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Lugh Ildánach

Step 2 - Racking Your Beer

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As I sit here on the computer, there is a melodic bubbling from the corner of my sitting room where five buckets sit, full of revolutionary decomodified anti-capitalist weaponry.


The wheat beer, stout and pilsner have been in the buckets for over a week now, they have been joined since Sunday with a bucket of Chardonnay and an Apple-Pear Cider!!!


We carried out what is known as racking on the first three buckets last weekend. For those interested in the mechanics of it, this is the process of transferring your beer from one bucket to another. After about a week of fermenting in the first bucket, amounts of dead yeast accumulate at the bottom of the bucket. While this is easily enough removed at the end of the process, you can help to create a cleaner beer with less sediment by doing this after the first more intensive days of fermentation have finished. You can generally tell when this has happened as the bubbling will slow down to once every few minutes, or not at all. A week is as good a guide as any, and fits in nicely if the only time that you have is at the weekends and like us you happended to start your buckets off the previous weekend!


For the more delicate beers, like our baby Pilsner (or any other lager), there is also the issue that the remaining live yeast will start to feed on the dead yeast once they have had their fill of the sugars in the mix, and this can create an off-flavour in the beer. I'm not sure how high this risk is, but since we have a load of buckets, and as the beer will be clearer anyway, we decided not to risk that and have racked our beers (except for the pineapple one, which admittedly has a slight yeasty taste which may well be as a result of this!!!).


The racking process is very simple, and kinda cool. To get rid of the sediment at the bottom, and to prevent oxidisation of the beer (which for some reason is apparently not desirable), you siphon the beer from one bucket to the other instead of just pouring it in. Most of the crap is left at the bottom, and it all acts as a handy physics lesson for any visiting guests or intrigued children that may be about.


At the start of the whole process you will have taken a reading from your mix (I really should have started with Step 1, I'll get round to that later!), with a hydrometer. As with everything else, its not strictly required, but for detail freaks like myself, its an essential part of the process and makes it all scientific and therefore officially good for you! The hydrometer is a thermoter-like device that measures the density of the water. You put a small sample of your liquid in a long thin plastic tube, and dip the hydrometer in, and you get a measure of the liquid's specific gravity, ie the density of the liquid compared to that of water! This will tell you how much sugars you have added to the water, and therefore how much potential alcohol you can get.


So, at the racking stage, we take another hydrometer reading to tell how our beer is coming along. All our three above kits started with a gravity of between 1035 and 1040, and had dropped to about 1010 by the time of racking, which is what you would expect after a week. They should drop to below 1005 by the end of the process. The difference between the two is divided 7.46 to get your amount of alcohol by volume, so you can see that even after a week, there is a fair bit of alcohol produced.


The beers then sit in their secondary fermenter/bucket for another week or two as the process slows down and the last of the sugars are fermented. After two weeks (plus the initial week in the first bucket), pretty much any of the kits will have fermented, but just to make sure (or if you just can't wait for two weeks and want your beer now!) you can continue to take hydrometer readings to find out exactly how your fermentation is doing. Three days with readings of the same amount tells you that fermentation has stopped, and that its safe to go on to bottling your beer! They can however safely sit in your secondary fermenter for several weeks, while you either go on the scrounge for bottles or simply try to find some time in your busy revolutionary schedule!


The process is the pretty much the same for the cider. For the wine, racking has further significance, but I'll deal with that in another thread when we get on to doing that next weekend!


More from the front line later!

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