worth the $10- $15 bucks. A siphon starter is simply a plastic tube in a sleeve with a washer that you attach to your 5' tubing length. To start a siphon with an auto siphon, you simply give the inner tube a little pump--and blamo! You have a perfect, air-free siphon flowing. It is a thing of beauty. Click the photo to the left to go to midwest supplies web page about the Fermtech auto siphon.
If you don't have time or money to buy an auto siphon starter, or you are just getting started brewing, we are going to have to start a siphon the old fashioned way---by priming the hose. For anyone who has had to transfer gas out of a car tank, or water out of a fish tank, this should be pretty easy. If you have never done either before, you might need to get someone who owns fish to show you how. Before you try it with your precious brew, please try it with just plain water. You could try siphoning the Star San water in your bowl. It will really help to practice. Also, having a friend's extra hands for this process makes it much more fun. Here are the basics on priming a siphon according to Bodensatz Brewing 
- "You need to 'prime' your siphon. All this means is that for your siphon to flow, your hose must be filled with liquid. That can be water, beer or just about any liquid at all.
- It works by gravity. That's right, simple gravity drives a siphon. As long as the hose is full, and the 'source' end of the hose is elevated higher than the 'destination' end, liquid will flow through it. Also, the greater the elevation between source and destination, the faster the siphon will flow.
- The only parts of the hose that matter to the siphon are the source and destination ends. The hose in between can whirl and curl any and every which way, and it does not affect the siphon in the least. It can go up to the ceiling, then down into the basement, and back up again. As long as your destination end of the hose is lower then the source end, your siphon will flow.
- Plugging the end of the hose, prevents the siphon from flowing. Well duh! That's almost too stupid to mention, isn't it? Well, the part the follows from this, however, may not be obvious to many. When the hose is full and you plug one end, nothing will come out of the other end, either. If you really shook the hose violently you could force some liquid out the other end, but as long as you are gentle, nothing will come out. With clean hands you can use your thumb to tightly cover one end of your siphon hose to turn off the flow. Or you can tightly kink the flexible end of the siphon hose by bending 3 or 4 inches of it securely back onto itself. Once one end is plugged, you can safely move the other end anywhere you like and the liquid will stay in the tube."
With the above in mind, (and your friend standing by) place an empty jar or bowl on the floor next to the empty gallon jug. This is going to catch the priming water that will come out of the tube as the siphon gets going. Wash your hands and run tap water into the hose to fill it (or you can use your iodine water if your tap water is not real clean). Mind where the other end of the tube is while you are filling up! When the tube is filled with water, plug one end with your thumb. As long as you keep the end tightly plugged, the water will stay in the hose and you can move it over to your racking set up. Place the end you are not holding into the brew about 4" above the sediment lees on the bottom. Be very careful not to shake the jug or stir-up the lees with the end of the hose. Have your friend hold the hose in the cider jug in the proper position above the lees. With your thumb still FIRMLY on the end of the hose, move the hose end to the empty catch-jar. Remove your thumb and the water will begin to flow. Very quickly, cider will be drawn into the hose and come shooting down the tube. When you see cider start to come out the end of the tube, plug it firmly with your thumb. KEEP THE other end in the cider, and move the thumb end to the clean empty cider jug and let her rip! Now, can you see why we love auto siphons so much? Whew!
Now let the cider flow into the secondary jug, but be very careful not to suck up any of the sediment lees in the bottom of the primary jug. Slowly move the tube toward the lees, but watch the hose to make sure it does not start to get cloudy. Don't get greedy here! You will have to abandon a bit of cider if you don't want the whole batch to have a yeast taste and cloudy haze. Leave the last 1 inch above the lees, so that you make sure not to suck any yuck into the tube. Here is what it should look like when you are done (in the photo on left):
Step 3. Pour a bit in a glass and give it a taste. Of course with all of this work you are going to want to taste some of your fabulous brew. And boy will you likely be disappointed! Cider at this stage (especially if you have let it ferment all the way) is pretty bitter and harsh. Try some if you like, but remember it gets better from here.
