To skip or not to skip secondary fermentation

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MilperoGuero

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I'm brewing a chocolate milk stout (from extract) as my second homebrew. The recipe that I have calls for primary fermentation of 7-10 days followed by a secondary fermentation for 2 weeks before bottling. However, I see lots of dissent about secondary fermentation with many people arguing that it's not worth the risk of oxidation etc. My options are somewhat limited because I have a primary fermenting bucket and a bottling bucket, but I don't have a carboy. Also, if it makes any difference, I plan to add a chili tincture before bottling to make it a touch spicy. So I see two options:

1.) Primary ferment for longer (3 weeks) in my fermenting bucket, transfer to the bottling bucket, and then add priming sugar immediately before bottling.
2.) Primary ferment for 7-10 days in bottling bucket, rack it into the fermenting bucket for secondary fermentation, and then rack it back into the bottling bucket along with sugar immediately before bottling.

I'm leaning towards #1, but am happy to be dissuaded.
 
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bradleypariah

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I see lots of dissent about secondary fermentation with many people arguing that it's not worth the risk of oxidation etc. My options are somewhat limited because I have a primary fermenting bucket and a bottling bucket, but I don't have a carboy.
You pretty much hit two important points. Secondary fermentations are a risk if you don't have the right equipment to do them safely, and you're saying here that you don't. Not only do you need a non-permeable vessel like a glass carboy, but you also benefit from performing closed-transfers under CO2. Unless you're already into kegging, it's not likely that you can do this. I definitely would not use an auto siphon just to transfer a beer from one plastic bucket into another. Not only do your sanitation practices have to be on point, but you're almost wasting your time because the bucket will breathe anyway. There is something to be said about getting a beer off its yeast cake once it's done fermenting though. This is what's actually important, IMO.

So I see two options:
1.) Primary ferment for longer (3 weeks) in my fermenting bucket, transfer to the bottling bucket, and then add priming sugar immediately before bottling.
2.) Primary ferment for 7-10 days in bottling bucket, rack it into the fermenting bucket for secondary fermentation, and then rack it back into the bottling bucket along with sugar immediately before bottling.
Neither. For the equipment you have, I say option 3:
Primary ferment until you reach final gravity, be it 7 days or 15. Use a hydrometer to check and ensure your gravity remains the exact same between two readings, a minimum of 48 hours apart. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Once you reach FG, warm your beer up by five degrees, and let it sit three days longer.

After that, be careful to avoid splashing, and transfer your beer to the bottling bucket, directly onto your priming sugar and pepper tincture. Stir gently without making any bubbles, and bottle. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Let the bottles sit for a month to let the pepper flavor incorporate and then mellow. This will be your "secondary fermentation." You're bottle conditioning instead.

After the month of conditioning goes by, throw the bottles in the fridge, and leave them for several days to force any remaining yeast out of suspension. When you pour a pint, pour slowly, and as soon as you see your sediment coming out the bottle, stop. Pour the dregs down the drain.

That's my 2¢.
 

Day-Day

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The real question is what do you have to gain by racking this beer to secondary...

If it were me, I'd leave it in primary 2-3 weeks... then package.

I never use a secondary unless there is a reason. If I wanted to bulk age a RIS for a year... then I'd secondary. There's other reasons to rack to secondary... but in general it's not necessary and possibly risky.

I try not to do things to my beer that don't improve it in some clear way... often in brewing less is more... IMHO.
 

MaxStout

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Option 1.

Since the total time in fermentation is less than a month, there is no need to rack to a secondary. In fact, a secondary isn't really needed (or recommended) unless the beer is to be bulk-aged for several months, such as with barleywines, imperial stouts, big Belgians, etc.
 

ReaperOnefour

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Don't do secondary. It is just an unnecessary risk. Just do primary for two weeks, then rack to your bottling bucket, & bottle. As long as you sanitize properly, you will be just fine. I've been brewing for almost 5 years now. I always ferment for 14 days, bottle, condition for about 3 weeks, then put them in the fridge for a few days. I've never used a secondary, & i've never had a problem.
 

mongoose33

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The "use a secondary" instructions are a holdover from times past when yeast was chancier, and people believed that if you left the beer on the yeast too long, autolysis (dead yeast!) would transfer off flavors to the beer. Thus the belief that getting the beer off the yeast to finish was a good thing.

Except....today, there's no benefit to a secondary unless you need to free up the fermenter for something else, or you're looking to do some long-term aging.

*******

If you don't mind, a suggestion. I believe new brewers should make relatively simple and established recipes so they can learn and get the process down pat. If you add some unusual things--like a chili tincture--and the beer doesn't turn out, what will you blame for that? The tincture? Something else?

