To Secondary or Not? John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff Weigh In

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BillyBroas

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Like a lot of brewers here on HBT, I've discovered that the transfer to a secondary fermenter really isn't necessary, unless I am doing something like adding fruit or dry hopping. Leave it in the primary 3-4 weeks and I'm good to go. Autolysis? Nope, not here. The beer is better than ever.

This was confirmed on a March episode of Brew Strong where John and Jamil talk about how secondary fermentation is an outdated homebrewing technique. John even says that the information in the 1st edition of How to Brew (the web version) is no longer relevant.

I couldn't find a transcript of the show so I recorded that portion of the conversation. May have missed a few Ah's and Um's, but the main content is there.

Hope this helps:

John: And unfortunately I'm an perpetuator of the myth at HowtoBrew.com. The 1st edition talks about the benefits of transferring the beer off the yeast.

Jamil: Well that was the popular way of doing things. But that was what, the 1st edition? Stop getting the thing off the internet. Buy yourself the 3rd addition copy and get the updated information.

John: As we've gotten more educated on how much good healthy yeast you need for optimum fermentation the advice that we used to give 20 years ago has changed. 10 years ago, 20 years ago, homebrewers were using with a single packet of dry yeast that was taped to the top of the can. There weren't as many liquid yeast cultures available.

Jamil: People didn't make starters either.

John: Right. So the whole health and vitality of yeast was different back then compared to know. Back then it made sense. You had weaker yeast that had finished fermentation that were more susceptible to autolysis and breaking down. Now that is not the case. The bar of homebrewing has risen to where we are able to make beer that has the same robustness as professional beer. We've gotten our techniques and understanding of what makes a good fermentation up to that level, so you don't need to transfer the beer off the yeast to avoid autolysis like we used to recommend.

Jamil: Unless you are going to do long term at warm temperatures, but even then we are talking over a month. I thought about this as well and I think one of the reasons autolysis....and the fact that people were using weak yeast in inappropriate amounts and the transfer would add some oxygen to it which would help attenuate a few more points. I think that was part of the deal why transferring was considered appropriate years ago.

John: But these days we don't recommend secondary transfer. Leave it in the primary, you know, a month. Today's fermentations are typically healthy enough that you are not going to get autolysis flavors or off-flavors from leaving the beer on the yeast for an extended period of time.

Jamil:
And if you are using healthy yeast and the appropriate amount and the thing is... homebrew style fermentors..if you are using a carboy or plastic bucket which have that broad base when the yeast flocculate out they lay in a nice thin layer. When you're dealing with large, tall...one of the things you know people go "Well the commercial brewers they remove the yeast because it is gonna break down, die, and make the beer bad. We should be doing the same thing." That's where alot of this comes from. But the commerical brewers are working with 100 bbl fermenters that are very tall and put a lot of pressure on the yeast. The yeast are jammed into this little cone in the bottom and they are stacked very deep and there is a lot of heat buildup. The core of that yeast mass can be several degrees C higher than the rest of that yeast mass and it can actually cook the yeast and cause them to die faster and cause those problems with flavor and within a couple of days the viability of that yeast which the commercial brewers are going to reuse is going to drop 25%, 50% over a couple of days so they need to get that yeast out of there. You don't have that restriction as a homebrewer. You've got these broad fermenter bases that allow the yeast to be distributed evently. It's an advantage for cleaning up the beer. You have the advantage that the yeast don't break down as fast. You don't have as high a head pressure. There are a lot of advantages.
 

Walker

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I agree that it's probably not necessary to do it.

I usually do it, but that's mainly because I generally have three batches going at once. My fermentation chamber (old fridge) can hold three carboys at once, but only if at least one of them is 5 gallons in size. So, I have two 6.5's and several 5's in my pile of equipment.

Plus, 5 gallon carboys are $35 whereas 6.5's are $45, so I'm saving space as well as money by using 5 gallon secondaries.
 
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BillyBroas

BillyBroas

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I agree that it's probably not necessary to do it.

I usually do it, but that's mainly because I generally have three batches going at once. My fermentation chamber (old fridge) can hold three carboys at once, but only if at least one of them is 5 gallons in size. So, I have two 6.5's and several 5's in my pile of equipment.

