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Old 01-22-2014, 11:17 PM   #1
bendog15
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Default Do I need a secondary fermentor?

Noob to the homebrew scene. Have brewed 6 batches so far, all have been ale malt extract kits. Really like it so far, was wondering if I should buy another carboy for a secondary fermentor.
My buddy tells me it's not necessary, as most of the ales I make only sit in the carboy for 4-5 weeks before bottling. Plus I only do 5 gallon batches. But I read a lot about how transferring to a secondary can either a) help out a lot in getting the brew off the dead lees, improving clarity and flavor, or b) is an easy way to introduce bacteria to your wort. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks

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Old 01-23-2014, 12:03 AM   #2
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I personally don't see the need for most brews. I leave my beer be for about 3 weeks normally, from brew day to bottling, and I never have a problem with clarity in them.
Both A) and B) are true, to a degree.
You will find people with both sides of the argument, some people who never use them, and others who use it for every brew.
I will use a secondary if I want to do bulk, long term aging, like on wood, fruit or I'm doing a sour. I have an IPA in primary now, and I'm planning on tossing some dry hop in, but I'll just do that in primary, since I'm only doing it for a week.
Most of the lees (trub, to us technical types) are actually not dead, they're dormant (yes, there are some dead yeast in there, but not as much as you'd think.
If you are leaving a beer be on that stuff for months and months, then you will have enough dead yeast in there and they may start to basically decompose.
It's not a bad idea to have another carboy around, be it a 6.5gal size for primary or a 5gal for secondary.

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Old 01-23-2014, 12:11 AM   #3
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Unless it's a "big" beer, you need the fermentor for something else,or you are adding fruit/dry hops and plan on harvesting yeast,I wouldn't bother. I routinely eave my beer in the primary for a month and my beer is better because of it. Some good info can be found here: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f163/secondary-not-john-palmer-jamil-zainasheff-weigh-176837/

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Old 01-23-2014, 01:02 PM   #4
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Agree with the advice given .... more often than not, a secondary is unnecessary....however, there's nothing wrong with having a second or third carboy on hand, so you don't have to brew one at a time, opens up your options....at the moment, I have a 6.5 gal bucket, three 5 gal carboys and one 3 gallon carboy, though I'm concentrating mainly on mead these days

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Old 01-23-2014, 01:22 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by fuelish View Post
Agree with the advice given .... more often than not, a secondary is unnecessary....however, there's nothing wrong with having a second or third carboy on hand, so you don't have to brew one at a time, opens up your options....at the moment, I have a 6.5 gal bucket, three 5 gal carboys and one 3 gallon carboy, though I'm concentrating mainly on mead these days
Sure there is. They are heavy, break fairly easily, leaving sharp glass shards, are difficult to pour wort into, and are much less handy to clean and store than buckets and cost twice as much. I have 5 bucket to ferment in and one carboy. The carboy sits empty most of the time.
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Old 01-23-2014, 01:25 PM   #6
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As has been mentioned, you really don't need to have a secondary. I used one on my first batch and nothing went wrong with it, actually cleared it up a little, but it was not needed. Now the only time I use a secondary is when I age (on oak) or dry hop.

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Old 01-23-2014, 01:31 PM   #7
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Sure there is. They are heavy, break fairly easily, leaving sharp glass shards, are difficult to pour wort into, and are much less handy to clean and store than buckets and cost twice as much. I have 5 bucket to ferment in and one carboy. The carboy sits empty most of the time.
I got the Big Mouth Bubbler from Northern Brewer because I prefer fermenting in a carboy but I hated cleaning the thing. Now this is pretty much the only fermenter I use, I actually think it is easier to clean then the bucket
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Old 01-23-2014, 01:47 PM   #8
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I read a lot about how transferring to a secondary can either a) help out a lot in getting the brew off the dead lees, improving clarity and flavor
That's an outdated myth. If anything, racking to secondary harms beer clarity.

Think about it. Why would a bed of yeast on the bottom of the carboy prevent particles/yeast in suspension from precipitating out? On the other hand, racking it to another vessel mixes any particles that were almost settled out back into even distribution, where they must start sinking to the bottom all over again.

As for flavor, that's also outdated advice. It's applicable for large breweries, where the higher osmotic pressure can rupture yeast cells, causing autolysis and the accompanying off-flavours, but such pressures don't exist at the homebrew scale. Autolysis will still occur after a long period (due to aging rather than pressure), but we're talking months, not weeks or days.

Neither of those are good reasons to secondary. That's not to say there aren't good reasons to secondary - just that "clarity" and "flavor" are not two of them. Good reasons for secondarying include:

  • You need the fermenter for another batch of beer
  • You need the yeast for another batch of beer
  • You're adding additional flavour elements (like dry hops, fruit, or other additives) and don't want to contaminate the yeast so you can re-use it
  • You're adding additional flavour elements and are worried that they'll sink into the yeast bed, inhibiting their ability to infuse their flavour into the beer.

Risks of racking to secondary include oxidizing your beer and exposing it to infection. In the case of the list above, sometimes that's a worthwhile tradeoff. But if you're just pursuing an outdated notion that doing so will improve clarity of flavour, then you're taking an unnecessary risk for nothing.
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