It took about three weeks for our five-gallon batch of apple cider to ferment completely. After our overflow emergency had settled back down, we put the regular airlock back on the fermenter and let it bubble away for a couple more weeks. It eventually slowed, and then finally stopped bubbling. If bottled before the fermentation has stopped, the gases produced are powerful enough to blow the tops off the bottles, or even break the glass. So we always wait another day or two past the last bubbles through the airlock, just to be sure. When the level in the airlock starts to lift backwards, it's time to get the bottles out.
As with the fermenting process, cleanliness is still very important to prevent any off-flavors in the cider (or exploding bottles), so an empty bucket, the tubing, bottle filler, bottles, and caps are all washed, then rinsed with a weak bleach solution to sterilize. The spent yeast has sunk to the bottom of the fermenting bucket, also helping to settle out everything else in the juice. Hooking the tubing to the spout of the fermenting bucket, the clear, fermented cider is transferred to the clean bucket, leaving the bottom dregs behind.
We want a sparkling hard cider, with a bit of carbonation in the bottles. So Aries dissolved 3/4 cup of corn sugar (not cane, beet, nor from any syrup - I don't know why, but he says we need to use only corn sugar) in one cup of boiling water, and then left it to cool earlier. That's enough for the whole 5-gallon batch. He gently stirs that into the bucket of cider (with a sterilized spoon), puts the lid on top loosely, and sets the bucket up on a stool on our counter so the cider will flow out the bottom valve. We're ready to bottle. That little bit of sugar will ferment in the bottles; the little bit of CO2 gas produced is enough to carbonate the cider without (hopefully) blowing the bottles.
My mom was visiting, so she helped Aries bottle the cider. From the valve on the bucket, the cider flows through the tubing to the filler. It's a rigid tube with a spring-loaded valve on the end. When the bottom of the filler is pressed against the bottom of a bottle, the cider flows. When the cider reaches the top of the bottle, lifting up on the filler stops the flow. The filler displaces just enough space in the full bottle so that when it is removed, it lowers the level of the liquid inside just the right amount.
Aries hands clean bottles over to Mom, taking back the filled ones to seal. When making beer, we like to reuse 16-oz Grolsch-type beer bottles, the ones that seal with a gasket, porcelain top, and a metal bale. Since we added extra sugar before fermenting the cider, it has a higher alcohol content than our beer - quite a bit higher, so we want to use smaller bottles. A 12-oz bottle is enough for three, even four, servings (and then I often mix my portion with ice and club soda). We reuse regular beer bottles, sealing by crimping on new metal bottle caps. Domestic bottles with twist-off caps can't be resealed, but we (and our friends) save empty foreign beer bottles that still need a bottle opener for our home brewing endeavors.
Hey lady! No sampling!The filled bottles are labeled with item and date (little dot stickers on the caps) and packed away into a couple of boxes (I kept a few out for experiments in vinegar-making). Aries put the cases on the floor of our bedroom for another week or so. The secondary fermentation, the carbonation inside the bottles, gets off to a good start in the warmer environment, and we can keep an eye on the bottles to make sure none break. He just moved the cases down to the cellar yesterday, putting one bottle in the refrigerator for tasting last night. The cider still has quite a sharp taste, but it's not bad, even this early. There was a bit of a hiss when he opened it, but no bubbles yet. By Christmas, it should be mellowed nicely; by next summer, make for some wonderful cocktail hours, out on the deck watching the sunset.