Saturday, 1 December 2012

Racking the cider

  First a gripe about the state of humanity.  Me and mine went to the Xmas thing in Hampton like we do every year.  Lovely as ever.  Someone got hurt up by the Uxbridge Road and an ambulance was coming up from Fulwell. It ended up slowed to a crawl behind a shuffling crowd outside the bakers' who were not so dense that they'd be harmed or even greatly inconvenienced by getting out of the way.  So I shouted "ambulance!", which should have caused some reaction, but nobody moved.  I shouted again "AMBULANCE!", and a few people moved.  So I took a fortifying glug of hot wine and yelled "There is an ambulance behind you with blue lights on!  Move into the right hand lane or onto the pavement!  This is no longer a request!"  That shifted them.

  I recall a similar set of circumstances five years ago in Heiligendamm, only there the whole crowd took up the cry of "rettungswagen!" and immediately parted like the Red Sea from where I was to the horizon and beyond my sight.  They were so good that the krankenwagen never had to go slower than 10 mph.  THAT is how people are meant to behave!  I despair of my compatriots.

Okay, on with the cider!

If you haven't yet read the start of this keg of cider then you'll find it here.

  Racking is the practice of transferring your unfinished wort from one vessel to another whilst fermentation is still ongoing.  You do this after the first 1-2 months or whenever your sediment starts to look a bit dense.  A little sediment is a good thing, it gives it a complexity of flavour.  Too much sediment impairs the flavour.  When you rack cider (or beer, or wine, or mead) into a new keg you leave the bulk of the sediment behind in the old keg.

  The keg is meant to spend as much time sealed as possible; so if you wish to add ingredients that weren't in season or were too impractical or expensive when you laid down the cider, or top up with sugar or yeast or nutrient, then you wait until racking time to do this.  Today I've added rhubarb and enough yeast and nutrient to begin a secondary fermentation.

  It smelled as it should, which is not to say it smelled good.  This stuff is not cider, but a half-fermented apple wort.  Essentially it's a tub of rotten apples.  It'll be another month's maturation before I dare call it a cider.  Still, it had the beginnings of the right overtones and undertones. I reckon it'll be alright.

  Proper rhubarb cider is hard to get in London.  The commercial stuff is pale and crap, and the decent stuff from Kent and Somerset seldom leaves Kent and Somerset.  If you want good cider in London then you have to either go five miles to find a niche pub that gets it in, or you have to brew it yourself.

As you can see, the sediment has gotten deep.  
1) Sterilise the second keg and equipment in hot water and chlorine, as per the original

2)  Add any supplementary fruit (such as the rhubarb) to the second keg with a little nutrient before the wort is racked.  Be sure to whiz the new fruit through the blender with some water and sugar to extract the maximum flavour from it.  

3)  Pour the wort from the old keg to the new keg via a towel in a sieve.  

4)  When it gets to the point that you're pouring as much sediment as product, and the liquid itself is thick, opaque orange, this is the time to stop.  Tip the rest down the toilet.  

5)  Finally, add any supplementary yeast (made up the same way as the starting yeast) and seal the keg.  If you use the same type of airlocks as I do then you can tell when the keg is airtight because twisting the keg lid any tighter causes the airlock cap to jump high enough into the air that it clears the chamber and pops off.  
6)  Leave it in the bath and run the hot tap to a quarter full.  Let the revised wort warm up to between 25ºC and 30ºC in order to give the yeast a favourable starting point.  Then remove the keg from the bath, dry it off and put it back where it normally lives.  

Easy peasy.  This lot'll be racked one last time, about a week before it's due to be drunk.  The final racking is done to clear any scum from the top (resulting from the stringy bits in rhubarb, which are indigestible to yeast), and to introduce Campden tablets which halt further fermentation.  Overbrewed cider is even worse than underbrewed cider.  I'll then stash it away somewhere cold so that it tastes lovely and fresh when it's needed.  The final rack is also when I'll draw some off for lab testing.  

Fingers crossed!

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