Plus, 5 gallon carboys are $35 whereas 6.5's are $45, so I'm saving space as well as money by using 5 gallon secondaries.
My main point, and theirs, is that you don't need to do it to save your beer from the big ugly autolysis monster. Fruit, dry-hopping, and space (as you mentioned) are good reasons IMO.
 

Adam78K

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Yup totally agree, leave secondary for specialty beers. Dry Hopping, adding fruit or adding anything in general.
 

Revvy

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Considering we've done it to death, it's great to see that Palmer is finally saying that he contributed way too much to the fears with the online edition. :D

Funny though they are almost quoting verbatum some of the stuff I've been writing on here about the subject for the last three years. So someone's been reading the threads on here.

I've said it before, we here at HBT broke the ground on this subject, we've banged this about (sometimes painfully so with some folks, who you can't teach new tricks too) for 3 years, many of us winning awards for the beers we've sat on the yeast for a month.

On Saturday I had 2 Bjcp judges informally tasting my beers during the big brew day (One of them a beautiful woman). She facebooked me the next day and said;

There's nothing that is such a relief as someone asking you to try their brews and finding that they're clean and free of off aromas or flavors... all of yours were so nice that way!
All three of them were month long primaries.

Thanks for posting this. Even though it's been thoroughly discussed on here, it's nice to finally get John and Jamil weighed in on it, just like it was nice to have James Spence and Chris Colby doing the combined Basic Brewing/Byo magazine collaborative experiment and having them too back up what we've been doing here for the last few years successfully.

Thanks for posting this! :mug:
 

bizzle

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If you bottled/kegged after a month in the primary would the yeast be to spent to wash and reuse later?
 

GilaMinumBeer

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All due respect and all but,

wasn't JZ ranting not too long ago about people NOT x-ferring? Saying that he has tasted subtle hints of autolysis in peoples beers.
 

Rick500

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Hrm... I didn't hear that. Was it in a podcast or in a post somewhere?
 

ArcaneXor

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All due respect and all but,

wasn't JZ ranting not too long ago about people NOT x-ferring? Saying that he has tasted subtle hints of autolysis in peoples beers.
Jamil has always said that he doesn't secondary, back to his earliest appearances on the Brewing Network.
 
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FWIW, I got a gold certificate for a brown ale at the 2009 SW NHC - it was primaried for 6 weeks (no secondary)

I scored a 45.0 on a brown ale at the 2010 Great Arizona Homebrew Competition (highest overall score for a beer) and it was primaried for 2 months (no secondary).

I mainly left them that long due to 1) laziness, and 2) confirmation that the autolysis boogey-man is a myth if you manage your fermentation properly (healthy yeast, pitch rates, proper fermentation temp, etc).
 

Airborneguy

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I did a secondary once when I first started brewing, and never have since.

Walker, I really didn't understand your justification. How does space justify doing a secondary? You could just as easily have three beers in their primary fermentation in that same space. You can also use those carboys for primaries.

Am I confused as to what you were trying to say?
 

SPLASTiK

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Jamil has always said that he doesn't secondary, back to his earliest appearances on the Brewing Network.
Yep, and even earlier. On the MoreBeer forums there's posts from as far back as 2004 where he's talked about it.
 

joety

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The history makes a lot of sense. I recall brewing back in the late eighties (before my fifteen year hiatus) and getting what appeared to be noticeable, although far from vigorous, fermentation upon xfering to the secondary fermenter. I would normally do this after the kreusen dropped in the garbage can style primary fermenter I was using after 4 - 5 days. After a week in secondary the bubbling (not just airlock activity but lots of tiny bubbles) would stop and I'd bottle. Hyrdrometer? We didn't need no stinkin' hydrometer. We used one kind of yeast, Red Star, and we knew the pattern. Then in about 1990 they came out with Whitbread Ale Yeast and it was like our beers improved 300%. Just like Red Star, that became our one and only yeast and it was very consistent batch to batch.

Nowadays I almost never see the bubbling when (and if) I transfer to secondary. I do manage to dislodge enough dissolved C02 to pressurize the airlock, but that's about it. And instead of 4-5 days most fermentations take only 2-3 with the use of a healthy starter made on a stir plate and injected O2.
 

permo

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Not racking to secondary and going with an extended primary fermentation is the number one reason my beers went from good, to great. They are more fully attenuated, clearer, cleaner and just plain better. I only use secondary to bulk age my barley wines, strong ales, strong scotch ales, imperial stouts..etc..etc.....and I am beginnig to think that bottle conditioning with added yeast may be an even better alternative.
 

