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When to rack to secondary?

puddlethumper

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How do you decide when to move your beer (ale) to a secondary fermenter?

I have a batch of Nut Brown Ale that has been in the primary for 9 days.  Still getting some slow action in the airlock and there is a 1" layer of krausen on the beer.  How do you decide when to move the beer?  Do you wait until the krausen begins to clear?  Do you move only after all airlock activity stops?  Or, do you just move the beer at "x" days no matter what?
 

Curly55

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I just do it by the calinder (10 days) and let it sit in the secondary for 2-3 weeks or untill I have room in the keg fridge. The other way is to take a reading and ensure its at terminal gravity before proceeding. Mozel Tov.
 

KipDM

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depends on gravity and what i am adding in secondary.
most ales i primary for 7 days, secondary for 7-12.
if i am adding honey/fruit purees/anything fermentable to secondary i then secondary for 10-14 days.
high gravity, primary 7-10 days, secondary 7-10 days.
session, primary 5-7 days, secondary 7 days.
 

puddlethumper

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Do you always use a secondary fermenter?  When I started brewing last fall I thought it was a standard procedure.  Now I am learning that some guys leave their beer in the primary all the way up to bottling day.
 

Maine Homebrewer

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Back in cooking school when asked "How long do I cook this?" the chef would always respond "Until it's done."

I wait until the yeast falls out before moving to secondary. Could be as little as a week for an ale, or as long as three for a pilsner.

Personally I always use a secondary, but that because of how my brewery is setup.  I like to dry hop, and often a brew can sit around for a month or more before going into a keg.  Dry hops work best in secondary, and it's unwise to let a brew sit around in primary for a long time.  If you don't dry hop, and you keg/bottle right away, a secondary is not necessary.
 

philm63

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+1 to ..."until it's done"

Take gravity readings after the bubbles have slowed significantly, and when you see consistent readings at least two days in a row, your fermentation is done BUT - leaving it in the primary for a couple of days after readings are stable will let the yeast finish their job of cleaning up the byproducts of fermentation such as dialectal and acetaldehyde. 

I'll use a secondary only if I'm doing an IPA with lots of dry-hops, or if I need finings.
 

puddlethumper

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When I started this hobby I thought you just went one week primary, one week secondary, then bottle.  It's tuning out to be a tad more complicated than that and I'm trying to get a clear handle on these points.

So if I understand this, leaving an ale in the primary for the entire fermentation isn't really a problem unless it is going to stay in the primary for more than a couple of weeks.  But for a dry-hopped recipe the move to a secondary is about mandatory.  Right?

Second point, if I have it right, is that the timing of the move can be determined by stabilized gravity readings, and/or dissipation of the krausen indicating the yeast is finishing up and flocculating. 

Now, if I have it so far, it brings up another question:  If I leave the beer in the primary for the entire fermentation, how do I determine when it is time to bottle?

Thanks for the information.
 

MaltLicker

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philm63 said:
+1 to ..."until it's done"

Take gravity readings after the bubbles have slowed significantly, and when you see consistent readings at least two days in a row, your fermentation is done BUT - leaving it in the primary for a couple of days after readings are stable will let the yeast finish their job of cleaning up the byproducts of fermentation such as dialectal and acetaldehyde. 

I'll use a secondary only if I'm doing an IPA with lots of dry-hops, or if I need finings.

+1 to "until it's done"

The active/primary fermentation may usually take ~five days, but the clean-up might take ten more days beyond that. 

Every batch is different in some way: yeast strain, wort sugar profile, temps, starter size, yeast vitality, etc.  Some yeast create more diacetyl, and some are less efficient at cleaning it up, etc.  And it's the primary yeast cake that does this cleaning, so if you move the beer off that yeast before it's cleaned up after itself, you are greatly reducing the amount of yeast available to clean up in secondary. 

