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How to go from Primary to Secondary


Grandmaster Brewer
Jul 6, 2012
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Plain City, OH
I too use the auto-siphon with great success. Of course I'll only go to a secondary if clarifying agents are going to be used or if I'm dry-hopping a big IPA.

I do believe in the "whatever works best for the individual" thing so I'm not going to trash anyone's methods, but I've got to mention that ales benefit from enough time on the yeast cake (including whatever trub there may be) and I just can't imagine 4 days as being "enough time" to do what I've come to understand yeast is supposed to do; that is "clean up after themselves".

This is not to say good beer can't be made using shorter primary times, but it IS to say if racked off the yeast cake too early, there may not be enough contact with enough yeast to complete a good healthy fermentation and post-ferm house cleaning.

My beer sits in the primary for as long as fermentation takes to finish up as verified by gravity measurements taken over a 2- or 3-day period, and then it sits 2 or 3 days more to clean up after itself. I've come to understand fermentation produces a lot of byproducts, some of which most folks don't want in their finished beer, myself included. THIS is what works for me.


Master Brewer
Mar 31, 2011
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I just want to touch on a couple things that philm63 pointed too. The yeast play a very important roll in the taste of the final product and separating them from the byproducts produced during fermentation WILL effect the flavor of your beer. It's also being discovered that yeast play a role in the different flavors your hops give you during fermentation.

It doesn't hurt the clarity of your beer to leave it in the primary  2 or 3 weeks, then bottle or keg I think we can ALL agree on this, but it will effect the flavor of the beer if the yeasties weren't the least bit happy and left you some surprises  :p


I came across an article one time.  cant find it right now.  But it was listing various techniques used by AHA winners and a surprisingly large percentage of AHA winners use a secondary.  I don't.  And I never won an AHA contest either.


Grandmaster Brewer
Oct 8, 2011
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Bajaedition said:
I do not agree about secondary fermentation
I like to get my Ales off of the trub about 4days and my Lagers after about 10 days, however I like to keep my Ales going another week and lager about 2 weeks before I hit my target final.
Getting it off the trub of primary makes for a cleaner beer. IMO

Before I say any more, I don't really care what way you care to manage your beer.  I don't really try to TELL anyone how THEY should manage their process.  I do try and ensure that the information presented here is factual and based on the Science of Brewing.  So, you are welcome to use whatever processes you are happy with.  It's your beer, and the only thing that really matters is, "Are you happy with it." 

That said, the science does not support your process as being the ideal process.  It adds risk to degrading the beer for various reasons, and it does not improve the beer in any way.  At best, it is simply an unnecessary step.  At worst, it introduces Oxygen (and the resultant staling), and wild yeast or baterial infection.

Primary Duration
Even if you choose to use a "secondary", the primary time that you are quoting is too short.  For the BEST results, beer should not be moved from the primary until the fermentation process is 100% complete (unless you are actually performing a second FERMENTATION with another microbial agent, or additional ingredient).  Phillm quotes the ideal method for managing primary fermentation---wait until gravity readings stabilize+2 days.  At that point, all sugars have been consumed and all byproducts such as diacetyl and actaldehyde have also been consumed.  That is generally around the 7-10 day mark. 

By moving the beer before this point, you reduce the total yeast colony available to continue fermentation by well over 50% (except for some weizen strains), and can be as high as 90% for some highly flocculant strains.  This forces an extended secondary fermentation time, because now you have less yeast to do the work. 

You may be "happy" with the results, but it is not OPTIMAL. 

Sanitation is not a 100% kill of all bacteria.  That is called sterilization.  Since sanitation is not 100% kill, that means that when you transfer you ARE exposing your beer to a new bacterial load.  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  In general sanitary is good enough.  But, "in general" does not mean "always".  There will always be a RISK.  There is also the risk that on any given day, your sanitation may not be as good as it should be.  you forget to sanitize the transfer tube, or there is an air bubble that prevents some pocket from getting hit with star-san...whatever.  Every transfer is another change for a mistake. 

JZ won multiple Ninkazi awards (and more competitions than anyone else, ever) and never used a secondary.  If the step were NECESSARY to make the best beer possible, this statement could not be made. 

John Palmer addresses the O2/autolysis question better than I can.  In short, there's no REASON to transfer off the trub, so soon.  the yeast are NOT going to die and create any off flavors in the time frames we are talking about. 

Source:  http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/forum/index.php?PHPSESSIONID=ee8afe3e772592026c22f3e7befa7460&topic=15108.msg191642#msg191642

When and why would you need to use a secondary fermenter? First some background – I used to recommend racking a beer to a secondary fermenter. My recommendation was based on the premise that (20 years ago) larger (higher gravity) beers took longer to ferment completely, and that getting the beer off the yeast reduced the risk of yeast autolysis (ie., meaty or rubbery off-flavors) and it allowed more time for flocculation and clarification, reducing the amount of yeast and trub carryover to the bottle. Twenty years ago, a homebrewed beer typically had better flavor, or perhaps less risk of off-flavors, if it was racked off the trub and clarified before bottling. Today that is not the case.