Erythro73

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Well, only by reading Revvy's on HBT when I started, I decided not to do secondaries for "normal" beers. I prefer to learn it that way, it's way lazier and safer. The last beer I made, I let it sit 5 weeks in primary before bottling. Still didn't taste it so I can't comment on this yet : I happened to have read Revvy's blog about patience and conditioning too. That guy is a real Yoda, full of good advices.

And I get to not use my 2.5 gallons glass carboy I bought for secondaries. I'm paranoid with glass, as I find it hazardous and this thing is the hell to use because the auto-siphon can only go straight in it, I can't put it "diagonal-style" as to pick up all the beer by lifting one side of the carboy. The height of the carboy is too small.
 

LagerLover24

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I used to secondary until I heard Jamil's podcast. My beers have definitely improved. I don't even secondary my lagers! I just cold store them in the primary. It sounds wrong, but I recently made a German Pils this way and it attenuated down to 1.007. Cleanest beer I have brewed, no off flavors. All secondaries do is oxidize the beer. The key is yeast health. Long exposure to clean yeast won't introduce undesirable flavors, but it will help clean up the beer.
 

CrystallineEntity

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I only secondary for dry hopping now. That being said, I do believe it helps clear the beer. I ferment in a closet. When I bottle I have to pick it up and move it. That stirs things up. Less to stir up in a secondary.
You ever notice how kegged beer looks a lot clearer? One reason is that it's been chilled for quite a while. My bottled beers take at least a week in the fridge before they pour crystal clear. Another reason for a secondary is laziness. You can let it sit until you feel like bottling.
-Aaron
 

Scooby_Brew

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I'd say don't secondary only IF you know how to rack the beer into your keg or bottles without disturbing the bed and making the beer cloudy again. It's an art, even if you using a racking cane. It's hard not to hit the slurry on the bottom at least once during racking, and that pretty much ruins the clarity of the beer. The last second of racking is probably the most difficult, this is when the racking cane does the slurping noise and stirs up the bottom :D
If you're a beginner use secondary, you'll enjoy a clearer beer.
 

alexdagrate

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I dry hop all of my beers and I never use a secondary.

What's the advantage of transferring to a secondary when dry-hopping as opposed to just throwing the pellets or flowers into the primary?
 

Rick500

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I only use a secondary when I dry hop and want to wash and reuse the yeast from the primary. Just helps keep the hops out of the yeast slurry.
 

Revvy

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I only secondary for dry hopping now. That being said, I do believe it helps clear the beer. I ferment in a closet. When I bottle I have to pick it up and move it. That stirs things up. Less to stir up in a secondary.
You ever notice how kegged beer looks a lot clearer? One reason is that it's been chilled for quite a while. My bottled beers take at least a week in the fridge before they pour crystal clear. Another reason for a secondary is laziness. You can let it sit until you feel like bottling.
-Aaron
I'd say don't secondary only IF you know how to rack the beer into your keg or bottles without disturbing the bed and making the beer cloudy again. It's an art, even if you using a racking cane. It's hard not to hit the slurry on the bottom at least once during racking, and that pretty much ruins the clarity of the beer. The last second of racking is probably the most difficult, this is when the racking cane does the slurping noise and stirs up the bottom :D
If you're a beginner use secondary, you'll enjoy a clearer beer.
It's not an art....guys, we all move our beers, from the basement lager up to the kitchen, or from the brewing closet up to the table to rack to the bottling bucket. We kick stuff up all the time, and those of us who long primary STILL don't have cloudy beers.

What do you think we do, levitate our fermenters from place on pink fluffy clouds? :D

First- The longer you primary the tighter the yeast cake gets (That is what Jamil and palmer are talking about in terms of larger volumes of beer in commercial vats pressing down on the yeast and possibly autolyzing, just on a smaller scale for our homebrewing beer volumes.) your yeast is tighter than if you rack to a secondary or only play with your beer after a couple weeks.

It's NOT going to kick up that much, and anything that does is just going to settle back down shortly after. But it's not going to be as much as you all think.

Heck, half the time I forget adding finnings like moss in the boil.

I don't do anything special when racking or lifting my beers, they get shaken as much as the next guy, and yet for having my beers in primary for a month, I STILL get comments from judges about the clarity of my beers. I don't even cold crash them.

