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To Secondary ferment or not to, that is the question...

JPSwanson91

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I have seen several contradicting posts on whether or not to transfer to secondary fermentation.  I just downloaded BeerSmith 2 and I'm new to home brewing, the defaults have a Secondary Fermentation step in the recipes so is that standard?  I've seen some adamant posts about not using a secondary so I'm getting confused on to do it or not.

IPA is fermenting in Primary, planned on 3 weeks then straight to bottling.  Is that right?
 

TAHammerton

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3 weeks in a primary fermenter is just about OK, but I would not want to go longer. You risk oxidation in transfer, but as long as you are reasonably careful and the yeast still have some life left they should take care of that. There really is no good argument against using a secondary so why not? You will get a cleaner beer and carboys are only about $33. Plus a carboy that has junk stuck to it for a week is one hell of a lot easier to clean than the hardened cake after 3 weeks. Also if you are in a secondary and you get busy leaving the beer in there an extra week won't do any harm.

Use Star San to sanitise the secondary, racking cane and transfer tube (don't fear the bubbles). If you are using a bucket with a spigot as a primary then it is super easy to transfer. Just be sure the end of the tube is below the surface to reduce splashing as much as possible.

If you really want to know if it is worth it to you try brewing the same recipe twice - once all in one and the other with a secondary then taste the difference.
 

twhitaker

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I have been performing secondary fermentations since 1982.  In theory, after about  SG 1.020, fermentation is supposed to be ANaerobic, without air.  Carboys can be filled up accomplish this. When It's winter and I can start to brew lagers in my freeze proofed garage, I use a secondary. After 10 to 14 days in the Primary I transfer it, when the bubbler stops /  slows right down to less than one every 30 seconds. Then my Primary Fermenters are freed up much sooner and the next brew session can commence earlier.  After a few 10 gallon batches are fermenting, I can slow down and leave some in the primary for 3 weeks. Also, the carboys are perfect for lagering / aging the odd one another 2 to 4 weeks.
I have done it both ways with the same brew, and for me it seems to clear the beer quicker doing a secondary and I can transfer into kegs sooner, thus drinking the finished brew many days ahead of the three week primary only method.  Flavour and quality were the same with no tasteable difference. Although I cold crash once kegged. Then again, it is an extra step and more work. But your brewery station has a greater capacity if you use secondaries.

Try a secondary- you might like the results.
 

durrettd

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The strongest argument in favor of a secondary is that some brewers are concerned about yeast autolysis - eventually yeast cells die and rot. Sounds like something I want to avoid. However, I understand that modern yeast is more resistant to autolysis than it was many years ago. I've kept beer in the primary for extended periods and have not noticed any off-flavors - or maybe I like the taste of rotted yeast.

Since my beer stays under 65F, I count on the cool temperature to slow autolysis. I also keg and refrigerate my beer within a month of pitching, so  I don't do secondaries and autolysis doesn't worry me.

The most important reason for not doing a secondary is that I'm lazy.
 

prj28

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I stopped doing a secondary and using glass carboys. I now ferment in German Speidel fermentors. These fermentors have an area in the bottom to hold the trub with a spigot above it. No need to siphon any more. I pay close attention to the starter to pitch the correct amount of yeast. I do a two week ferment and if I figured everything right I hit my FG right on the nose. I rely on Beersmith for my pitching rate calculations.
 

Baron Von MunchKrausen

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JPSwanson91 said:
I have seen several contradicting posts on whether or not to transfer to secondary fermentation.  I just downloaded BeerSmith 2 and I'm new to home brewing, the defaults have a Secondary Fermentation step in the recipes so is that standard?  I've seen some adamant posts about not using a secondary so I'm getting confused on to do it or not.

IPA is fermenting in Primary, planned on 3 weeks then straight to bottling.  Is that right?

The defaults in a newly downloaded beersmith app are largly irrelevant. You need to dial in your own equipment and methods.
The "secondary" debate is long and ongoing. I've found most brewers do not bother unless your recipie calls for a dry hop. Even then, many do not bother.

Autolysis for homebrewing is not an issue for the typical 5-10 gal. batch like it is for commercial brewers.
 

Maine Homebrewer

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I always use a secondary, mainly because of the way my brewery is set up. I've got one large glass carb that I use as a primary, and several smaller ones that I use for secondary. Good thing too. The freezer I used for a keg cooler died, and I can't afford to replace it at the moment. So I've got two ales hibernating in secondary right now. And I'm not worried in the slightest. If they were sitting on the original yeast cake I might feel differently.
 

