Fermentation Activity in Beer Secondary Fermenter

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Architect-Dave

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Hi all - I am brewing up a batch of Cream Ale (from extract). I had it in the primary for about three weeks and it was quite active and did the typical calming down after a while - typical good brewing cycle. There was no activity by the end of that period so I moved it to my secondary fermenter. It has been two weeks in the secondary and there is some activity going on that was not present at the end of the primary. There are random bubbles in the air lock ( a few a day gurgling out) and a few patches of bubbles on the surface of the beer - typical of a fermentation cycle...it is not an infection or something else - the beer smells fine. I do see little things (almost like what would be fine trub particles) rising and falling within the beer - so this leads me to think that the primary was never really finished and this activated it.

So, being that activity picked up to a very slow fermentation in the secondary (and I mean very slow) but consistent, what should I do regarding time? Should I wait it out another few weeks before bottling? Is there an issue where something infected the beer? I am new to the secondary thing (but my last IPA turned out great - and that was the first time I used a secondary). My concern is that it is fermenting and since making the transfer, there will be less yeast for bottle conditioning and also that they may stress being too few yeast in the 5 gallon batch within the secondary.
 

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I have had a batch of beer go sour, it's a possibility. I'd say it's more likely just CO2 escaping. There will be some dissolved in the beer after fermentation.

As for the bottle conditioning... One thing with a secondary is it allows time for the yeast to continue to fall out of suspension, if you're bottling you might reconsider. Most folks (myself included) will say that a few weeks or a month in primary is safe to do, and after that you may as well package it. I can't say you won't have enough yeast but you are perhaps making it harder on yourself.
 
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Architect-Dave

Architect-Dave

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Thanks for the tips. I may go the route of adding some yeast to the bottle conditioning bucket, along with the priming solution, before bottling. I have had CO2 escape my previous secondary batch, but there were no bubbles on top of the beer in the fermenter. Will just have to see this weekend when I go at it.
 

kinnebrewer

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Did you happen to taste it and take a gravity reading when you transferred to the secondary? If you are worried about an infection, you could confirm that at a sensory level (which sounds like you did), and you could take a few gravity samples over the course of the week. If you see a gradual decline in FG, especially if it begins to creep past the expected FG or what is typical of your yeast strain, it's possible that you may have some wild yeast in there.

What yeast strain did you end up using for this? Is your temperature in the secondary the same as it was in the primary?
 
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Architect-Dave

Architect-Dave

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Hi - I used the Omega West Coast-1 ale with a starter. It tasted fine when I transferred it and the gravity was stable for three days. I am going to take a gravity today and in two days and see what the deal is. I will taste it again on those two readings. If it is fine on all fronts, I will condition.
 
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Architect-Dave

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Did you happen to taste it and take a gravity reading when you transferred to the secondary? If you are worried about an infection, you could confirm that at a sensory level (which sounds like you did), and you could take a few gravity samples over the course of the week. If you see a gradual decline in FG, especially if it begins to creep past the expected FG or what is typical of your yeast strain, it's possible that you may have some wild yeast in there.

What yeast strain did you end up using for this? Is your temperature in the secondary the same as it was in the primary?
Okay - took a gravity reading and it is the same as when I moved to the secondary (1.012). O.G. was 1.075 at brew day. I tasted delicious - nice mouth feel, a bit creamy and smooth. There was what appeared to be a slight carbonation in the beer when I sampled it, but no head. I think this is the CO2 everyone is talking about. I think it is ready to condition - but wondering if I should add yeast to it on bottling day.
 

kinnebrewer

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Okay - took a gravity reading and it is the same as when I moved to the secondary (1.012). O.G. was 1.075 at brew day. I tasted delicious - nice mouth feel, a bit creamy and smooth. There was what appeared to be a slight carbonation in the beer when I sampled it, but no head. I think this is the CO2 everyone is talking about. I think it is ready to condition - but wondering if I should add yeast to it on bottling day.
Oh good! Sounds like it's not an infection then. As to the apparent carbonation, that is normal to have some amount of CO2 dissolved in the solution post-fermentation, so that sounds totally fine.