Secondly- when we talk about the "yeast cleaning up after themselves' we're talking about the yeast having plenty of time to go the extra mile and pull a lot more proteins and stuff out of solution which results in overall clarity. Think of it like polishing the beer molecules. The beer as a whole takes on a cleaner, and crisper flavor profile and overall visual clarity, including reducing chill haze proteins.

Then like I said, they are pulled tighter and tighter in the yeast cake over the month or more in secondary.

In fact when racking it to my bottling bucket I rub the bottom of my autosiphon once across the bottom of my primary to kick up a little extra yeast for bottle.
Just to insure that there is plenty of yeast to do the job.

And STILL my beer is pretty clear. It's been called Jewell-like on scoresheets, and I didn't put my beer fermenter in bubble wrap to keep from disturbing the delicate trub at the bottom.:rolleyes:

You're over negatizing the process. It's not a special process, you don't have to be an expert racker or experienced brewer to do this, it's the ANTI Complexity trick. Leaving beer longer in primary actually takes more gunk out of the beer, and leaves more behind at racking to a keg or bottling bucket.

It's really foolproof.

The other thing that further leads to clearer beer is long time in the fridge or chill chest if it's a keg. Again more stuff is dragged out of solution and made tighter in the yeastcake/trub.

I found a bottle of beer that had been in the back of the fridge for 3 months and at pouring the sediment in the bottom of the bottle was so tight that I could fully upend the bottle while pouring it, and even smacking the bottom of the bottle a couple times like you do a ketchup bottle, would dislodge it one bit...The beer was like a polished crystal.

It ain't rocket science or complicated.....
 

david_42

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It ain't rocket science or complicated.....
But making it complicated is entirely up to the brewer. No one needs a computerized AG HERMs either.
 

thedude00

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What do you guys use for primary fermentation Carboy or Bucket? Can you use either and leave it in primary and not rack to secondary? I have a 6.5 bucket and a 5g carboy. I was thinking about starting to do some 2.5g batch's and buying two 3g carboys to use for primary.
 

TeufelBrew

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Revvy,
Once again, well said without being a *****nozzle to anyone! Explained clearly and succinctly, Thank You.

Yep, I leave my beer in plastic buckets for up to 3 months of primary. When I do slip and pull some yeast/trub from the bottom, it settles back out very quickly. First pour from a new keg will have a little cloudines, then the rest is pure bliss.
 

Revvy

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What do you guys use for primary fermentation Carboy or Bucket? Can you use either and leave it in primary and not rack to secondary? I have a 6.5 bucket and a 5g carboy. I was thinking about starting to do some 2.5g batch's and buying two 3g carboys to use for primary.
.
I have everything from plastic water jugs, to buckets to 1 glass carboy to several Betterbottles of all sizes, and even my old mr beer keg, and I have month long primaried in all of them. Again it really doesn't matter, there is NO limitations to who can long primary. This doesn't require any thought about doing, there's nothing special you need to do or use.

You all are just over thinking it or discussing it; There's really no questions that need to be asked, or answered, just be like Nike;



Most of us who have been doing it for years just did it by accident. We couldn't get to our beer for whatever reason for a month (I was out of town from the point where I would have normally racked to secondary, for two weeks.) And I just went ahead and bottled when I got back. And the beer turned out better than previous batches. So I started doing it.

And I submitted a bunch of beers in a contest. There were 2 that were secondaried and 2 that were long primaried, and the LP ones got higher scores and better comments about clarity and crispness that the ones I secondaried. So that was enough to realize there was something to this....and I never looked back. And my scores have consistantly been better than any I ever submitted before. All from just leaving my beer in primary for a month.
 
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BillyBroas

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Really glad I posted this as there are some great comments in here. A couple of my favorites:

On Saturday I had 2 Bjcp judges informally tasting my beers during the big brew day (One of them a beautiful woman). She facebooked me the next day and said;

"There's nothing that is such a relief as someone asking you to try their brews and finding that they're clean and free of off aromas or flavors... all of yours were so nice that way!"


