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Old 03-09-2013, 07:55 AM   #1
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Default Primary only vs secondary = effect of yeast clean up

I have been doing some reading and asked some questions on primary only vs using secondary. I know there's a lot of differences in opinion on this matter. Which has made me think the real main differences (depending on what style of beer) Is that it will change the taste and clarity. But now Im asking my self how does it effect the clean up the yeast do after the main conversion of starch's of sugars are complete. I know it is important to let them finish there job , but how does it effect that process using a primary only vs secondary also. There has to be a difference do to the fact that there most likely is more yeast if left in primary only. But its full of mostly dead cells. The lively cells are still suspended , right? I know this might be a stupid question but im new to brewing and think about things like this a lot.



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Old 03-09-2013, 12:57 PM   #2
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First of all, no question is stupid! I do extract brews mostly and only do primary for simplicity's sake. Primary only is not a bad way to go. The difference comes in aging. As you may know, you don't want the dead yeast cells and other sediment to stay in your beer longer than two weeks. They break down and cause off flavors. Most ales will be completely done fermenting within 10 days. But, especially in higher gravity beers, they can take longer to ferment and there is benefit in aging. I think it's mostly about the chemical compounds that result from all that sugar being changed into alcohol that have to precipitate or something. Although, someone else may need to weigh in, because I am not sure what is the advantage over bottle or keg aging. Doesn't the same thing happen there?



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Old 03-09-2013, 01:25 PM   #3
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As you may know, you don't want the dead yeast cells and other sediment to stay in your beer longer than two weeks. They break down and cause off flavors.
I hate to contradict, but that's not at all accurate. The idea of not allowing beer to sit atop the yeast cake for over 2 weeks comes from commercial brewing using large conical fermenters and does not apply to home brewers using carboys/buckets. You'll be perfectly fine running your fermentation in the primary for 3-4 weeks. Important to the whole process is temp control. Mid-60's is best for most ales.

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Most ales will be completely done fermenting within 10 days.
Mostly done? Sure. Completely done meaning the yeast has finished cleaning up after itself and the FG has stabilized? Maybe or maybe not. The only way to know for sure is to take consecutive hydrometer readings. Otherwise, let it ride 3 weeks in the primary and then bottle.
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Old 03-09-2013, 01:43 PM   #4
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There are three of phases of fermentation. At the beginning, the lag phases is when you add the yeast and it seems nothing is happening. That is when the yeast are reproducing and fermentation will start. Fermentation is the next phase, and when that finishes up, the conditioning will start.

When the beer is done fermenting, the yeast will still be active and scrounging around for food. Once the easily digested maltose is gone, the yeast will work on less preferred foods, including their own waste products (like diacetyl). That's what most people are referring to when they say "the yeast cleaning up after itself". After that, the yeast will flocculate and fall to the bottom.

These phases aren't all isolated, as they overlap, so even though it seems like nothing is happening there is still some activity in the fermenter.

The yeast doing the "work" are in suspension, so it really doesn't matter if there is a layer of trub on the bottom or not. That is, moving the beer to a clearing vessel won't hurt, but there is nothing magical about it either. The beer will still do their thing whether in the primary or in the clearing vessel.

The beer will still clear just fine in the primary, and any autolysis (the off flavors from spent yeast) isn't an issue in the 1-3 weeks (or even more) that the beer will spend in the fermenter.

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Old 03-09-2013, 01:57 PM   #5
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From my experience, leaving beer in primary for however long does not negatively impact it, I went three months once and I've found that leaving the beer on the cake cleans it up. The yeast on the bottom has simply fallen out of suspension, it isn't doing much but it isn't necessarily dead. I routinely harvest this yeast to repitch or to make a starter so I'm confident that they are indeed alive. I think the bad flavors from dead yeast is am old wives tale. If it does happen I think it is more likely due to pitching a bad yeast than to leaving it on the cake too long.
I don't usually secondary and my beers a they are typically adequately clear. I do extended primaries and haven't had any I'll consequences.

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Old 03-09-2013, 02:04 PM   #6
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From my experience, leaving beer in primary for however long does not negatively impact it, I went three months once and I've found that leaving the beer on the cake cleans it up. The yeast on the bottom has simply fallen out of suspension, it isn't doing much but it isn't necessarily dead. I routinely harvest this yeast to repitch or to make a starter so I'm confident that they are indeed alive. I think the bad flavors from dead yeast is am old wives tale. If it does happen I think it is more likely due to pitching a bad yeast than to leaving it on the cake too long.
I don't usually secondary and my beers a they are typically adequately clear. I do extended primaries and haven't had any I'll consequences.
I have found that while it may not "negatively" impact it, that there are taste differences between a shorter (say, 7-14 days) and a longer (three weeks +) primary. I prefer the shorter time for my taste, but many others prefer the longer primary.

There was a podcast on Basic Brewing Radio about a year or two ago that did this as an experiment. They made the same beer in a variety of ways- tradition primary/secondary, a long primary, etc. While all noticed differences in the finished beer, the testers were split on which they preferred!

I'd suggest to anybody to try it themselves. See which they like better. For me, I don't leave beers in the fermenter for more than about two weeks on purpose but it does happen due to life events. My preference is to package the beer around 2 weeks for most ales.
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Old 03-09-2013, 02:07 PM   #7
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"That is, moving the beer to a clearing vessel won't hurt, but there is nothing magical about it either." Yooper.

Oh, Yooper, I could not disagree with you more!! It is an epic experience to watch the golden, amber, chocolate, etc. heavenly liquid cascade through the racking tube. It is a wonderful bonding moment with your beer that only serves to heighten the anticipation for when one can finally achieve oneness with your creation. It is magical indeed....

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Old 03-09-2013, 02:09 PM   #8
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I leave mine in the PV 3-4 weeks and then bottle and condition for 2 months
I will even bulk prime the PV and then lightly stir wait an hour then bottle
I have NO PROBLEM with clarity either. People can say what they want but this does work.

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Old 03-09-2013, 02:10 PM   #9
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It's important to understand the yeast that settles to the bottom isn't dead, it's dormant. If it were dead none of us would even have this hobby and the world be a sad place indeed! Only in extended periods, months not weeks, do yeast begin to actually die and decay (autolysis). If fear of this is your reason for secondary, you're on a fools errand. The debate lies in the issue of clarity, and even this doesn't show "clear" evidence of improving any faster in a secondary versus a single vessel ferment. If you can transfer in a sanitary way and guarantee no oxidation, knock yourself out. This is pretty difficult to do for most home brewers using buckets and/or carboys though which is why I so highly advocate primary only for any beer that will be done in less than 2 months...

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Old 03-10-2013, 03:08 AM   #10
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While some taste tests liked beer racked to secondary, and all taste is a matter of opinion- for yeast to fully metabolize out the bad flavors (diacetyl) takes time, racking to secondary in 2 weeks shortens this life. Plus, you have an increased chance of infection, however slight. This flavor enhancement is most noticeable in lagers, which can be lagered for months (though truly, when you go < 40 degrees, this isn't yeast working, as even lager yeast goes to sleep at that temp).

There were scientific tests of wine a number of years ago, and many tasters gave very high ratings to brett infected wines (Which unlike beers, brett is always bad in wine). So, the tasters rated them highly, but "technically" they were infected / bad wines.

In the end, it is all a matter of taste. Most brewers hate cleaning the most- so why put into secondary and increase this workload? That is, unless your ageing (in which case you want to minimize yeast / trub) or adding something for flavoring.



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