I've actually never bothered with adding more yeast to my beers after being in a secondary fermenter. They all seemed to carbonate just fine after whatever yeast was in the secondary was roused during the transfer to the bottling bucket. I'm assuming that you'll be adding some kind of simple sugar (e.g., corn sugar) to gain the CO2 you need. I imagine that the leftover yeast you currently have in your secondary would be enough to handle that stuff without getting stressed.
Regardless, If you're really concerned about it, I'm sure you could add some additional yeast during bottling. It is your baby after all! Let us know how it turns out.
 
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Architect-Dave

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Oh good! Sounds like it's not an infection then. As to the apparent carbonation, that is normal to have some amount of CO2 dissolved in the solution post-fermentation, so that sounds totally fine.

I've actually never bothered with adding more yeast to my beers after being in a secondary fermenter. They all seemed to carbonate just fine after whatever yeast was in the secondary was roused during the transfer to the bottling bucket. I'm assuming that you'll be adding some kind of simple sugar (e.g., corn sugar) to gain the CO2 you need. I imagine that the leftover yeast you currently have in your secondary would be enough to handle that stuff without getting stressed.
Regardless, If you're really concerned about it, I'm sure you could add some additional yeast during bottling. It is your baby after all! Let us know how it turns out.
Thanks. I think I am going to skip the addition of the yeast. i do have my pack of priming sugar and will make the solution in a bit. Putting my bottles in the D/W right now on ‘sanitize’ setting, will take them out, use my vinator to give them a quick wet sanitize with StarSan and bottle them up. Thank you for your help - it is very much appreciated! The two of you were vey heklpful (as opposed to some other commenters on some other people’s threads where they argue and fight).
 

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I'd agree that there should be enough yeast left behind at this point to do the job. You didn't make it easier on them but I would agree that they aren't 100% fallen out of solution quite yet.

For future reference, secondary fermentation, over time, has fallen away. It's been realized that it doesn't help much, that beer left on a yeast cake after fermentation is fine. A month easily and likely much longer. A secondary helps if you want to free up a fermenter and you have a beer that really needs that aging time, but it's a rare scenario for most of us. Otherwise secondaries tend to increase risk of contamination, and typically lend a lot of oxygen exposure that's not desired. Long story short - consider skipping it.
 

kinnebrewer

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For future reference, secondary fermentation, over time, has fallen away. It's been realized that it doesn't help much, that beer left on a yeast cake after fermentation is fine. A month easily and likely much longer. A secondary helps if you want to free up a fermenter and you have a beer that really needs that aging time, but it's a rare scenario for most of us. Otherwise secondaries tend to increase risk of contamination, and typically lend a lot of oxygen exposure that's not desired. Long story short - consider skipping it.
@Architect-Dave, I do agree with @tracer bullet on this. If you have the space and equipment, It would probably be better to just leave your beer in the primary until it's done, then crash it (this isn't possible for everyone. requires a large enough fridge) once fermentation is complete. Effectively skipping a secondary vessel altogether. The last 2 points of tracer's comment are especially true. The more steps in your process, the higher risk of contamination and oxygen-exposure.
 

hotbeer

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When I was using some all grain kits that came with just a packet labeled "YEAST", there were times I had fermentation stop and then re-start several times. Those beers sometimes took quite a few weeks before I bottled them. But they turned out to be very good beers and no sourness was detected.

Not knowing what yeast it was they gave me, I've wondered if it was diastatic or had that STA-1 gene that's sometimes talked about. Perhaps the calm intervals between fermentation activity was just the yeast breaking down the more complex sugars into simple sugars before they really got to showing that they weren't just doing nothing.

I don't know though. It's just a thought. And I haven't had any act that way since I've started selecting known yeast for my brews.
 
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Architect-Dave

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Do you happen to have the recipe? I am looking to branch out in styles.
It is the Northern Brewer Empire Builder Imperial Cream Ale Extract Kit. I used the Imperial A07 liquid yeast (two packs) with the Northern Brewer FastPitch starter. Made one can of starter with one pack of yeast a day ahead and about 12 hours before pitching, I added the second can of FastPitch and yeast pack to the starter. (you need a min. 2000ML beaker).
 
