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Old 10-16-2009, 03:34 AM   #1
Oct 2009
Birmingham, Alabama
Posts: 173
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so i have heard a lot of different things about secondary fermentation...i've heard its not true secondary fermentation unless you transfer it well before primary fermentation is complete...ive also heard that secondary fermentation should take place after primary is basically complete after 7 days. will somebody please help me with some correct information...

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Old 10-16-2009, 03:41 AM   #2
Donner's Avatar
Feb 2008
Oxford, MS
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from my understanding, secondary fermentation is a bit of a misnomer and a process that was popular but has started to fall out of favor.

If you beer is done fermenting (7-10 days usually) then transferring the beer might lead to a small amount of additional fermentation but nothing significant. The logic behind this is to get the beer off the yeast as soon as possible so the yeast don't die and give off off-flavors.

Many brewers on here, myself included, have found that leaving the beer on the yeast for up to month (or longer in some cases) doesn't contribute any off-flavors and, in fact, helps the beer because the yeast have more time to clean up after themselves and fall out of suspension. This leads to a clearer beer.

Now for the 'sometimes' moments. I will move a beer to secondary if i feel like adding a fining agent, such as gelatin, and don't want to deal with it in my keg. Most of the time i just add the gelatin to the keg and keep the first few pints for myself.

Another reason some brewers secondary is they might have a 5 gallon carboy, which would be too small to use as a primary, but need their primary for another beer they are brewing. In this case they might rack to secondary so they can free up the primary.

Brew Your Own magazine recently (last month maybe) did a study on whether leaving beer on the yeast cake longer allowed for a better or worse beer. As with most things in the beer world, the results were mixed with no clear winner from what i remember.

If you want to secondary, give it a shot, if not you probably wont do any damage.

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Old 10-16-2009, 03:43 AM   #3
BioBeing's Avatar
Jan 2009
Memphis, TN
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If you transfer after the fermentation is complete, you are not using the secondary as a secondary, rather it is more properly called a bright tank. If fermentation is ongoing (gravity is still dropping) it is a secondary fermentation.

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Old 10-16-2009, 04:46 AM   #4
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Aug 2009
southern IN
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With keeping the previous posts in mind. The commercial breweries that i've read about and visited only do a primary ferment. Then filter and transfer to the bright tank. They also told me that they have vary the temps during fermentation to achieve full attenuation.

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Old 10-16-2009, 05:02 AM   #5
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Mar 2009
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The only time fermentation "should" happen in a secondary fermenter is if you add something to an ale like fruit. Your fermentation should be done completely before you transfer and then some time should elapse on the cake for byproduct clean up before you transfer. The only other exception would be in lagering, but even here most people now are staying on the cake until it's done in about four weeks and then just using the secondary as cold storage. I have now been brewing since Spring and quite active at it and on the boards. Only one beer, a Hefeweizen which is a German wheat beer meant to be served very cloudy and very young, did not sit on the cake for 3-6 weeks before bottling or in one case transferring to secondary. The beer that went to secondary was a high alcohol "experimental Belgian" that needed to age and mellow. All have been great with no off flavors, and I do not brew in the coolest environment in the Summer months. Unless you have a reason not to, leave it on the cake at least two full weeks and preferably three and you will be rewarded. Exceptions are if your doing something like the Hefeweizen, or want a true English Ale experience and the recipe is set up for it (low alcohol. They're not really like what we call English ales here.), or adding fruit (don't do that until your ears are a little dryer).
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Old 10-16-2009, 02:06 PM   #6
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Oct 2005
Oak Grove, Oregon, USA
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Secondary fermentation is a wine making term, which we are slowly pushing off into a corner for beer making.

Forget time-in-fermenter and trust your hydrometer.
Remember one unassailable statistic, as explained by the late, great George Carlin: "Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are even stupider!"

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Old 10-16-2009, 03:49 PM   #7
rico567's Avatar
Apr 2008
Central IL
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The use of a secondary is not a "yes or no" question. Neither is it some sort of "obsolete" process. Yes, the closest thing to a secondary in commercial brewing is probably a "bright tank," which is used to clear the beer. But that answer isn't exhaustive either. Homebrewers are not commercial brewers, and the secondary may be used for a number of reasons, and with specific beers. Some of these things have been outlined in this thread. My list of reasons may or may not apply to kegging. I don't keg, and have no particular interest in it.

As I see it, the following DO apply:

1. As in commercial breweries, to clear the beer.

2. To allow for the time needed for some high gravity / complex beers to mature / age properly. (Again, there is room for argument about whether the bulk aging in a secondary is superior to aging in a bottle or keg; I have no intention of exploring this argument here)

3. To provide an environment for amendments of fruit, extracts, spices, or for dry hopping.

4. To provide for storage pre-bottling, when logistics don't permit it. I have two batches that were put in the secondary two weeks ago, and due to other contingencies, cannot be bottled until the middle of November. These batches had been in the primary buckets for 3 weeks, and I didn't think it expedient to leave them in for another 6.

5. It is true that "secondary fermenter" is probably not a useful term. The only neologism that comes to mind immediately is "booglefratz," which would probably not find general acceptance. Anyone have a suggestion?
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-A. E. Housman (1859–1936). A Shropshire Lad , 1896.

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Old 10-16-2009, 03:52 PM   #8
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Dec 2007
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin
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Revvy! Help. I can't find your post from the other day. Can you post it here again. I would like to bookmark it.

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Old 10-16-2009, 04:16 PM   #9
Jan 2009
Somewhere in Illinois
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I think most people use the term "Secondary" really just to describe the carboy used to hold the beer after "primary fermentation" is complete. I used to use it as traditionally described - to get the beer off the yeast as soon as possible. But once I learned that leaving it on the yeast may be better, I used it more for convenience. For instance, I brewed a large IPA and wanted to dry hop it. So I put it in the secondary to dry hop.

Another time I was brewing a half batch and wanted to "watch" it and since it was a half batch, I could put it in a secondary and do that (was cool!).

Another time I just needed my primary bucked and racked over to a secondary so I had the extra space.

So as others have said, most people do not use it for "secondary fermentation" more just as a "secondary" storage device.

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