I'm wondering where you got that idea, and how you know you'll be putting the right kind of thing in your beer. Now, maybe it'll all work out--but if you want to accelerate your learning curve, work on process first, recipe after you've mastered that.

I'm all for people doing what they want in this hobby--the number one goal should be to make ourselves happy, and if toying with recipe diversions makes you happy, then more power to you. But many of us want to see new brewers be successful as soon as possible, and starting to make recipe diversions before the process has been mastered....well, it's not necessarily the way to bet.

IMO, when you've proven you can make good beer using established recipes, then it's time to think about changing.

That's my 2 cents, welcome to the insanity which is brewing your own beer, and remember to make yourself happy in this endeavor, however that may be accomplished.
 

z-bob

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I have gone back to using two fermenters, but my first is a bucket; then after a few days to a week I transfer to a carboy to finish. Then I bottle directly from the second fermenter.

If you're just using buckets, there is no upside to transferring it until it's ready to bottle. Just leave it alone until you are ready to bottle, then transfer it to another bucket for bottling.
 

Bubbles2

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How to make good beer... See Mongoose's post. Then go to store and buy good beer, enough so you do not mess or rush your batch.
Minimum 7 days for your yeast to eat the sugars, a couple days to finish and clean up. BUT the chocolate you are using....? When you introduce it, how long it sets or stays in the fermentor.
I make Choc Stout all the time, one of the 3 in my Kegerator, at least 12 batches in the last 2 years being conservative.
GO and order a 6.5 gal Big Mouth Bubbler with a spigot in Plastic. That is the only thing you will need. You can even prime in there if you add your priming sugar slowly, let settle for 20 minutes. When opening your Spigot do not open 100% do like 70% so the flow is not strong enough to pull yeast cake. Having a 6.5 gallon you can (when pitching) Stir real good, even the next day, and set it at a tilt so the cake is towards the back when you go to bottle out of that container.
When you have made a recipe 5-6 times without any changes then you can weed out or fine tune as Mongoose mentioned. See ya then
 

AzOr

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Cool thing about tinctures is you can add to only a portion of batch. I use a habanero tincture for cider and I'll use 3 heat levels (usually a teaspoon for each level) and mark them on the crown cap w I, II and III.

Have fun and welcome to the rabbit hole.
 
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MilperoGuero

MilperoGuero

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Thanks for all the advice guys! As for the tincture, I figure I'll stick to the recipe for most of the bottles, and maybe add a few drops at different concentrations to a few bottles to find what I like the best for the next go around.
 

Day-Day

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IMO, when you've proven you can make good beer using established recipes, then it's time to think about changing.
^This is the most salient advice for new brewers. Having a good process and technique will allow you to brew phenomenal beer with ease. I can't say I didn't make mistakes in the beginning... because I did... and made some pretty lousy beers. Once I took a step back and worked on my process and learning the fundamentals the beer got better...quickly.

If you're brewing extract I'd focus on the simple things... hitting your target OG, cooling your wort properly to pitching temp, utilizing proper pitch rates/yeast starters, oxygenating your wort, controlling fermentation temp.

Then see how the beer tastes... is there anything you don't like, is there something others don't like, identify it, research what those flavors are and what you can do about them. Then try again. It's also very helpful to brew the same exact beer when you're trying to work out those off flavors... so you can compare.

Like Mongoose said, once you're confident in your process and you know that your beer is good... no phenomenal... then you will have the skills and confidence to tweak and adapt recipes.

If you tweak things right away you might have trouble identifying issues in your process.

I wish I would have listened to this type of advice early on... it would have saved me a lot of time and headaches... haha !!!

Have fun !!!
 

z-bob

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Be careful with glass fermenters! There's nothing quite like cleaning up 5 gallons of beer (in my case it was only 3) mixed with big pieces of broken glass. I still have some glass carboys and I use them occasionally (always with a handle) but mostly I've switched to plastic.
 

mongoose33

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Be careful with glass fermenters! There's nothing quite like cleaning up 5 gallons of beer (in my case it was only 3) mixed with big pieces of broken glass. I still have some glass carboys and I use them occasionally (always with a handle) but mostly I've switched to plastic.
Ain't that the truth!

About the only time a glass carboy makes sense, IMO, is if you're doing a very long-term secondary fermentation; the glass keeps oxygen out. Or maybe if you already have them and finances are tight....

There's a thread on HBT somewhere about what happened to people whose glass carboys broke. Some of the injuries are pretty serious, and that's all it took for me to not want to go there.
 

mashpaddled

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Secondaries are like anything else in brewing: if you do not have an explicit reason why you are doing it then you probably do not need to do it. There is a lot in homebrewing that is done because somebody said that's what they do or that is what you are supposed to do without any good reason why. Sometimes there are good reasons to transfer to secondary and you have the equipment to accomplish that goal in a way that benefits your beer.

