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Ask Bob Brewer: What is “Racking” Beer?

Posted by at 9:04 pm | Category: Ask Bob Brewer 0

Bob Brewer answers your questions about the world of craft beer and brewing.

Dave: As a former home brewer, I thought racking was part of the bottling process, as I would use a racking cane to get the beer from the carboy to the bottle. What’s racking, or what’s the difference between racking and bottling? Thanks!

Bob: Good question, Dave. We post daily about our current production activities on our website and social media channels, and racking is one of the things we mention. In the case of production breweries, the term “racking” refers to the process of filling kegs.  As in any industry, there’s a lot of terminology that is industry-specific, and the world of brewing is no exception.  This brewery jargon has many origins: history, equipment, ingredients, processes, and (big surprise here) the German language.

Old-style wooden kegs were filled through the ”bung hole”, an opening on the side of the keg, and then sealed by driving in the ”bung”.  The kegs were moved from station to station by rolling them on a somewhat elevated railing system for cleansing, rinsing, and filling.  This railing system was referred to as the “rack,” and the keg filling area was called the racking room. To fill a keg was to “rack” it.  The first metal kegs in the USA were shaped just like the old-style wooden kegs, which mostly did not survive the prohibition years. Even though the new kegs were made of modern metal, the old racking and keg handling machinery from pre-prohibition days, which was designed to handle the old wooden keg configuration, survived intact and was put into use after repeal in 1933. It continued to be an industry standard for the next 50 years.

Today’s modern breweries use a straight-sided keg that is run through the cleaning and filling processes on a conveyer and roller system that is still referred to as the rack. Breweries and beer kegs may have changed, but wineries and distilleries still use wooden barrels where contact with the wood is an essential part of the aging of the wine or whisky. Filling these barrels is called racking as well.

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