Based on comments in this forum, I think a growing number of brewers are using the primary longer and skipping secondary unless the batch/style needs more time in carboy without sitting on the primary yeast cake.  And on a homebrew scale, I think we can use the primary for 30 days with no risk of off-flavors from the yeast cake.  That's more a commercial problem with their huge volumes and tall cylinder-shaped fermentors creating much more weight-force on the yeast sitting at the bottom of the tank.



 

puddlethumper

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This is my first batch in a glass carboy so now I can really see what is going on with my beer.  Previous batches were in a plastic bucket and I just blindly moved the beer after 7 days and started the next batch.  Now, as I watch the beer develop I find that my understanding of the process had a lot of holes in it.

It sounds like I need to set up a second primary fermenter if I want to brew up another batch.  I'll just leave this batch well enough alone until it's time to bottle.

So, how do you decide it's ready to bottle?
 

Maine Homebrewer

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So, how do you decide it's ready to bottle?

You're using glass? Just watch. The yeast does its initial fallout (that's when I rack), and after that the beer continues to clear. At some point it will be clear enough that you can just see that it isn't doing anything more. If it's a light colored beer you can see what's on the other side of the carboy, or see the yeast cake from above.  You'll see.  At some point it will be clear that there is no more fermentation, and you're just waiting for the yeast to settle.

As long as you see a beam when you shine a flashlight through the side of the carboy, that beam represents millions of yeasties reflecting back at you their eagerness to eat your priming sugar and carbonate the final product. It also represents the final sediment you will have in the bottom of your bottles or your keg. Some wine wonks will wait until they see no beam before bottling. Of course they want their final product to be still with no sediment. You want to see the beam, but you don't want mud in the bottom of your bottles.

You'll figure it out.
 

KipDM

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when it is time for most of these is all personal preference.
if you are taking hydrometer reading to determine when fermentation is finished then rack to your secondary (or bottle) 1-2 days AFTER fermentation has stopped (i say this just to be on the safe side, some people rack or bottle the first time they get the same hydro reading 2 days in a row).
if you are not taking hydro readings then it is a ll guesswork anyway (but lower temp = slower ferment, higher temp = faster ferment).
i personally (for the short term) do not use a hydro and don't care how high my true ABV is. i am enjoying making and drinking beer. at some point i will be a 'true' brewer and measure these things.

do you need a secondary? only if you want more clarity to your beer.
it is better to dry hop in the secondary but you CAN in the primary. if dry hopping in the primary, wait at least 5 days before the first dry hop  for better aroma retention.
the secondary mostly lets you get more particualtes out of your beer. you can also accomplish this by letting it sit in the bottle and extra 1-2 weeks before refrigerating. then pour a careful, constant pour into your glass.

**note: if dry hopping always wait at least 5 days after dry hopping to bottle since the hops will float for days. give them time to settle. this can be avoided by using a hop bag.**

i choose to secondary everything, even wheat beers (and they NEVER get clear).
i find that by racking to a secondary it is much easier for me to be patient and wait an extra week before bottling.

when to bottle? what are you looking for?
minimums:
if you have let it sit in the primary fermenter long enough then you can bottle in as little as 5 days (again depends on hydro usage and temperature).
i would recommend ALWAYS letting it sit in a primary a minimum of 7 days. if you choose to use a secondary then a minimum of 7 days. bottle and then let bottle condition (room temp) a minimum of 14 days before refrigerating.
some beer types need to bottle condition a lot longer, but i have made any of those yet.

my preferences:
if you are making ales (not lagers) then 7-10 days primary is a great rule of thumb. i follow with a secondary for  7-14 days (i tend towards 7 for lower gravity and 14 for higher gravity) is plenty. again this depends on style. i try to be patient enough to wait a full 21 days of bottle conditioning before refrigeration (but sometimes it calls to me and demands that 14 days is enough, when this happens in only chill 2-4 on day 14, saving the rest for day 21).
 
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