You don't give a reason why you think you should transfer to secondary other than the recipe says so. I don't see a benefit to racking to secondary from what little I know about your beer and available equipment.
 

kh54s10

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Don't secondary, and you don't necessarily have to bulk age big beers either. Just let them age in the bottles.

I keep my bottles in the house in a cardboard box out of the light. So, 68 -75 degrees. I take only what I need for a couple of days and put them in the fridge. Approx 18 - 24 hours later they are good to go - usually. I have had one or two recipes that were better chilled for a few days out of the 75 or so that were bottled. For me there is no need to wait for a few days of chilling.
 

Frodo

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Thanks for all the advice guys! As for the tincture, I figure I'll stick to the recipe for most of the bottles, and maybe add a few drops at different concentrations to a few bottles to find what I like the best for the next go around.
There's nothing wrong with doing a little experimenting, even when you're first starting out. The key is that you're having fun. While I agree that establishing a solid process, using proven recipes, and being able to improve when you have some problem or off-flavor is an important part of consistently making good beer, the more important part is having fun doing it.
 
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Tobor_8thMan

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There are always variables to consider. My answer really isn't more valid than another answer as it really depends on your process. What works for you? Find only needing primary? Then, use only primary. Find secondary is great, then use secondary.
 
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Not to start a raging storm of replies but I secondary 99% of the time and have been doing so for 8+ years. Not oxidation issue ever.
I did upgrade to using CO2 transfers a couple of years ago. It makes for an easy transfer between carboys and to kegs.
 

SEndorf

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This question seems to continually perpetuate thanks to instructions on these "kits" that erroneously call for secondary.
Can't fault a guy for following "instructions."
Unless you have an unusual catterwhompus recipe calling for multiple late adjunct additions that sit over a long period of time, secondary transfers are clearly a dunsel.
No "kit" has such extravagance.
Some of you seem to be adamant about continuing your secondary transfers (because you've done them since puberty in 1965) and aren't about to change... I salute you. Infection and oxygenation issues aside, there's no harm in unnecessary work.
 

bradleypariah

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The "use a secondary" instructions are a holdover from times past when yeast was chancier, and people believed that if you left the beer on the yeast too long, autolysis (dead yeast!) would transfer off flavors to the beer. Thus the belief that getting the beer off the yeast to finish was a good thing.
Except....today, there's no benefit to a secondary
There is evidence out there that proves the amount of time your beer sits on the cake in primary produces an objective difference in the final product.
http://brulosophy.com/2019/03/18/im...mary-fermentation-vessel-exbeeriment-results/

I know, I know, "Brulosophy doesn't count," "it's anecdotal," "that's only one data point," blah blah blah. However, I can taste when my beers are left in primary too long after fermentation is complete.

My only point here may be splitting hairs, but here it is:
It's true that transferring to a secondary vessel may be an unnecessary risk for beginner brewers.
It's false that transferring to a secondary has no impact on beer.
 

mongoose33

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There is evidence out there that proves the amount of time your beer sits on the cake in primary produces an objective difference in the final product.
http://brulosophy.com/2019/03/18/im...mary-fermentation-vessel-exbeeriment-results/

I know, I know, "Brulosophy doesn't count," "it's anecdotal," "that's only one data point," blah blah blah. However, I can taste when my beers are left in primary too long after fermentation is complete.

My only point here may be splitting hairs, but here it is:
It's true that transferring to a secondary vessel may be an unnecessary risk for beginner brewers.
It's false that transferring to a secondary has no impact on beer.
<sigh>

If you carefully read the results--and I don't see Brulosophy as a source of good objective testing, for reasons exhaustively enumerated elsewhere--you'll realize the results really don't support the idea that it makes a difference.

First of all, of the 22 testers, 13 picked the odd-beer-out in the triangle test. That means 9 of the 22 picked wrong. They couldn't even tell a difference.

Further, and more damning, note what the results were as far as people liking one or the other:

A total of 4 tasters reported preferring the beer packaged immediately after fermentation was complete, 2 said they liked the beer aged in primary for 3 weeks more, 5 had no preference despite noticing a difference, and 2 tasters reported perceiving no difference.

Out of the 13 who picked the odd-beer-out, 7 of them--or more than half--either had no preference, or said they could perceive no difference.

Of the remaining six, 4 liked the beer packaged immediately, 2 liked the beer aged in primary for 3 weeks more. Not much of a sample size there.

