Author Topic: The final word on a secondary fermentation  (Read 6505 times)

Offline brewmasternpb

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The final word on a secondary fermentation
« on: November 17, 2010, 10:57:04 PM »
OK, I've been seeing a lot of posts from some experienced homebrewers, saying that they don't use a secondary fermentation.  I've been brewing for 8 years, and I've always used a secondary.  I want to gather the facts, so I can evaluate my process, "it's a pain in the butt" is not a valid reason for me.  Here's how I see it:
Using a secondary increases the chances of infection, but if you sanitize everything well, it is a low risk.  The positives are that a secondary improves clarity, but I've heard people say that they get decent clarity without a secondary.  The reason I use a secondary fermentation, is to get the beer off of the trub, decreasing astringency and a "meat-like" flavor.  What I've been reading, is that keeping your beer on the yeast in the primary will aid fermentation.  I overpitch like crazy, so my fermentation is over in 3 days, so a week on the primary usually does it.  Anyway, I'd like input, thanks!
-Dave
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Offline euge

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2010, 11:39:56 PM »
I think one should get their beer off the yeast sooner than later also. If you want to park your beer in a secondary go for it. I park mine in kegs since I rarely dry-hop or add fruit.

Certainly noticed a pronounced umami flavor in the porters I just kegged. Had reasons to do so but ultimately was just plain lazy and they sat in primary for 40 days. I agree with you. A good pitch and proper fermentation temps ought to have a beer ready fairly rapidly. Final gravity (for average beer) is reached in several days. So I skip secondary and either bottle or keg. Depending on the yeast I have so-so clarity all the way up to amazing.

Then they can prime and condition.

But final word...? Hard to say...
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2010, 11:46:28 PM »
You say you do it to "decrease astringency and a "meat-like" flavor", but if you've never done it differently then you don't really know that happens, right? :)  It's just what you've read, just like you've read a lot of people say that a secondary is not necessary.  And I don't think anyone is saying that they leave it sitting on the yeast for a couple of years, most people just package right away.

Doing a secondary is low to no risk of contamination the way I have done it, and low risk of oxidation, but no risk of autolysis.  If you're massively overpitching or doing extended secondary then maybe autolysis could be a real problem for you - but I don't, so it's not a problem for me.  Not doing a secondary eliminates some minor risks with no detriment to the beer over the short term, plus it's less work.  So I don't do one.

Brew 10 gallons (blend pre-fermentation if you do two 5-gallon batches) and try racking one carboy to secondary as normal and bottling/kegging the other immediately.  Then do a triangle test and see which you prefer and if there's a noticeable difference.  Then you'll know what to do for your beers.  ;)
Tom Schmidlin

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2010, 01:31:22 AM »
The only thing secondary is really good for is dropping sediment and brightening the beer. The exception is if you have a high gravity beer, in that case the secondary allows you to age the beer off the majority of the yeast (aging the beer for long periods on the primary yeast can give you the "meat" flavor you are talking a bout, but we are talking in excess of 6 weeks here.) If you keg then your keg acts like a secondary everytime! Its essentially a serving/bright tank all in one.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) there is no final word. Secondary is simply a tool you can use when you think you need it. I will say that I think than in many cases secondary in a glass carboy can cause more problems that it is worth. If you secondary, do it in a keg where you can purge the head space with Co2 and prevent oxidation damage to the beer.
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Offline bluesman

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #4 on: November 18, 2010, 06:19:42 AM »
Brew 10 gallons (blend pre-fermentation if you do two 5-gallon batches) and try racking one carboy to secondary as normal and bottling/kegging the other immediately.  Then do a triangle test and see which you prefer and if there's a noticeable difference.  Then you'll know what to do for your beers.  ;)

+1

There has been much discussion and debate over this issue around here lately. I can understand your concern. I use to rack into a secondary carboy for years religiously and have since omitted this step in my process. I typically keg my beer after primary fermentation with the exception of a big beer and/or some specialty brews.

If you keg then your keg acts like a secondary everytime! Its essentially a serving/bright tank all in one.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) there is no final word. Secondary is simply a tool you can use when you think you need it. I will say that I think than in many cases secondary in a glass carboy can cause more problems that it is worth. If you secondary, do it in a keg where you can purge the head space with Co2 and prevent oxidation damage to the beer.

+1

I also use my keg as the secondary in most cases.

A secondary fermentation in a carboy can be done without detriment to the beer if done properly. The main concern is the introduction of oxygen and contamination. With proper transfer techniques these can be mitigated.

