Yeast doesn't die....and the shift has been to extended primaries. Many of us leave our beers in primary for a month rather than using secondary.
You'll find that more and more recipes these days do not advocate moving to a secondary at all, but mention primary for a month, which is starting to reflect the shift in brewing culture that has occurred in the last 4 years, MOSTLY because of many of us on here, skipping secondary, opting for longer primaries, and writing about it. Recipes in BYO have begun stating that in their magazine. I remember the "scandal" it caused i the letters to the editor's section a month later, it was just like how it was here when we began discussing it, except a lot more civil than it was here. But after the Byo/Basic brewing experiment, they started reflecting it in their recipes.
Fermenting the beer is just a part of what the yeast do. If you leave the beer alone, they will go back and clean up the byproducts of fermentation that often lead to off flavors. That's why many brewers skip secondary and leave our beers alone in primary for a month. It leaves plenty of time for the yeast to ferment, clean up after themselves and then fall out, leaving our beers crystal clear, with a tight yeast cake.
This is the latest recommendation, it is the same one many of us have been giving for several years on here.
Originally Posted by John Palmer
Tom from Michigan asks:
I have a few questions about secondary fermentations. I've read both pros and cons for 2nd fermentations and it is driving me crazy what to do. One, are they necessary for lower Gravity beers?
Two, what is the dividing line between low gravity and high gravity beers? Is it 1.060 and higher?
Three, I have an American Brown Ale in the primary right now, a SG of 1.058, Should I secondary ferment this or not?
Your advice is appreciated, thanks for all you do!
Allen from New York asks:
John, please talk about why or why not you would NOT use a secondary fermenter (bright tank?) and why or why not a primary only fermentation is a good idea. In other words, give some clarification or reason why primary only is fine, versus the old theory of primary then secondary normal gravity ale fermentations.
These are good questions – When and why would you need to use a secondary fermenter? First some background – I used to recommend racking a beer to a secondary fermenter. My recommendation was based on the premise that (20 years ago) larger (higher gravity) beers took longer to ferment completely, and that getting the beer off the yeast reduced the risk of yeast autolysis (ie., meaty or rubbery off-flavors) and it allowed more time for flocculation and clarification, reducing the amount of yeast and trub carryover to the bottle. Twenty years ago, a homebrewed beer typically had better flavor, or perhaps less risk of off-flavors, if it was racked off the trub and clarified before bottling. Today that is not the case.
The risk inherent to any beer transfer, whether it is fermenter-to-fermenter or fermenter-to-bottles, is oxidation and staling. Any oxygen exposure after fermentation will lead to staling, and the more exposure, and the warmer the storage temperature, the faster the beer will go stale.
Racking to a secondary fermenter used to be recommended because staling was simply a fact of life – like death and taxes. But the risk of autolysis was real and worth avoiding – like cholera. In other words, you know you are going to die eventually, but death by cholera is worth avoiding.
But then modern medicine appeared, or in our case, better yeast and better yeast-handling information. Suddenly, death by autolysis is rare for a beer because of two factors: the freshness and health of the yeast being pitched has drastically improved, and proper pitching rates are better understood. The yeast no longer drop dead and burst like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life when fermentation is complete – they are able to hibernate and wait for the next fermentation to come around. The beer has time to clarify in the primary fermenter without generating off-flavors. With autolysis no longer a concern, staling becomes the main problem. The shelf life of a beer can be greatly enhanced by avoiding oxygen exposure and storing the beer cold (after it has had time to carbonate).
Therefore I, and Jamil and White Labs and Wyeast Labs, do not recommend racking to a secondary fermenter for ANY ale, except when conducting an actual second fermentation, such as adding fruit or souring. Racking to prevent autolysis is not necessary, and therefore the risk of oxidation is completely avoidable. Even lagers do not require racking to a second fermenter before lagering. With the right pitching rate, using fresh healthy yeast, and proper aeration of the wort prior to pitching, the fermentation of the beer will be complete within 3-8 days (bigger = longer). This time period includes the secondary or conditioning phase of fermentation when the yeast clean up acetaldehyde and diacetyl. The real purpose of lagering a beer is to use the colder temperatures to encourage the yeast to flocculate and promote the precipitation and sedimentation of microparticles and haze.
So, the new rule of thumb: don’t rack a beer to a secondary, ever, unless you are going to conduct a secondary fermentation.
I get little if any sediment in my bottles, simply by opting for a long primary. This is my yeastcake for my Sri Lankin Stout that sat in primary for 5 weeks. Notice how tight the yeast cake is? None of that got racked over to my bottling bucket. And the beer is extremely clear.
That little bit of beer to the right is all of the 5 gallons that DIDN'T get vaccumed off the surface of the tight trub. Note how clear it is, there's little if any floaties in there.
When I put 5 gallons in my fermenter, I tend to get 5 gallons into bottles. The cake itself is like cement, it's about an inch thick and very, very dense, you can't just tilt your bucket and have it fall out. I had to use water pressure to get it to come out.
This is the last little bit of the same beer in the bottling bucket, this is the only sediment that made it though and that was done on purpose, when I rack I always make sure to rub the autosiphon across the bottom of the primary to make sure there's plenty of yeast in suspension to carb the beer, but my bottles are all crystal clear and have little sediment in them.
Half the time I forget to use moss, and you can't tell the difference in clarity.
I get the barest hint of sediment in my bottles....just enough for the yeast to have done the job of carbonating the beer.
THIS is where the latest discussion and all your questions answered.
We have multiple threads about this all over the place, like this one,so we really don't need to go over it again, all the info you need is here;