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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Beginners Beer Brewing Forum > Second Fermentation - Timing
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Old 11-23-2010, 04:07 PM   #1
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Default Second Fermentation - Timing

I am currently fermenting my version of a holiday ale and the air lock was actively bubbling this morning, which is always a good sign (airlock went on Sunday afternoon). I am purposely brewing this batch to share with friends during the holidays; that is, as long as it comes out well. This will be my fourth non-kit batch and I am considering doing a second fermentation to clean up the taste and look of this beer. But I have a few questions and would appreciate any help or corrections on the matter:

1. What should I look for when initiating the second fermentation? Decrease in airlock activity? A desired hydrometer reading?
2. How much actual fermentation occurs in the second stage? Should I look for additional activity in the airlock or wait a few days and check the hydrometer readings? And how long should I wait until I bottle condition?

Thank you for your input. I am sure there is another thread somewhere with a relevant subject, but it can't hurt to keep it fresh.

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Old 11-23-2010, 04:19 PM   #2
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1. Fermentation to be finished. 3 days with no change in gravity.
2. None. Up to you.

The truth is (and many people will come along soon to tell you) you don't really need to do a secondary unless you are adding something. I only do secondaries when dry hopping, lagering, or extended conditioning time (i.e. Barley Wine). When doing a standard dry hop secondary I do 2 weeks primary and 2 weeks secondary.

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Old 11-23-2010, 04:38 PM   #3
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I've added everything that I wanted during the boil and flame-out; what I want to ensure is that the beer has a clean taste and nice look. Although patience is king with brewing, this is one batch that I want to drink at its earliest availability so skipping a second fermentation may be unnecessary for this scenario.
Usually when I bottle I add the priming sugar to the bottling pail and then siphon from the fermentor into the bottling pail. To reduce floating sediment in the bottles can I add the priming sugar to the bottler and then let the beer sit for 15 minutes and then bottle? Will the sugar settle to the bottom after waiting that long? If that makes sense...

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Old 11-23-2010, 04:52 PM   #4
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Quote:
I am considering doing a second fermentation to clean up the taste and look of this beer.
Do you mean a secondary fermentation? Secondary fermentations aren't actually a "second" fermentation. They are in most cases just an intermediate conditioning step. There's an active debate - that I won't rehash here - about whether they're even necessary or appropriate where you aren't adding additional components (e.g. dry hops, fruit, and candi-sugar). I think that I can paraphrase the general consensus by saying that, if your yeast is healthy to begin with, you can achieve (basically) the same results by leaving your beer in primary for an extra week or two, and avoid the possibility of infection by moving to secondary.

If you really mean you want to start a second fermentation, then I'm just plain confused. You want to add new yeast? That won't clean up the taste and look of the beer; it will create a different beer. Which may be better than the first (I blend yeast all the time) but won't automatically be clearer.

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What should I look for when initiating the second fermentation? Decrease in airlock activity? A desired hydrometer reading?
You don't have to "initiate" secondary fermentation, because it's not actually fermentation. If you want to secondary your beer, you can transfer the fermented beer from your primary fermenter to a (sanitized) secondary fermenter. The purpose is to take the beer off the yeast cake which has formed at the bottom of the primary fermenter.

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How much actual fermentation occurs in the second stage?
Unless you add additional sugars, none.

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Should I look for additional activity in the airlock or wait a few days and check the hydrometer readings?
Unless you add additional sugars during secondary fermentation, the yeast won't have anything new to consume. Because of this, you shouldn't see any change in your hydrometer readings. You may seek airlock activity, but that's caused by the beer off-gassing suspended CO2, or by changes in the ambient temperature and air-pressure.

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And how long should I wait until I bottle condition?
As I noted earlier: some people, myself included, don't go through a secondary step at all. If you believe a secondary stage is appropriate for your beer, then the time you spend there is dependent on your purpose. If you just want to clarify the beer, then a week is probably more than sufficient. If you want to dry-hop your beer, then I usually wait two weeks. I'll often leave beer on fruit for three weeks (because the fruit does add new sugars, and thus re-starts active fermentation.)

It sounds like you just want to clarify your beer. Sometimes people who use a secondary fermentation for clarification refer to their secondary fermenter as a "bright tank." I like that term, because it's less confusing than "secondary fermenter" - a vessel in which no fermentation takes place! If that's your plan, I'd leave it in for a week, and then bottle or keg. If, after a week, you're not happy with the clarity of your final product, you can wait a little longer.

