Secondary Fermentation: 3 Kings Cider

We are excited to help you get started with the secondary fermentation of your cider! If you missed the first post of How To Make Hard Cider and our discussion on Fermentation be sure to start there.

We are 3 weeks into the process and ready to transfer and add some spices.

hard cider ingredients

By now your cider should be done with primary fermentation, and be well into the maturation stage. Primary fermentation is where most of the sugar gets converted into alcohol, and it should take a maximum of 8 days under optimal conditions.

It is common to mature cider or beer in a secondary fermenter so that it is not in contact with the trub bed that forms during primary fermentation. Trub is made up, in part, of dead and dying yeast cells that can leave bad flavors as they break down. The breakdown of yeast cells is known as autolysis. There is however a lot of debate over whether it is absolutely necessary to transfer into a secondary fermenter if the maturation  stage is short. Many experienced homebrewers leave their brew in the primary fermenter for up to a month and report no detectable issues with flavor. We took this into account when we instructed you to leave your cider in the primary fermenter for three weeks.

Technical Process of Maturation

During the maturation stage, yeast is beginning to slow down and drop out of solution (floculate). The sugar/food resources are becoming too scarce for further growth, and the increasing alcohol content becomes an inhospitable environment. There are many minor byproducts of yeast metabolization that add their own subtle yet distinct flavor to the brew. Some of these are good and add to the complexity of flavor. Others are not desirable and they are why maturation is so important.

During the maturation stage the yeast begin to slow down and become inactive. They start to absorb some of the minor byproducts in an attempt to store up important nutrients before falling into a state of hibernation. Being patient enough to allow a few weeks of conditioning is normally enough to ensure that those unwanted byproducts are not detectable in the flavor profile of your finished cider.

If you have been following our instructions closely, your cider has already been maturing for three weeks. You could go ahead and bottle now if you didn’t want to add any extra spices and flavors, but then you wouldn’t be brewing a batch of “Three Kings”. That is the name we lovingly gave this cider.

Racking The Cider

These next steps will instruct you in the art of transferring/racking into a secondary fermenter and adding additional spices and flavor. If we were fermenting beer, and we were adding hops instead of spices at this stage, it would be called dry hopping. You may have heard of this term before.

First things first. Make sure your racking cane, food grade/surgical tubing, secondary fermenter, and brew bag are all well cleaned and sanitized!

Carefully take the cider out of storage making sure not to splash and disturb the trub bed.

You are going to be siphoning the cider out of the primary fermenter into the secondary fermenter. You will need gravity working in your favor for this. I like to place the primary fermenter on a chair, and the secondary fermenter on the floor for this reason. Placing the primary fermenter too high will make it difficult to siphon off all the precious cider while avoiding the trub in the bottom. It is best to be able to comfortably peer over the top of the fermentation bucket.


Don’t remove the lid and airlock just yet. Remember that any unnecessary contact with oxygen at this stage will cause oxidation and could ruin your brew. Now is the time to add your extra flavor ingredients.

This is the list of ingredients again:

1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup raisins
2 cloves
3 cinnamon sticks

You can measure out the tablespoon of vanilla extract and just drop it into the secondary fermenter. The motion caused by siphoning the cider will ensure it is well mixed.

adding vanilla extract

Add the other ingredients to one sanitized or sterilized (by boiling) brew bag. Tie it closed and add it to the bottom of the secondary fermenter. If you are using a glass carboy as a secondary fermenter rather than a bucket, you will be working with a small bottleneck opening. In this case you may need to shove the bag into the opening leaving enough out to still tie it up before poking it all the way in. Add the ingredients slowly, dropping it through the opening into the bag.

Now you are ready to siphon. Attach the hose to the curved end of your cane. The other end will have a special tip that causes the siphon to suck downward instead of upward. This prevents you from effectively vacuuming up the trub bed during the transfer.

Carefully remove the lid from the primary fermenter. If you have a hydrometer and want to take a progress reading, now would be the best time to pull a sample off into your flask. You can use a sanitized turkey baster or use a specialized tool called a wine thief for this. Set the sample aside until you are done with the transfer to avoid your cider having prolonged contact with the open air.

Starting A Siphon

To start the siphon, you will need a way to draw the cider up through the racking cane and down the hose into the secondary fermenter. You will use water to start this process.

Make sure you are set up near a sink of some kind. Place a large pan on the floor that can be used to catch spent water and cider. Take a second pan and place it on the counter next to the sink. If your tap water is of good quality, you can simply fill this pan with water, but it is not a bad idea to fill it with sanitizer just to be safe. Place the cane end of the siphon into this pan, holding it upright. Begin filling the siphon from the hose end using the sink fossett (If you have trouble filling the siphon this way, try keeping the cane and pan lower than the sink). When the siphon is filled, allow the water to start flowing back out of the hose into the sink. This causes a vacuum in the siphon that will begin to suck sanitizer up the cane, through the hose and out into the sink. Stop up the end of the hose with your finger before all of the sanitizer has been sucked from the pan.

By keeping your finger over the hose end, the siphon will remain filled with sanitizer. It works just like your straw did when you played with your soda as a kid. Carry the siphon over to the primary fermenter now. Place the cane end into the cider without disturbing the trub bed. hold the hose end over the catch pan on the floor and remove your finger. The sanitizer will begin to empty into the pan and cider will begin to fill the siphon. As soon as cider begins to flow into the pan, stop the hose with your finger again.

secondary fermenter

Finally, place the hose down in the bottom of the secondary fermenter and let the cider flow. Remember you want to minimize contact with oxygen as much as possible. For this reason, do not break up the surface of the cider in the primary fermenter more than needed, and keep the hose at the bottom of the secondary fermenter as it fills. Do not let the cane suck any air or your siphon will be broken and you will need to start over again.

When almost all of the cider has been siphoned away from the trub bed, you can carefully tilt the fermenting bucket so that you can get to the last drops of cider out. Make sure and stop before you suck up a bunch of dead yeast. A few chunks aren’t a big deal though.

I found this useful YouTube video showing how to start a siphon. It will help to clarify any steps you are still unsure about. You can also make this easier on yourself by recruiting a curious friend to help you manage all the steps. I’ve found most friends will work for a nice cold cider or beer.

The last step is to seal up the secondary fermenter complete with an air lock filled with fresh sanitizer or vodka, and store it away again.

Let the cider mature and become infused with the added flavoring ingredients for one more week. At the end of a week you can decide if you like how the flavors have developed or if you think they need more time. The biggest factor with the ingredients added are the cloves. If you leave them in too long, you may end up with such a strong taste of clove that you have a topical numbing agent only your dentist will appreciate. Don’t worry though. If you just added the two cloves we recommended, everything will be just fine.

One last thing. If you pulled some cider off to take a hydrometer reading, now is the time to take the reading. If you need help remembering how to do that check out this tutorial again.


Then take your original gravity and your present gravity measurements and do a little math: (Original Gravity – Present Gravity) X 131 = ABV% (Alcohol By Volume)

Afterwords you can drink the sample. Don’t worry if it doesn’t taste like the cider you were expecting….it’s not done fermenting and becoming carbonated in the bottle quite yet. But we certainly won’t turn down the chance to taste the efforts of our hard work each along the way. Cheers!

Reviews & Comments Leave Your Own

    • Kevin Meyer says

      Thank you Irina! We do love fermentation around here. And cider is such an easy introduction too. If you decide to try it, let us know.

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