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This might seem like a really dumb question but what exactly is meant by the term "racking" and how did it come about?

When someone says, "I just racked my beer", what does that mean? Can it have different meanings? I've heard it used (maybe incorrectly) to when you start the fermentation process and when you start the bottling process.

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To rack your beer simply means to siphon it from one vessel to another, such as from a primary fermenter to a secondary, or from a fermenter to your bottling bucket. Racking refers to transferring the whole of the beer or wine from one vessel to another, leaving behind sediment. Homebrewers usually only do it once or twice, whereas winemakers will rack several times, up to six or so, to help clarify the wine.

As for why it's called "racking," I don't know. I never looked into it.

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"Racking" is called racking probably for some silly reason like someone had a primary in a bucket in the floor, and the aging barrels on a rack. Hence you rack the wine/beer when it finished fermenting. Sorry if I'm channelling Klif from Cheers on the comment. –  Pulsehead Feb 1 '11 at 14:14
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@Pulsehead: You're probably not that far off. The term originates in winemaking, and wine barrels are often stored on big racks allowing them to be stacked 3 or 4 high. Then again, maybe not. A search for "racking wine etymolgy" yielded this: books.google.com/… (Look on the page for "Rack off wine." –  JackSmith Feb 1 '11 at 15:17
    
@Pulsehead: That's probably right: for a siphon to work, one container needs to be higher than the other. Probably on...a rack! –  Jarett Millard Oct 11 '11 at 20:15

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