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Old 03-18-2010, 01:48 AM   #1
Dougan
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Default Input on the primary vs secondary debate

Don't mean to spark up the debate, and the truth is I haven't decided how I feel about it.

Just figured I'd contribute this because it is sort of unique.

I brewed an oktoberfest last may and then decided to take a 3 month break from brewing for work and fishing. I would see it in the beer fridge but I guess I just assumed that I threw it in a lagering vessel. Well in October, I took it out to bottle it and realized I had left it in the primary! Still bottled (added bottling yeast just to be sure) and tried it in november.

Best beer I ever brewed! Submitted it to a competition and got a 36/50. But all of the dings on it were related to the lack of complexity in the recipe and the hop imbalance (not bitter enough).

I've brewed 35 beers and this is the only lager to date. Definitely way smoother than the rest of my beers and has a great lager character. What I took out of this is that the beer has a phenomenally clear mouthfeel and no autolysis (I don't know how to identify that flavor, but I would imagine the judges woudl have caught it) after 5 months in the primary.

The bottles did have a large amount of sediment at the bottom. I'm sure this is partially due to the extra yeast added at bottling. But I still would imagine this would be very much reduced had I used a secondary.

Not drawing any conclusions from this, but figured I would share my experience.

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Old 03-18-2010, 03:05 AM   #2
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I generally tend to rack after about 2 weeks regardless (sometimes 1 week depending on yeast flocculation), just because I don't like the idea of my delicious beer sitting on top of that trub for months at a time. Other than that, assuming you clean and sanitize your primary thoroughly there's not any problem, especially if it's kept at 40 degrees.

I wouldn't make it a practice of my own, but some folks like the simplicity of doing just a single primary ferment. Some people do a single grain, a single step mashing process, single hop addition and single ferment. Some world class beers are brewed that way.

For my money though, I'll stick with my unnecessarily complex brewing methods

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Old 03-18-2010, 03:07 AM   #3
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It is possible that the quantity of the beer being made effects the amount of off flavors generated by autolysis. That 5-10 gallons is just not enough to have significantly over threshold levels. This is why home brewers can leave their yeast on the sediment for weeks, while in the lab or commercial setting this has been less than helpful. It could also be that the yeast being used today are so much purer than before. It could be that home brew, especially in the U.S., has higher hop rates which mask the autolysis taste.

The use of fining agents and leaving break material in the kettle, or straining it, could significantly reduce off flavors from trub. Maybe autolysis was not the problem, but yeast feeding on hot break material. The pervasive use of irish moss, or racking beer off the break material into the fermenter, might allow for long primary fermentations.

All these variables are part of the problem with resolving this issue. We all probably do some things a bit different. Some primary in plastic, or better bottles, or glass. Some use hop backs, some do this or that. So, when someone says they leave their beer in the primary and it tastes fine, it is hard to relate that to any other brewer.

It is always hard to say since nobody splits worts and does controlled triple tastings. Maybe your beer would have scored 42, if you had moved it off the trub. Who knows. I've seen Papazian reference a study done in BYO magazine where they split a wort and submitted it to judges who couldn't tell the difference. But I can't find anything online, and maybe certain styles of beer could be discerned better.

Looking through award winning recipes, most use secondary fermenters. But not all do. So, maybe you can conclude that fine beer can be made without the extra step, but it is easier to make better beer using a secondary.

I have just gotten back into brewing recently, after about 10 years. 10 years ago, every serious brewer used a secondary. So, I've had to catch up quick on this controversy. From what I can tell, it is important to leave the hot break material in the brew kettle. But the cold break material really doesn't effect things and yeast just don't autolyse that fast, at least in home brewing.

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Old 03-18-2010, 03:18 AM   #4
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There are few times in life when being lazy pays off. Sounds like you saved some work and got a great beer in the process.

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Old 03-18-2010, 03:21 AM   #5
Dougan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pkeeler View Post
It is always hard to say since nobody splits worts and does controlled triple tastings. Maybe your beer would have scored 42, if you had moved it off the trub. Who knows. I've seen Papazian reference a study done in BYO magazine where they split a wort and submitted it to judges who couldn't tell the difference. But I can't find anything online, and maybe certain styles of beer could be discerned better.
Even then I don't think we could be sure.

Say we did the same batch twice but the second vial of yeast was slightly less healthy-- maybe it sat in a brighter-lit spot in the LHBS fridge and the direct light increased the temperatuer. It could be possible that that yeast autolyze quicker in the second batch since they died quicker. That would definitely skew results. I've heard brewers say they sat batches on the primary cake for a year and then didn't have problems, and then after 4 months got autolysis in a batch. With that sort of report, it's hard to say we could ever get conclusive results! Maybe we could try brewing 100 5 gallon brews under identical conditions and averaging the results.

Sometimes I feel ambitious and secondary even if I'm aging for only a few weeks. Sometimes I don't really care about the beer I brewed and let it sit on the primary for weeks and weeks until I get off my ass and bottle it. I don't sweat it either way.

I just thought this was a particularly interesting case study because the beer had no strong flavor so you'd think any off-flavors would shine through more.
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"Traffic. If only it were as light as your beer" - Miller MGD 64 truck. A thought I have every day while driving in heavy traffic, downing light beers.

Search Recipes by Ingredients | Check out my brewing recipes!

Primary: Lagunitas IPA Clone
Kegged: German Pilsner, Clydesdale (Spotted Cow Clone)


Last edited by Dougan; 03-18-2010 at 03:25 AM.
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