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Architect-Dave

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Thanks for the tips on this. Yes - there is much debate about secondary fermenting. Half of the beers I have kits for recommend it (for things like dry hopping or adding bourbon-soaked oak chunks, etc.) So, those will have to be done that way. Otherwise, I will look into skipping it. I do understand that the more steps , the more risk. I also read about things like a primary fermenter has mostly CO2 above the beer when it is time to transfer so there is little risk of oxygen, along with the alcohol having a decent chance of killing off any errant contamination, etc. But, this was not a question on secondary fermenting, was more on the activity of the beer and if it was safe to bottle or if there was a problem with it. However, with all that, I sincerely thank all of you for your input and comments - they say making beer is a rabbit hole experience and damn...all this makes me think more...
 

hotbeer

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....this was not a question on secondary fermenting, was more on the activity of the beer and if it was safe to bottle or if there was a problem with it.
Even if the activity is due to infection then it's very likely safe to bottle and consume.

The only time you might need to be suspicious and very cautious is if you didn't have any fermentation activity within a reasonable time after pitching your yeast. Reasonable probably being less than 3 days. And especially if it has what looks like mold or mildew growing on all the surfaces inside the headspace.

Otherwise signs of fermentation are good for it being safe. Just that if some wild yeast or bacteria got a good foothold in it that it may likely taste bad. If you are fortunate it'll be the best tasting beer you'll never recreate.
 

RM-MN

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Yes - there is much debate about secondary fermenting. Half of the beers I have kits for recommend it (for things like dry hopping
I haven't moved beer to secondary for years. Pale ales work well dry hopping in the primary fermenter. An Imperial Stout with oak chips might age better in a glass carboy secondary but make sure to minimize the surface of the beer that can be exposed to air. Fill the carboy clear to the neck so what little CO2 that is still dissolved in the beer can fill it.
 

bike2brew

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Ditto here. I only use the single fermenter and unless I have a split batch ( 2.5 gallons/each) bottle/keg directly from the bottom racking tube. In those cases I will transfer to a bottling bucket to average out the FG/ABV. So far I have not had any issues w/ dry hopping, or other addtions directly into the fermenter(s) once primary has plateaued off.
 

Bobby_M

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I also read about things like a primary fermenter has mostly CO2 above the beer when it is time to transfer so there is little risk of oxygen, along with the alcohol having a decent chance of killing off any errant contamination, etc. But, this was not a question on secondary fermenting....
Aside from the possibility that you have a contamination that has started fermenting dextrines that the yeast couldn't, it's most likely you're just seeing some temperature fluctuation related off gassing. It's time to bottle.

Understand you weren't asking about it and it may be frustrating to get unsolicited advice, but it's a forum for discussion so I'm going to chime in. When you're transferring into a secondary, that container is full of air. The incoming beer is now in contact with oxygen proportional to the beer-headspace surface area. The primary may have only had CO2 in the headspace during and after fermentation, but as soon as you open it up to insert a racking cane or autosiphon, air can mix with the CO2. That may be the most minor exposure at that point, but as the beer leaves the vessel air is actively drawn in and mixes with the CO2 also exposing the beer to oxygen. It's not my intention to turn this thread into a debate about whether this relatively minor exposure will noticeably hurt your beer, but in my experience, it does. Carry on.
 
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Architect-Dave

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Aside from the possibility that you have a contamination that has started fermenting dextrines that the yeast couldn't, it's most likely you're just seeing some temperature fluctuation related off gassing. It's time to bottle.

Understand you weren't asking about it and it may be frustrating to get unsolicited advice, but it's a forum for discussion so I'm going to chime in. When you're transferring into a secondary, that container is full of air. The incoming beer is now in contact with oxygen proportional to the beer-headspace surface area. The primary may have only had CO2 in the headspace during and after fermentation, but as soon as you open it up to insert a racking cane or autosiphon, air can mix with the CO2. That may be the most minor exposure at that point, but as the beer leaves the vessel air is actively drawn in and mixes with the CO2 also exposing the beer to oxygen. It's not my intention to turn this thread into a debate about whether this relatively minor exposure will noticeably hurt your beer, but in my experience, it does. Carry on.
Thanks for the info. I hit my secondary with a good blast of CO2 before adding the beer to it. My neighbor owns a bar and has beer making equipment on site. So he lends me this stuff (he was trained by Sam Adam’s brewery among other certifications and courses). Anyway, there is no oxygen in my secondary because of the CO2 added before and during transfer.
 
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