I think by and large a secondary fermentation in a carboy is not necessary and should be avoided but there are times when one is necessary. Use your best judgement and sound practices and one will make better beer.  ;)
Ron Price

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #5 on: November 18, 2010, 06:33:07 AM »
To add: most pro breweries use "bright tanks" which is essentially a secondary. They transfer into the bright tank to both free up the fermenter and to brighten and carbonate the beer. Then they package. But on the homebrew level a keg works as a perfect bright tank. And since you control the final destination of the beer it can act as both a bright and serving tank. You blow off the first few cups of yeast and the beer should flow relatively clear (maybe cloudy for the first several pours.)

If the first several cloudy beers bothers you you can use a keg exclusively as a bright tank. Just cut the dip tube by about 1 inch off the bottom of the keg. Let beer condition cold for a couple weeks and then run the clear beer off into the serving tank via a jumper. You will leave most of the yeast behind and lose a small amount of beer. But this is the easiest way to clear beeer. Some finings, such as gelatin, will help speed up the process.
Keith Y.
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Offline brewmasternpb

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2010, 06:42:06 AM »
You say you do it to "decrease astringency and a "meat-like" flavor", but if you've never done it differently then you don't really know that happens, right? :)  It's just what you've read, just like you've read a lot of people say that a secondary is not necessary. 

Yes, that's why I'm asking for facts, to make an informed decision  :)
Dave Malone
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Offline brewmasternpb

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2010, 06:47:22 AM »
Thanks everybody for the discussion!  I don't keg, so that eliminates that idea.  Also, in 93 batches, I've never had a problem with oxygenation, and I've cracked open 5% beers after a year with no problems.
Dave Malone
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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2010, 06:50:36 AM »
8 years brewing and you are still bottling?? You, my friend, have an iron will!  8)

I haven't bottled a batch of beer in years (though I have filled lots of growlers). That said, the irony is that owning a keging system makes bottling 100Xs easier. You can add the priming sugar to the keg, purge O2, shake to distribute sugar, and fill the bottles over the sink via the pressurized keg.
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Offline theDarkSide

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2010, 06:52:52 AM »
I'm lazy ( or pragmatic as Denny would say )...how's that for a reason :)

I've done a couple secondaries but don't anymore.  For the styles I do, it doesn't seem to affect anything.  For clarity, I use Whirlfoc in the boil and for the first time did gelatin in the keg.  I did the Lagunitas Brown Shugga clone and after 3 weeks and the intial pints, I can read a book through it.  I've never had a beer that clear before.  

But it all comes down to laziness on my part :)
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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #10 on: November 18, 2010, 07:43:38 AM »
My work schedule years ago kept me from racking to secondary a lot of times-I'd brew, be gone for 2-3 weeks and come back and just bottle it.  I realized after a while it didn't make any difference in my beer so being lazy I quit using glass secondaries.  I've left beer in primary a month, rarely longer than that and never tasted any meat or off flavors.  Once and Imperial stout that tasted like kerosene when it got to FG tasted perfect after a couple more weeks in primary. 
Once I rack my beers to kegs the kegs usually sit a month or more until I need them so that's my secondary. 
If you've brewed 93 batches with secondary and never had an oxidized beer why even consider changing?  There are as many "right" ways to brew as there are homebrewers, that's the beauty of this hobby.
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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2010, 08:23:39 AM »
I don't secondary anymore because as far as I can tell it makes no difference in the taste of the beer.

Clarity is one of those things I just don't care about. The beer seems clear enough for me.

I also still bottle after four years mainly because I'm too cheap to by an extra fridge, kegs, gas, etc.

Offline jeffy

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2010, 08:51:32 AM »
I've often thought that the pro brewers are paranoid about yeast autolysis more than homebrewers possibly because the amount of pressure on the cone of a tall cylindroconical fermenter is greater than what you would find in a bucket or a carboy.  Do you guys think there's anything to that theory?  That pressure on the yeast accelerates autolysis?

I routinely leave my beer in the primary until it's time to keg.
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Offline Tim McManus

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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2010, 08:57:33 AM »
I have 12 carboys I use for secondary fermentation and 6 for primary fermentation.  Why?  Because I make so much friggin' homebrew that I have to store the backlog somewhere.  I can only get 5 kegs in the fridge at a time, so the other batches are usually queued in secondary carboys for however long.  Oh, and I split 10-gallon batches with another brewer.
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Re: The final word on a secondary fermentation
« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2010, 09:01:28 AM »
If you're an AHA member you can read what John Palmer has to say about it in the Ask the Experts section of the AHA website.  In a nutshell, here's his take...

"Therefore I, and Jamil and White Labs and Wyeast Labs, do not recommend racking to a secondary fermenter for ANY ale, except when conducting an actual second fermentation, such as adding fruit or souring."

For more info, check his entire answer.
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