Brewangel7501

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To me, it all depends on the beer. IF i plan on a lagering or conditioning phase i will rack off to secondary, but if i brew a beer that i plan to package/drink in under 21 days, then i leave it alone.  For one thing, autolysis on a homebrew scale really shouldn't be a concern in a beer that turns around in such a short time as 21 days or so.  In fact, my IPA and Bitter DEFINATELY benefit from being on the yeast the whole time, the cells are more plentiful and more capable of cleaning up the fermentation. ;)
Good Luck!
 

BILLY BREW

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I have had the best success when I primary for 7 days and secondary for around 14-21 days. Brew comes out crystal clear and no off flavors. The yeast continues to work, but you don't get the flavor off the garbage heap at the bottom.
 

Slobrew

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I like doing a secondary fermentation. It is fairly simple, gives me a chance to harvest the yeast while not much else is going on. I also get a much clearer beer since I'm dealing with much less junk on the bottom of the fermenter when I move it to the keg. Certainly doesn't hurt anything.
 

philm63

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If I'm dry-hopping or adding spices or fruit or a clarifying agent, I'll rack to a secondary. Otherwise it stays in the primary until packaging time. If I didn't have kegs, I reckon I'd lager in a secondary, too.

I sanitize everything thoroughly every time and purge every vessel with CO2 while transferring but still, my main concerns with transferring from one vessel to another, beit racking to a secondary or a keg, are infection and oxidation. If I do not need to take the risk, I won't. Oh, and I get pretty good clarity either way.
 

JPSwanson91

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Thanks to everyone for the comments, it looks the debate is 50/50 on using a secondary.  That being said, I'll use secondary when I need the primary for another batch and don't want to wait for it.  I can't do Lagers since I lack the temperature controller so I should be ok with Ales.

Thanks everyone...
 

Scott Ickes

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Soon enough, you'll have enough fermenters (I just picked up two more) that fermenter capacity won't be your deciding factor as to whether to secondary or not.  I have the following now:

5.5 gallon glass carboys - Quantity 4
7.5 gallon glass carboys - Quantity 4
8.5 gallon plastic bucket fermenters - Quantity 2
3 gallon better bottle carboys - Quantity 2
1 gallon glass carboy - Quantity 1

I'm now to the point that you can use a secondary or not use one, based on what I'm making.  However, I'm getting into soured beers (Brett, Lacto and Pedio), so once I get enough of them going, I might be back where I was with my regular beers.  I can see myself eventually having 6 soured beers aging, and be down to only 4 fermenters for regular brews.  That wouldn't be too bad, but I usually do a couple of batches of wine each fall, and those tie up two fermenters for approximately 4-6 months.  That would put me down to two 5 gallon or larger batch size fermenters.  Have I mentioned that I'm planning on building a lagering chamber?  Oh...........That will tie up a fermenter or two each time when I'm making lagers.  Crap!

Maybe I should just go out and get about 10 more fermenters.

All joking aside, you can never have too many fermenters.  It's better to have too many, so that you don't have to rack beer (exposing it to oxygen and contamination), when you don't want to.  I only secondary when the beer calls for a secondary.  If it's a straight ale, I have no problem leaving it in the primary for the 3 to 4 weeks it requires and then racking straight to a keg or bottles.

You can see though, that secondaries and the amount of fermenters isn't just tied to beer clarity.  There is a lot more that goes into it.
 

haerbob3

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Another vote for secondary.  I do a lot of lagers, and high ABV Belgiums.  Grew up making wines with Grandpa, Pops & uncles so secondaries have basically become second nature.
 

Catch-22

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I logged on to ask a question about secondaries, and found this thread.  Perfect.

I recently brewed a toffee nut brown ale, and after 3 weeks I transferred to a secondary, where it sat for about a month.

In the secondary, more yeast settled out when I then racked to my keg.  After carbing for over a week, I tried it, and I have to say I'm a little concerned.  It isn't a "bad" batch of beer in that it's contaminated, but I am getting some sort of an off-flavor that I can't put my finger on.  Can the yeast left over in the secondary start causing problems?  When I racked to the keg, I noticed that there were small bubbles forming on the top of the beer in the secondary.  Is that a bad sign that the yeast started to die and break down?
 

Maine Homebrewer

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I always rack into a secondary, regardless of the type of beer. That's because I've only got one primary, so if I want to have more than one going at a time, I've got to rack it.  That said, I've never had any problems I could attribute to racking. Sometimes I've had batches sit in the secondary for months without issue. So whatever it is, I doubt using a secondary is to blame.
 
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