Now, there's an additional interesting element here: two of the tasters reported perceiving no difference, which means they picked the correct beer by accident. If you removed them from those indicating the correct beer as odd-beer-out, the study doesn't even reach significance.

In the end, there's nothing here to suggest there's any real difference, unless you think that 4 liking the quick-packaged beer and 2 liking the beer left on the yeast cake is sufficient evidence to make the point.

I read the results above, and it's clear as a bell for me: there's no discernable difference, at least based on this one study, at this one time, using this particular recipe, and those particular tasters.
 

bradleypariah

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Hang on, I think I misrepresented my stance. In my first comment, I suggested the OP not do a secondary. I stand by that. In my comment to you, I was only trying to suggest that beer not sit on the cake indefinitely, but I conflated that with using secondaries. However, I actually do think there is some validity in using secondaries sometimes. Aging Oktoberfests, or adding fruit to ciders, for a couple.

As far as your disbelief in the validity of the Brulosophy results though, consider this:
Are you sensitive to cilantro? Think it tastes like soap? What if I gave you three carne asada burritos: one with cilantro, and two with parsley? Think you'd pick the odd burrito out? If you're not one of the cilantro-sensitive people in the world, you'd be forgiven for allowing the beef, salt, grease, onions, and garlic to overwhelm your palette, and claim the burritos are the same.

Let's say only one person out of twenty was cilantro-sensitive in a blind triangle burrito test. :p The results would come back as insignificant, right? -but wait... are the burritos different, or not?

This is a good reason for anyone to claim that Brulosophy is not good science; it's totally subjective, and it ignores real data, simply because the majority always rules. However, this also tells me that some people in the experiment I linked above may have been sensitive to yeast off-flavors, and to them, the difference could have been night and day, even though it wasn't for everybody else.

One thing I think is especially funny though, is that no one I've talked to thinks you can leave beer in primary indefinitely --but no one agrees how long you can leave a beer in primary before it makes a negative impact. It's all about parts-per-billion and flavor thresholds -and everyone's flavor threshold is different.

People could never agree about how long is too long, because we can't even agree about pineapple on pizza.

Some say three weeks in primary is fine, others say a month, some say two months, but I think we all agree that yucky yeast character doesn't turn on like a light switch. It's something that is slowly developing shortly after the yeast begin to flocculate, because all the sugars are gone, and yeast start going dormant and/or dying. Some say the week after flocculation is considered clean-up time, and after that's when it starts going downhill, but very slowly. It may take multiple weeks beyond that for it to taste "bad," but I think we can all agree that "bad" is subjective, and some people might start picking up on the yucky yeast character prior to others. Some may think a bit of that character tastes good.

I don't actually practice using secondaries more than twice a year. Like I said, I was splitting hairs. I only wanted to point out that it may benefit some brewers to transfer to secondary, or more specifically, keg/bottle once cleanup is done.
 

Zuljin

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A battle for the ages.

When I started brewing, way back in the early 2000s ;) , the instructions with the extract kits I used still recommended a secondary for best results. Getting it off the trub was supposed to improve flavor and clarity, and it was easier to rack to a bottling bucket or bottle directly without trying to avoid a thick bed of sludge since it had already been racked off of going from primary. It was also less sediment to disturb at bottling time.

Then I got into the whole thing about not worrying about autolysis because the beer isn't sitting there long enough to pick up off flavors from [insert reasons here that would only result from a beer sitting on a full cake for a really long time]. It's not a secondary fermentation anyway unless more fermentables are added. What it really is a bright or clearing tank.

So I did a few without, wound up going all grain, which adds different variables, and blame it on method, but I always get more junk in my bottles when I don't secondary. A little cloudiness doesn't bother me, but I'm not too keen on a slurry of a beer, either. So I went back to secondary. Especially if I had added a bunch of weird stuff, which I do.

Now I have a Fast-Ferment plastic conical. It's okay. It works, but it's not the end all of removing sediment in one vessel. Seems it needs the collection bowl emptied a time or two. Maybe that's a "for best results" and what my methods are thing versus how it's portrayed in adverting. I'm still experimenting.

My vote here, and partly because it's extract and maybe there isn't all that much sediment anyway, and there is no secondary vessel to move to aside from the bottling bucket, is

1.) Primary ferment for longer (3 weeks) [best until gravity is stable] in my fermenting bucket, transfer to the bottling bucket, and then add priming sugar [and chili tincture] immediately before bottling. Just don't slosh it around a lot moving the primary or maybe let it sit a day after moving the primary into bottling position. Keep the racking cane high and work it down slowly to avoid the sediment. Use the little foot on the cane. That little piece of plastic helps keep sediment from being sucked up.
 
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