Originally Posted by the_mink
I started my first ever batch (Pale Ale) on Friday night, and it's bubbling in my primary fermenter bucket. I've got a second plastic bucket that I'm planning to put a spigot into and use as a bottling bucket, where I'll mix in the priming sugar, and then from there, put it into bottles for conditioning. I like the idea of getting a somewhat clearer beer this way as opposed to going straight from the primary to the bottles.
On the other hand, I was thinking that if I'm putting it into a second bucket anyway, should I just go ahead and let it condition in this bucket as a secondary? It's smaller than the primary bucket -- it's marked up to 5.5 gallons and then it has only about an inch of space above the 5.5 gallon mark.
I know it's recommended to use a glass carboy as a secondary to reduce oxygen exposure. But is it really likely to make much difference?
(By the way, I'm not planning on doing any of this soon -- it'll still be in the primary fermenter for a while yet.)
First off, you definitely do not want to bottle from the primary. You'd have a heck of a hard time siphoning the beer into the bottles, and you wouldn't be able to mix the priming sugar very well at all. Remember, after primary fermentation has subsided, you want to keep as much oxygen out of the beer as possible. This means no stirring, etc (you even want to be careful when siphoning from primary to secondary or bottling bucket. Keep the end of the tube below the surface level of the beer to minimize splashing).
Next, unless you're going to dry hop or add flavoring, you don't need to secondary. There are plenty of threads that debate this, but I can speak from experience in saying that my Blonde Ale (which sat on the primary for 3 weeks before bottling) came out extremely clear. Some say that letting a beer clear in the primary is even better than transferring to secondary.
As for when you do use a secondary, if it's only going to be a month or less than you'll be fine with a plastic bucket. This works out well for beers that are secondary'd for flavoring (like fruit puree's) because you WANT that extra head space, since fermentation will pick up again and create krausen. If it's going to be longer though, or you want to be sure, just pick up a better bottle. Cheaper and safer to handle than a glass carboy, and virtually the same.
Rule of thumb: If it's not being dry hopped or having flavor added after the primary, don't secondary.