You also mentioned that you wanted to "clean up the taste" of your beer. That's often referred to as "conditioning." The yeast in suspension in your beer will continue to condition the beer until they die or become dormant. They can do that just as well in bottles as in a secondary fermenter. So if you're happy with your beer's clarity, it's time to bottle. The yeast will take care of the rest.
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Old 11-23-2010, 05:16 PM   #5
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Quote:
this is one batch that I want to drink at its earliest availability so skipping a second fermentation may be unnecessary for this scenario.
It seems like you're operating on the assumption that a secondary fermentation will speed up the conditioning of the beer, as well as the clarification. I'm not sure that that's true. I'm willing to assume that transferring the beer off of the yeast cake to a bright tank will cause the beer to clarify (a little bit) faster. The major variable that affects clarification, however, is the use of clarifying agents (like gelatin or irish moss) and the flocculance of your yeast.

On the other hand, my belief is that your beer will "condition" faster in its current fermentation vessel. Yeast is what causes conditioning, so if you're trying to avoid off-flavors, the fastest way to do that is to leave the beer on as much of the yeast as possible. Transferring to secondary will just slow down "conditioning."

So there's a trade-off.


Quote:
To reduce floating sediment in the bottles can I add the priming sugar to the bottler and then let the beer sit for 15 minutes and then bottle?
Remember to add the sugar first, and rack the beer on top of the sugar. Once you do that, cover the lid of the bottling bucket with something sterile (the lid of the fermenter is good, or some aluminum foil) to prevent wild-yeast and bacteria from falling into the bucket. Fifteen minutes shouldn't hurt the beer.

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Will the sugar settle to the bottom after waiting that long?
It shouldn't. Remember, the sugar should be dissolved in water before you add it to the bottling bucket. It will remain in suspension for some time. If you want to find out for exactly how long, you can add sugar to a glass of warm water, and stir it until it dissolves. Then wait to see how long it takes for the sugar to precipitate back out of solution.
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Old 11-23-2010, 05:32 PM   #6
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Pericles (and who ever);
Thank you for your response; I do mean "secondary" fermentation. I am not looking to restart a second stage of fermentation. It is probably quite noticeable how new I am at brewing; I am still trying to get all of the terms down.
My confusion about secondary fermentation comes from an article I read explaining the benefits of using the secondary fermentation method. The article stated that secondary fermentation reduces the likelihood of yeasty characteristics in the final product that can be caused by the beer "conditioning" on the yeast bed. Thus the "clean up the taste" statement.
I haven't found an article that described what occurs during the secondary fermentation so it was nice to read what can be expected.
By the way, I used the term "initiate" to describe the action of transferring the beer from the primary to the secondary; maybe not the best term to use for this subject.

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Old 11-23-2010, 05:38 PM   #7
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...and to follow up on your second response:
I am not considering the secondary fermentation as a way to speed of the process; if anything, I would stay away from a secondary fermentation since it usually increases the timeline by one week. As mentioned earlier, I was only considering it as a way to make the beer have a cleaner taste and a clearer look.
In regards to irish moss, I used a pinch during the last 5 to 10 minutes of my boil.
When siphoning from the primary fermenter to the bottling bucket is it recommended to use cheese cloth or a filter to catch any solids?

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Old 11-23-2010, 06:06 PM   #8
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Quote:
My confusion about secondary fermentation comes from an article I read explaining the benefits of using the secondary fermentation method. The article stated that secondary fermentation reduces the likelihood of yeasty characteristics in the final product that can be caused by the beer "conditioning" on the yeast bed.
After the yeast has finished consuming all the fermentable sugars in your wort, it will start to consume the byproducts of fermentation. A lot of these byproducts cause off-flavors like diacetyls and DMS, so that's a good thing. After the yeast has consumed all those by-products, though, the yeast will start consuming other yeast. That process is called "autolysis," and it can cause off-flavors.

That said, the time-frame in which healthy yeast begin to autolysize in a five-gallon fermenter is longer than most home-brewers wait before bottling. I've left beer in primary for two months without seeing any autolysis, and then repitched the yeast to make great beer a second time around. The problem is much more significant for professional brewers, where the yeast are under much greater pressure.

Quote:
In regards to irish moss, I used a pinch during the last 5 to 10 minutes of my boil.
Then your beer should be nice and clear, although I find that gelatin is a better clarifier. Maybe try that next time?

Quote:
When siphoning from the primary fermenter to the bottling bucket is it recommended to use cheese cloth or a filter to catch any solids?
Some people clamp a hop-sack to the intake of their racking cane. This filters out the solids. Make sure you carefully santize the sack, though, by boiling it for a few minutes.
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Old 11-23-2010, 06:17 PM   #9
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I usually just added the priming sugar to the bottling pail without adding it to water or anything; this time around I'll boil the sugar in some water to sanitize it. I'll also try the hop bag trick by sanitizing it in some boiling water as well.
Thank you for the help.

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