Step 4. Re-sterilize the stopper and airlock and put them back on top of the jug. It is time to let our cider sit again. This is officially "secondary fermentation," but you should see very little (if any) bubbling action. I like to let the cider rest about 21 days, but you can let it "mellow" here in secondary for 2-3 months. If you can stand to wait it will develop some nice flavor, and will continue to clear as even more sediment settles to the bottom. Don't shake, move or stir it during this time! About a week before you plan to bottle, move your brew up on the shelf or counter where you plan on racking it into the bottles so you don't shake up the sediment.
HOT TIP: Cider will mellow over time (like wine) and the taste will become smoother with less harsh notes. If you are patient, you can let you cider rest in that secondary jug for 1-2 months, or even give it a third rack and let it hang out for 4-6 months. (leaving it in secondary too long can make it taste yeasty--so rack it into a clean jug if you are going to age more than 8 weeks) Time allows the processes of malolactic fermentation to kick in, and breaks down the harsher "vingary" taste sometimes found in young brew. But young brew is tasty too, so it is your call. If this is your third batch, or you are experimenting with multiple jugs, do set one back to age for a bit and see the difference.
Bottling your hard cider, step by step:
Step 1. When is it time to bottle? After at least 3 weeks have passed, or you have waited a bit longer, it is time to bottle up! For those of you with a hydrometer you are looking for a specific gravity of 1.005 to .999 S.G.. Check to make sure the cider is clear and bright. If it still looks hazy, give it another week or two to see if it clears. If you did not opt for adding pectic enzyme when you started, you might be out of luck... but honestly, cloudy cider tastes just fine!
Step 2. Rack the cider into a clean jug. We rack the cider this one last time so that we do not have to worry about sucking up sediment into the bottles. Follow the directions above to rack the cider back into a sterile jug. If you have a large brew bucket or stainless pan you can sterilize, this will work well too.
Step 3. Give it a taste. This is not as good as the cider will taste in a few weeks of resting in the bottles, but give the cider a little taste to see if it might benefit from a little natural apple flavor, or sweetness from xylitol.
Step 4. Add some stuff to help the taste. As a food scientist's kid, I am not at all afraid to play around a bit with natural flavorings to alter my cider's taste to the way I like it. If you read many cider forums, you will find that most people are unimpressed by their cider at the end, because it does not taste much like apples. Indeed, I have found that my grocery store cider needs a little help in the 'apple note' department. The best solution is to add a bit of natural, organic apple flavoring from a company like Nature's Flavors:
Natures' Flavors is a wonderful company, and all of their 100% natural,l organic products are naturally obtained and organically certified. and I use their flavoring in my baking, brewing and chocolate making. They are slow to ship around the holidays, so keep this in mind. This is a flavor concentrate, so a little dab will do you. I like about 1/4 teaspoon per gallon. If you add too much, your brew will taste apple-fake, like an apple jolly-rancher candy. Blech. This is the apple finish that will hit your pallet after you swallow. Subtle is key. Green Apple flavor is only $12 for a 2oz bottle. This much will flavor ~50 gals worth of cider, but go ahead and get more if you plan to make a lot of brew. It is a great addition to apple pie and cobbler too, but I digress... If you would like to add some other flavors to your cider: cinnamon, pumpkin pie, pear, apricot or the like, I would highly recommend going with Nature's Flavors because their flavorings will not be altered by what little yeast is still living in your brew. Heck, they even have an "Apple Cider" flavor! Some folks have written in that they have had success racking their cider a third time and letting it sit on cinnamon sticks for a few weeks, but this seems like a hassle and a potential introduction of contaminants. I am a bit of a cider-purist, so I don't have too much suggestion on flavoring, except to say I like adding in the green apple to really bring up the apple notes. If you do want flavored cider, the extracts are the way to go.
Step 5. Add sweetness. Or not. How sweet your cider will be is in your control. Of course you don't want to just add more sugar, dextrose or apple juice concentrate to sweeten your brew, because the yeast will just eat it right up and you will make gushers (or bombs)! In addition to your brew now being all over the floor, the yeast will have eaten all the sugar it will not taste sweet. Yeast do not eat xylitol (or stevia, Truvia©, Ideal©, erythritol, malitol, or Splenda©), so if you want it sweeter, add one of these.
