This is why I don't buy into the extended primary method for anything below 1.060 OG but if you are a new brewer or still am trying to get your processes down I wouldn't try this!
I want to start by asking you to bear in mind through this that I don’t hear someone say they leave beers in an extended primary for 3+ weeks and think to myself that their beers are automatically worse quality. I just personally cannot blindly take someone’s word for things without experimenting for myself.
So over the last few weeks, I have learned I am not alone with this method. It finally made me sack up and decide to post my method of fermenting beers below 1.060 OG.
Here is the skeleton version of my method:
Pitch yeast on Day 1
In Primary for 10-14 days
-3-7 days fermenting at 60-64 Degrees
-3-5 days "clean up time" while raising temp to 70-75
-Usually around 14 days total until I reach a weekend to bottle
Bottle on day 10-14
-carbonate for 1-2 days
-condition for weeks
Now the detailed explanation
I start fermenting at 60-64 degrees, and even then primary fermentation is done usually in 5 days (sometimes as soon as 2 days but sometimes not until 10-12 days). This may be a characteristic of my house yeast strain that I use in 70+% of my recipes (Pacman) since it is a notorious sugar guzzler, but I have found the same results with Nottingham.
This is where I differ from the extended primary method. People recommend the extended primary mostly to help clean up off flavors. Also it helps things settle out of suspension resulting in clearer beer and less sediment in bottles. I cannot dispute either of these facts as they are both proven and true.
All I can do is offer my own methods and results of trying to achieve the same end result.
Once my final gravity is reached, I take it out of temperature control and let it rise to ambient (70-75) on its own over a course of 5 days.
There are two advantages I have found from fermenting like this:
1. Fermenting at low temps causes very few off flavors to begin with, so there are not many “byproducts” to clean up in the first place.
2. By raising the temperatures after the bulk of fermentation is done allows the yeast to work quicker at cleaning up but they throw no more off flavors since they aren’t actively fermenting. (Somewhat comparable to a diactyl rest in lagering)
This is where I the most interesting of my findings occur.
Yeast really isn’t going to hang around for more than 3-5 days once primary fermentation is over. There are simply not enough resources to make life worth living so they go dormant. It’s not that they won’t continue to clean up, it’s that [in my mind],
they are going to be incredibly inefficient at cleaning up from here on out. The yeast at this is point lazy, sluggish and cleaning up at an extremely slow rate over a period of weeks. To me it is NOT worth letting the beer sit in the primary any longer.
What proof do I have of this? Keep reading.
So I bottle. Yes, I bottle typically 10-15 days after pitching the yeast.
I ALWAYS bottle one beer in a plastic soda bottle. I squeeze out the head space and cap it so the bottle remains squeezed inward with no headspace. As the yeast eats the priming solution, they produce the C02 that pushes the bottle back to its original shape and reforms the headspace. It is also a great indicator of carbonation when things happen in this order.
1. You will see the bottle return to its original shape
2. The bottle will get rock hard with C02 filling the headspace
3. The bottle will get less rigid as the C02 in the headspace and the beer reach equilibrium.
Now the shock value: The beers are usually carbonated after 20 hours.
I know it surprised the crap out of me the first 3 times. Not always does it do this, but my last 4 batches were carbonated the night after bottling.
So this is the main reason I feel the extend primary is not necessary…the yeast go dormant. By allowing them to clean up briefly and bottling while they are fully active, they carbonate immediately. My older batches with the extended primary took weeks and even months to carbonate leading me to believe: The longer you leave the beer in the fermenter before bottling, your wati time gets compunded since you have to wait almost twice as long for it to carbonate.
Why not let the yeast do the conditioning AND carbonation at the same time? By keeping the yeast fully active longer I honestly feel I get better beer in a shorter time.
Here is where it all comes together. My aging and conditioning period does not begin until the beer is in the bottle. For the reasons I stated earlier, I feel extended primary is unnecessary and any benefits of the extended primary can be achieved by aging in the bottle.
Think of it as a “Revised Secondary” if you will.
So even if the beers *CAN* go from grain to glass in 10 days, usually age them for at least 2-4 weeks in the bottles. Milds are ready the next day while other beers need more conditioning time. The other benefit of this you can sample the beers as they condition in the bottle, giving you some good data to tweak your process in the future. So your beers are already carbonated by the time they rech their peak
. I also like to experiment so I compare bottles that conditioned in the fridge with those that conditioned at 70 for the same amount of time.
So a crude comparison using the methods where [say a 1.045 Pale Ale or Bitter] a beer reaches is in its “great" to "peak” state using minimal times for each is:
Extended primary= 3 weeks in fermenter + 3 weeks to bottles=6 weeks grain to glass
My method = 10 days in fermenter + 1 day in bottles + 2 weeks conditioning = 3.5-4 weeks.
To me it isn’t necessarily about time, but being efficient. I find my beers are the same quality at 4 weeks using my minimal primary method as the extended primary puts them at 6 weeks. So the difference in between the two methods results in a chance for the beers to condition an extra 2 weeks by the time they would just be carbonated using the extended primary.
With all that said, it should be clear my minimal primary method should not be performed if you are a pitch and forget brewer, or don’t control temps closely. Extended primaries without a doubt are the best option for brewer who can’t ferment in the low 60’s. Leaving it on the entire yeast cake for longer will help heal any mistakes you make along the way.
But if you are careful not to produce any off flavors in the first place, I encourage you to at least try this out.
My intent is not to ruffle feathers or provide indisputable scientific experiments or revolutionize homebrewing as we know it. I know how attached people get to their own methods, especially if it is widely accepted. I just want to share my experiences to encourage people to try out new thing and not always blindly follow the herd. You may just be surprised at what you find
This way you can drink your beer 10-14 days after pitching, save it for weeks to condition into its prime, or a healthy mix of the two.
If anyone wants me to experiment with certain things to advance understanding of this, I will do my best to oblige. If you just want to condemn my method without trying it, go right ahead, but don’t expect me to feel the need to prove anything to you!