All three of them were month long primaries.
FWIW, I got a gold certificate for a brown ale at the 2009 SW NHC - it was primaried for 6 weeks (no secondary)

I scored a 45.0 on a brown ale at the 2010 Great Arizona Homebrew Competition (highest overall score for a beer) and it was primaried for 2 months (no secondary).
We could debate it all we want but the proof is in the pudding. In fact I almost regret posting this since once the word really gets out the competition is going to be stiff :D


Secondly- when we talk about the "yeast cleaning up after themselves' we're talking about the yeast having plenty of time to go the extra mile and pull a lot more proteins and stuff out of solution which results in overall clarity. Think of it like polishing the beer molecules. The beer as a whole takes on a cleaner, and crisper flavor profile and overall visual clarity, including reducing chill haze proteins.
Just look at what AB does with their use of beechchips. The chips provide more surface area for the yeast to land on which increases the amount of yeast in direct contact with the beer. The yeast then reabsorbs those off-flavors to clean up the beer.

From Mr. Wizard:

"These long, curly chips add a tremendous amount of surface area that yeast settles on during lagering. Diacetyl and acetaldehyde reduction during aging requires yeast and beer to interact, and that is precisely what the beechwood chips do for the brewer...Beechwood chips give yeast a large surface area where they can hang around and interact with the aging beer."

Leave the yeast alone and they'll reward you. :mug:
 

joety

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Anyone who is all worked up about getting a little kicked up yeast or other trub into their keg need only a wait a few days and tap a glass. The tube pulls of the bottom. Whatever it can't pull shouldn't be enough to affect the taste of your beer. If it's something that precipitated out in the ferementer, it's going to settle out just fine in the keg. Using a secondary or bright tank will not in itself create any additonal precipitation; only finings, temperature changes, etc., can do that and it makes no difference if its in glass or stainless.
 

seabrew8

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I have everything from plastic water jugs, to buckets to 1 glass carboy to several Betterbottles of all sizes, and even my old mr beer keg, and I have month long primaried in all of them. Again it really doesn't matter, there is NO limitations to who can long primary. This doesn't require any thought about doing, there's nothing special you need to do or use.

You all are just over thinking it or discussing it; There's really no questions that need to be asked, or answered, just be like Nike;



Most of us who have been doing it for years just did it by accident. We couldn't get to our beer for whatever reason for a month (I was out of town from the point where I would have normally racked to secondary, for two weeks.) And I just went ahead and bottled when I got back. And the beer turned out better than previous batches. So I started doing it.

And I submitted a bunch of beers in a contest. There were 2 that were secondaried and 2 that were long primaried, and the LP ones got higher scores and better comments about clarity and crispness that the ones I secondaried. So that was enough to realize there was something to this....and I never looked back. And my scores have consistantly been better than any I ever submitted before. All from just leaving my beer in primary for a month.
Revvy, i assume you primary using the same temp for the whole mth? Do you think its ok to primary for a mth then keg, chill and put it on 30psi for a few days and then serve?

That would be a simple method. I like to simplify things. :)
 

Revvy

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Revvy, i assume you primary using the same temp for the whole mth? Do you think its ok to primary for a mth then keg, chill and put it on 30psi for a few days and then serve?

That would be a simple method. I like to simplify things. :)
You're pretty much cold crashing then, which will pull anything still up in solution down. That's a good plan.
 

JBrady

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I never secondary even when dry hopping, I just wait for fermentation to slow down and dry hop. Works fine for me
 

permo

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I pose this question, I am a huge propenent of extended primary fermentations, but what does a guy do for a strong ale, like Imperial Stout or Barley Wine? I like to leave them on Primary for 3-4 weeks and then move them to glass secondary for 3-9 months to age and mellow. Are you guys that don't secondary simply bottling after primary for these types of ales?
 

Revvy

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I pose this question, I am a huge propenent of extended primary fermentations, but what does a guy do for a strong ale, like Imperial Stout or Barley Wine? I like to leave them on Primary for 3-4 weeks and then move them to glass secondary for 3-9 months to age and mellow. Are you guys that don't secondary simply bottling after primary for these types of ales?
No, I primary for a month, then rack to a secondary (I use betterbottles or whatever I have free) often I will stick some toasted oak in the secondary for a week, then rack to a tertiary for extended aging for 2-6 months before bottling. Then bottle conditioning for as long as that may take.
 

machinelf

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Do any of you guys who dry hop in primary wash your yeast afterward? We wash our yeast most of the time, and it seems like all those hops would make that a bad idea, but if it's been done successfully...
 
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