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Do I need to rack my beer to a secondary fermenter?

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[edit] The Conventional Wisdom

Most standard homebrewing books recommend racking your beer to a Secondary Fermenter once the fermentation slows a bit, in order to avoid off flavors that would otherwise result from yeast autolysis. For years, homebrewers have dutifully racked their beer from carboy to carboy, or from food-grade plastic bucket to carboy. Racking is considered especially important when using open fermentation in a plastic bucket (that is, the lid is placed on top but not sealed).

[edit] The Controversy

The term "Secondary Fermenter" is misused in the majority of cases. Fermentation takes place in the primary vessel which is a fermenter. The Secondary Vessel is used to condition and clear the brew as well as bulk age. In a few circumstances a Secondary fermenter is used when the brew is moved from the Primary fermenter to a second fermenter and new fermentables are introduced such as fruit. The correct term in the majority of cases for the Secondary Vessel is a Bright Tank.

Recently, however, some have questioned whether this process is necessary or beneficial. Some say that there is not enough yeast to create off flavors when working on a home brewing scale, or that any autolysis would be undetectable in any but the lightest beers or with any but the unhealthiest yeast.

[edit] The Evidence

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