The risk inherent to any beer transfer, whether it is fermenter-to-fermenter or fermenter-to-bottles, is oxidation and staling. Any oxygen exposure after fermentation will lead to staling, and the more exposure, and the warmer the storage temperature, the faster the beer will go stale.

Racking to a secondary fermenter used to be recommended because staling was simply a fact of life – like death and taxes. But the risk of autolysis was real and worth avoiding – like cholera. In other words, you know you are going to die eventually, but death by cholera is worth avoiding.

But then modern medicine appeared, or in our case, better yeast and better yeast-handling information. Suddenly, death by autolysis is rare for a beer because of two factors: the freshness and health of the yeast being pitched has drastically improved, and proper pitching rates are better understood. The yeast no longer drop dead and burst like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life when fermentation is complete – they are able to hibernate and wait for the next fermentation to come around. The beer has time to clarify in the primary fermenter without generating off-flavors. With autolysis no longer a concern, staling becomes the main problem. The shelf life of a beer can be greatly enhanced by avoiding oxygen exposure and storing the beer cold (after it has had time to carbonate).

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. Racking to prevent autolysis is not necessary, and therefore the risk of oxidation is completely avoidable. Even lagers do not require racking to a second fermenter before lagering. With the right pitching rate, using fresh healthy yeast, and proper aeration of the wort prior to pitching, the fermentation of the beer will be complete within 3-8 days (bigger = longer). This time period includes the secondary or conditioning phase of fermentation when the yeast clean up acetaldehyde and diacetyl. The real purpose of lagering a beer is to use the colder temperatures to encourage the yeast to flocculate and promote the precipitation and sedimentation of microparticles and haze.

So, the new rule of thumb: don’t rack a beer to a secondary, ever, unless you are going to conduct a secondary fermentation.



Grandmaster Brewer
Feb 20, 2012
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Amsterdam, NY
Pulling a lager of the yeast in 10 days is idiotic unless your trying to clone Coors Light. Lagers are hugely influenced by the yeast as it is an inherent part of the delicate flavor. Well with respect to diversity in brewing, brew any way you want to as long as you can choke it down!

Maine Homebrewer

Grandmaster Brewer
May 9, 2008
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Maine (USA)
Because of how my brewery is setup, I always rack to secondary.

I've got one large (seven gallons maybe? never measured) carboy, and several five gallon ones.  To free the primary for a new batch, it must be emptied.

Another reason I use secondaries is time and head space. Not for fear of autolysis, but fear of excessive airspace above the brew along with temperature fluctuations allowing that space to breathe. You can get bad air coming in, and maybe bad liquid from the airlock. Not good. The smaller the space between the brew and the airlock, the less of a chance of that happening.  It's the same idea behind saying you shouldn't rack. Bad air. I figure if I rack with as little splashing as possible, then keep the brew in a container where there will be little chance of the airspace breathing, then I'm good.  Worked so far.

Extended storage over seasonal temperature changes is more of a wine problem than a beer problem, but extended storage over seasons in a carboy where excessive air space (still in primary) can ruin things.

I've had beers sit in secondary for months.  I bet if they were in primary with all that extra head space, something nasty might have gotten in.

Like I said, I brew this way because of the equipment I have.  I'm sure that if I owned conicals I wouldn't rack a thing. Do the best with what you've got.


Dec 9, 2013
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Everyone has there own brewery I guess
and on a forum, we do not get into amount of yeast pitched
hot pitching a lager or cold pitching
Pitching gravity
or all the rest, we could go on for a while
but one thing I can say for sure

If you are worried about infection between primary and secondary, you need to get back to basic sanitary practices.

I will stand on that

we are not professional brewers here, most of us could only dream of a fermenter that we could pull the trub off and keep the wort sanitary so we use other methods, a secondary fermentator is a fact of home brew. It has proven to be the way to do things untill you can afford a system like a conical fementator you can drain the trub with. ( only one choice, there are others)
We are here to discuss home brewing, not who has the best setup to do everything. Most guys are going to have 2 carboys, a 6.5 and a 5, if the OP has a Speidel, he is ahead of the game with a very nice system he can get his hands inside of to clean and sanitize. Most guys only hope to get that in a 6.5 carboy.
So let us get back to basics here, proper sanitation in a home brew setup and yes secondary is not an issue.
Now let us talk time frame, you say my times are not long enough.  OK tell me the amount of yeast I pitch to the amount of wort I am using? and tell me the amount of time it should take. Because without that info, DUDE you are just guessing.
I have been doing this for way to long, made just about every mistake in the book, can tell you horror stories about beer, and can tell you about the perfect beer I did not write down the brewing info on. I really do not care that much any more.
I brew beer, I enjoy it, I do not pretend to be an authority, anyone doing such on a home brew forum is a poser for sure.
But I can tell you this
that equals beer
how good you are is down to basic practices


Sanitation is a basic fact you can not argue

There is nothing wrong with secondary fermentation, it is the home brewers way of dealing with the fact that he does not own a 800 dollar fermentator. 


This forum is often a place where disagreements can occur.  I think it is not the place for name-calling.