If you have let your cider ferment until dry (i.e. it has almost stopped bubbling) nearly all of the sugar will have been consumed by the hungry yeast. The yeast are not all dead, they are just, uh, sleeping... waiting for more sugar. If you try to sweeten you cider with any type of "real" sugar, that sleepy yeast will spring back to life and will start to ferment again. If you keep giving it sugar, you will soon have apple wine--not the goal. Even if you don't want your cider very sweet, adding a little touch of sweetness will help bring out the other flavors, sort of like adding salt to your food. But if you can't add "real" sugar (because the yeast will eat it, make more alcohol, and not leave any sweet taste behind), how can you add sweetness? The secret is (wait for it)... add a sugar alcohol! Sugar alcohols are sugars that have already been broken down into their building blocks, so they are not food for yeast. Amazingly, they still taste sweet like sugar to us. These can be natural, like sorbitol or xylitol, or chemical, like Splenda©. My choice for a natural, lightly sweet cider is 3 Tablespoons of xylitol. Despite its horrible chemically sounding name, xylitol is a naturally occurring plant sugar that they derive mainly from corn. Here is a link to its wikipedia page. It is a wonderful option as a sweetener for diabetics, as your pancreas does not 'see' it as sugar either. In the photo below is the "XyloSweet©" brand you can often find a the health stores:
Even adding 3 Tbs per gallon will give you a brew that is far less sweet (dryer) cider than American store-bought cider, like a woodchuck. If you want it American sweeter--add more xylitol... but add it slowly, and taste often. You need to let it fully dissolve to taste the full effect. As they say, 'easy to add more, hard to add less!' Crush it up, or dissolve it in a small amount of boiling water before you add it to the brew to help it dissolve faster. Folks have also written in that they have had success sweetening with Stevia, a natural product found at health-food stores, but I have not tried this yet. Other natural options are Truvia©, Ideal©, erythritol, or malitol. Yes, Splenda© will work too, if you are of that ilk.
Step 6. Overwhelmed with options? Here is an overview of ways you can have a little fun tailoring the hard cider to your taste. First decide what you want your cider to be:
Option One: A still, dry cider. If you are a purest and want your cider straight up with no fizz, you are at the end of your journey. Add no (or just a touch) and move the cider into the fridge ready to drink from the jug, or re plug it with the air lock and let it sit on the table for another 2-3 months to mellow. Dry and flat. Ta da!
Option Two: A still (flat) cider with a bit of sweetness. If you want still cider, but are not into the pucker face reaction from your friends, you can back sweeten you cider a bit with with a sugar alcohol, like 2-3 Tbs xylitol or splenda. Don't even ask me about using the pink or blue stuff. Shame on you. Adding sugar alcohol will not add carbonation.
Option Three: A fizzy cider that is dry. You will need to back sweeten it with sugar (not now, just before we bottle), but the yeast will eat up all the sugar and leave you with little sweetness and lots of bubbles. Don't add xylitol, or add just a touch.
Option Four: A fizzy cider with a bit of sweetness. This is the cider I like. Add 3 Tablespoons of xylitol per gallon. This gives you fizz and a touch of sweet. Want it sweeter? Add more xylitol. But go easy! Taste often!
Step 7. Choose your bottles. You have three choices for bottles if you are carbonating your cider: 1. swing top style bottles (like the one in the photo); 2. cap style bottles (beer bottles); or, 3. if you are really industrious, champagne bottles. I prefer the swing top style bottles because the are reusable, and they are easy to seal. Also, if you crack a bottle open and it is under carbonated, you can just recap it with ease, and let it sit some more! If you use cap-style beer bottles, you will need to by new bottle caps (about $3 for 100) and a capper (about $15). Do NOT use the twist top beer bottles! The glass around the twist top is very thin and will break under the pressure of your carbonation. If you are really concerned about making bottle bombs, use champagne bottles, as they are designed to withstand incredible pressure. They can be found at your recycle center, or purchased. You will also need to buy special mushroom shaped champagne corks and the wires to go around the corks.
