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Old 10-23-2012, 08:22 PM   #1
hellbus
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Default Using only primary fermenter vs. primary/secondary

Hello! I know there have been several debates on using a primary/secondary fermenters vs. only using the primary.

From what I gather, most people say "it depends". One main reason I see that people opt to use a secondary for is if the beer is a bigger beer.

I am wondering why bigger beers would require a secondary. Does it have something to do with it sitting on the trub for an extended period of time? Is it to make room for the amount of krausen?

Can anyone shed light on this for me?


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Old 10-23-2012, 08:28 PM   #2
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For a "bigger beer," the only benefit I could see is if you were doing an extended bulk conditioning... that way you don't have the beer on the yeast for too long. But even then, you wouldn't want to rack it into secondary for several weeks.


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Old 10-23-2012, 08:30 PM   #3
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Personally, I would only use a secondary for... secondary fermentation - like you are adding fruit or maybe souring the beer. Other than that, the risk of autolysis is much lower than the risk of oxidation. It's an antiquated logic that really is a slow-to-die habit for a lot of older brewers - one of those theories that has evolved over time. Honestly, many people even dry hop in the primary. You could even leave the beer in the primary fermenter for a fairly extended period of time - like a month or more - providing the other aspects of your procedure are solid - yeast health, pitching rate, ferm temps, sanitation, etc.
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Old 10-23-2012, 08:36 PM   #4
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Quote:
Does it have something to do with it sitting on the trub for an extended period of time?
Yes it has something to do with this, and more than anything it has to do with pretending to be a commercial brewer and superstition.

I don't know anyone who will seriously warn against using a primary only.

The first argument is a fear about something called autolysis which will supposedly produce off-flavors in long aging beers.

Generally speaking, people don't worry about it unless they are aging their beers for at least a few months. Your normal gravity, normal aging beers have nothing to fear from autolysis.

High gravity beers generally age for a lot longer so if people are doing a barleywine that will age for a year, they frequently transfer to a secondary, but as I said, not for normal beers.

The other argument is that your beer will be clearer if you use secondaries, but the use of gelatin, cold crashing, and normal racking doesn't give this argument much of a leg to stand on either.

The topic has been discussed to death so if you need more info, just use the search function to get enough reading material for a lifetime.

The short answer, is that the debate is over. You don't need secondaries to make world class beer. In fact, almost any change to your brewing process you can make will have a bigger impact than secondaries.
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Old 10-23-2012, 08:45 PM   #5
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I agree, the only time I've ever used a secondary (glass carboy type) is when I didnt have a keg to put the beer in to "secondary" while carbing up. If you do choose to utilize a secondary though, make sure there is very minimal head space as the yeast are not chugging out C02 anymore and oxidation could become a problem with 5 inches of head space between the opening and the beer.

Sound advice has said to just ferment out for three weeks in the primary, secondary only if you're adding something to the beer, and lager or condition the beers in kegs or bottles. Most of the time the beers will be the best at about 6-8 months after brew day, unless you're doing something like a Hefe when you should be drinking it on day 12 after brew day.
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Old 10-23-2012, 08:46 PM   #6
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I could see using a secondary for big beers if you plan to do a secondary fermentation by adding more fermentable sugars (corn sugar, malt extract, etc.) to up the ABV.

Or maybe the higher alcohol level makes autolysis more rapid or more likely and you don't plan to bottle/keg real soon.
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Old 10-23-2012, 09:22 PM   #7
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Racking to secondary is recommended for lagering or when you simply want a clearer beer. You can't leave it in primary over extended periods as autolyse eventually kicks in and ruins flavour. So to get crystal clear results, or to lager it, you'd rack it off the cake to secondary and move it colder. If you harvest yeast, then it's normal to rack your beer before you dry hop, to avoid flavouring your harvested yeast. Big beers normally require long primary, and would not necessarily reach acceptable fg if you racked it off the cake too soon. But sometimes you'd rack a big beer with the lees and all simply to get the yeast back in suspension, as big beers have a tendency to stick near the end. Racking the yeast back in suspension is very effective for those situations. At the end of the day, many brewers do not secondary their beers. Amongst them is Jamil Zainacheff. So is secondary a requirement to make good beer? Absolutey not, but in some situations as mentioned above, it may be useful.
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Old 10-23-2012, 09:26 PM   #8
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I only secondary into my 5 gallon carboys to make room for my 8 gallon fermenting buckets for new beer lol, so maybe 25% of my beers see secondary at this point, and only if i need a bucket.
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Old 10-23-2012, 09:47 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yeastforbrains View Post
You can't leave it in primary over extended periods as autolyse eventually kicks in and ruins flavour.
and by extended, we mean 6 months or more. since very few home brewers leave beer in primary that long, autolysis isn't something to worry about.
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Old 10-23-2012, 10:15 PM   #10
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True, but there's also a risk of spoilage of thrub, hop-material and proteins settling out on the bottom along with the yeast. All these components are potential off-flavour donors, and so it is simply safe and standard practice to keep your primary relatively short. In practical terms that means 1 month or less, and nowhere near 6.


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