Here is the list of bottles you should never use: Twist top beer bottles, wine bottles, anything with a straight cork (wine style), or canning jars. Yes, I had some one write in and say that they bottled into ball-brand canning jars and one of them exploded. Well, duh. Please don't be silly and take out your face, your child, or your washroom with an exploding jar. Use jars that are intended to undergo pressure--and also use your brain! If you are making totally still cider (NO carbonation) you can bottle into whatever you like, but please make it sterile!
Step 8. Clean your bottles. Begin by cleaning and sterilizing all of your equipment (a clean jug, hoses and bottles). If you got your bottles from the recycle center, I recommend soaking them in super hot water and a little OxyClean Free (without perfumes or dye) overnight to soak of any crud in the bottom. After they are clean, soak them in a Star San solution for at least 2 min. Try not to shake, slosh or glurg the star san out of the bottle or it will form the toughest bubbles you ever saw. If you do get bubbles, pour just a bit more of the star san into the bottle and gently swirl it around to knock down the bubbles and slowly pour it out without glurging (you know, when you pour the liquid out too quick and it goes GLURG, GLURG...well don't do that!). Lay the bottles on their sides so that any excess liquid can drain to one side. A dishwasher that has just finished a cleaning cycle is fairly sterile and is a fine place to stage your bottles, if you need. Shake out each bottle to remove the last drips just before filling. The water will not hurt you, but may add bubbles to the brew when poured in a glass. Not classy.
Step 9 (for fizzy cider, skip this step if you want still cider). If you are making fizzy cider, add your back carbonation sugar. This sugar we are adding now will only turn into bubbles when the yeast eat it. After the yeast eat it, it is eaten and will not taste sweet. Don't think that back carbonating will add any sweetness to your final brew, even if when you taste it now it tastes sweet. If you want sweet taste that lasts after carbonation, add one of the sugar alcohols in Step. 5 above. Back carbonating is a bit tricky to do without a hydrometer, but if you have let your cider age for a month or so, you can wing it fairly close. As an average, for one gallon of cider I add either:
- 1/8 - 1/4 cup of brown sugar dissolved in 1/2 cup of boiled water, OR
- 1/4 of a can of frozen apple juice concentrate, OR
- 1/8 cup of corn sugar (dextrose) or 1/2 tsp. PER EACH PINT BOTTLE (this is about 3/4 cup for 5-6 gallons). If you use dextrose you will get nice little effervescent fizzy bubbles. This is my favorite method, but you really can only find dextrose at brew store.
For those of you with a hydrometer, you want to bring your brew up to 1.005 S.G. if it is below that. If you are using the champagne bottles you can go as high at 1.010 S.G.. If you don't own a hydrometer, they only cost like $12 bucks, and you can see how handy they are by now...
Step 9b. (optional) This winter I have found if you have let your brew sit in secondary or tertiary (a third rack) for more than five months, you will need to a just a sprinkle of fresh yeast to get much carbonation. Truly, just a pinch of yeast (of whatever yeast you used to start with) for a 1 gal batch. This would be like an 1/8 tsp for a 5gal batch. DON'T over do it, or you will have bottle bombs. I find I am more likely to need to add a little yeast in the winter when my brew room is cold (40-55F). If you would like to try this "boost," when you have the sugar dissolved in the hot water in step 5 above, allow it to cool to baby-bath water temp (~105F) and then add your pinch of yeast and stir to incorporate. Let this sit for 5 min, stir it well, and then add to the brew. You will need to wait 8hrs before bottling so that the yeast can fully dissolve, or if you are in-a-mind to bottle right away, make sure you continually stir the brew with the yeast grains so they are distributed evenly in all your bottles. If you get most of that pinch into a couple bottles, you will have a few spewing geysers for sure, and the rest will be on the flat side! Please, only use this method if you have room in your fridge to "cold crash" your cider if the carbonation really comes on strong. This works great if you have a gallon or two, but I am getting lots of letters from folks making 5 -15 gal at a time. If you are making this much cider, get a hydrometer for pitty-sakes and take a reading on your sugar. Or buy a spare fridge so that you can cold crash 50 bottles. Yikes.
Step 10. Bottle up your cider! Bottle your cider just like you have been racking it, only the clean jugs are now your bottles. Start a siphon and then let the flow go into the bottles. You will find it helpful to either get a bottle filler (bottling wand), with a stop on the end, or to get a hose lock ($0.50) so that you can move the hose between bottles without spilling cider everywhere. DO NOT use corks to cap your cider. The carb will blow them out with very little pressure. You also want to leave a little space in the top of your bottle for the carbonation to form. If you are making still cider, you don't need to leave as much room in the top. In fact, if you are making still cider you can just toss the whole jug in the fridge and not worry about the bottling. To demonstrate the finer details, (and to show you the auto siphon and bottling filling wand) I have included this video:
Step 11. After capping, if you are making fizzy cider you have some more waiting to do. If you added the amount of sugar I recommenced, you will want to check your cider in about 2 weeks (sooner if your room is warm >70F). Just pop open one of the bottles and see if you get a nice, carbonated "pop" sound. If you do hear the pop, pour the cider in a glass and see if it has enough bubbles. If it is still needing more carbonation, move the open one to the fridge to cool and drink it, (or re cap it) and let the others go for another 2 weeks. If you check it and it is a super fizzy "geyser," immediately move the whole batch in the fridge! This is called "cold crashing," and will put the yeast into a sort of stasis and halt fermentation.
Remember, if you added fresh yeast (step 6b) you have much more active, viable yeast in your bottles, so you will need to keep a extra close eye on your carbonation. Be sure to check it in ONE week. After you feel the carb is at a good level, you will need to move your brew to the fridge and store it there until you drink it (cold crash it) when the optimum carbonation has been achieved.
If you did not add the fresh yeast, your bottles should be fine on the shelf at room temp, that is, unless you test a bottle and get a geyser. Many folks are writing in and asking if they have to test a bottle at this stage. Hey, I am always curious to knock one back... but if you had a hydrometer and know what your specific gravity when you bottled, you can just let it cruse. If you did not use a hydrometer, please check your brew! If you want to be on the super-safe-side, once you get the carbonation the way you like it, you can move all the bottles into the fridge. Again, this is called "cold crashing" and it will halt the yeast, but keep the fizz. And of course, your cider tastes much better ice cold! Alternately you can leave the cider outside at 20F for 12 hours and then the yeast will go into stasis and carbonation should halt, but if you freeze your bottles, they will crack and you will loose all your brew. NEVE put a bottle in the freezer! Your freezer is about 0F and your brew will freeze and the bottle will crack. Duh.
Carbonation is an art, and without monitoring your sugar and alcohol content with a hydrometer (~$12, so I feel it is worth the investment) there is very little way to make an educated guess about how much carbonation you are going to form, and how long it is going to take to form. With a little practice, you can get pretty good at guessing, even without the hydrometer. Whatever you do, just don't forget about your brew sitting on the shelf completely. If you don't want to put all your cider in the fridge, you will need to periodically crack open (and drink) a bottle to make sure that there is not too much carbonation forming. Depending on the yeast and sugar you used, a great deal of carbonation could be forming in those quiet little bottles on the shelf. So much pressure in fact, that the glass can actually explode. This is affectionately known as a bottle bomb. Don't make bottle bombs. It ruins your cider, and your living room. So test often (every few weeks), or keep your bottled cider in the fridge.
Of course, if you are making still cider (without any carbonation) you can just keep the whole gallon in the fridge and just pour and enjoy. You can also pour it out into sterile mason jars and seal with sterile lids. I would keep this in the fridge. Never put carbonating cider into jars! BOOM.
Step 12. You are finished! Kick back with a cold one and enjoy! It has been a long process, but boy was it worth it. You will immediately want to start a few new batches to try some different techniques. If you do enjoy cider making and want to upscale your production, do look at some of the resources in the links section of this site. There are some great sites out there that can help introduce you to the right tools to move you from beginning cider maker, to cider master! Best wishes and happy brewing!
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Text and images on this page by Jessica Shabatura. Siphon text excerpt from Bodensatz Brewing