What does a secondary fermenter do?

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BuccaneerBrew28

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Hello all,

I started a Ace of Spaces - Black IPA from northern brewer on saturday. In two weeks I am supposed to siphon to my secondary fermenter, and then add more hops. My question is, what does moving it to a secondary do for the beer if all i am doing is adding hops?

Thank ya
 

cactusgarrett

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what does moving it to a secondary do for the beer if all i am doing is adding hops?
Increase the potential for oxidation and contamination. There are legit reasons to employ a secondary vessel, but they're usually fringe cases - avoiding autolysis in carboy-aged beer and various fruiting processes. Most brewers don't need to do it and unless you've got a solid reason for it, should be avoided (in this man's opinion, at least).
 

Birrofilo

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My question is, what does moving it to a secondary do for the beer if all i am doing is adding hops?
Most people don't need to do any transfer to a secondary fermenter.

If you are one of those who harvest the yeast for some reason, then moving to a secondary before dry-hopping will allow you to harvest a clean yeast, without the hops.
 

D.B.Moody

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I've been brewing since 1994. I joined HBT last November, and because of that I'm trying out not doing a secondary. I bottled my third no-secondary batch today. So far the only result of not doing a secondary is that my beers aren't as clear as I'm used to. I waited three weeks to bottle this one. I won't give up on this supposedly best practice until I order and brew comparison batches, including two with a higher flocculation and attenuation than S33. We'll see, but so far I'm unimpressed. And I'm not saying these people aren't right. I just saying I brewed 268 good ales doing a secondary. I hope what I bottled today clears better than the prior two, because it's my Irish red ale, which should be a beautiful color.
 

Brews and Blues

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I've been brewing since 1994. I joined HBT last November, and because of that I'm trying out not doing a secondary. I bottled my third no-secondary batch today. So far the only result of not doing a secondary is that my beers aren't as clear as I'm used to. I waited three weeks to bottle this one. I won't give up on this supposedly best practice until I order and brew comparison batches, including two with a higher flocculation and attenuation than S33. We'll see, but so far I'm unimpressed. And I'm not saying these people aren't right. I just saying I brewed 268 good ales doing a secondary. I hope what I bottled today clears better than the prior two, because it's my Irish red ale, which should be a beautiful color.
I would love to see the results of your comparison batches. Please report back if you do that.

I have two friends at work that brew a ton. As a new brewer, I pick their brain non-stop plus read this forum everyday - just soaking it all in. What's funny is that about 90% of people on this forum think the secondary is virtually pointless. But after talking to both of my work friends, they claim that the single thing that improved their beer the most was using a secondary. They both say it improved clarity and flavor of their beer.

I feel like it might be more of a case-by-case thing. The one guy brews a lot of American Cream Ale while the other uses a secondary for a lot of fruit additions. I can see why a secondary would help in both of those cases - one for clarity and obviously one for the fruit additions.
But, if you are brewing IPA's, pales, wheats, etc... is it worth it? You aren't interested as much in clarity with these beers.
Plus, another factor is experience. I am in my 7th batch or so. I am getting much more comfortable handling and siphoning the wort/beer. I have also started kegging. But adding another step such as a secondary, with extra cleaning and time, just isn't worth it for me right now. The risk isn't worth the reward where I am in my brewing experience.
 

cactusgarrett

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one for clarity and obviously one for the fruit additions
A secondary is good to employ with fruit usage, but it won't do anything for clarity that time won't do. Would those brewer friends of yours have been doing this for a while? Decades? I've been brewing for 20 years and it took me a while to buy into not doing it - like changing over to one space after a period instead of two when typing ;) To me it sounds like it's confirmation bias when they say using a secondary improved the flavor of their beer. However, I can see the merit in how some oxidation could make a beer better - like for darker, bolder beers where some oxygen encourages sherry-like flavors.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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If
1) oxygen ingress leads oxidation (it does over time)​
2) oxidation has a negative impact on the beer (it can)​
then
it can be detected by off flavors descriptors and visual descriptors.​

Learn how to identify (taste, see) those descriptors in your beer. Like any other off flavor, adjust the process accordingly. No need to be concerned about confirmation bias.
 

D.B.Moody

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I would love to see the results of your comparison batches. Please report back if you do that.
But, if you are brewing IPA's, pales, wheats, etc... is it worth it? You aren't interested as much in clarity with these beers.
Plus, another factor is experience. I am in my 7th batch or so. I am getting much more comfortable handling and siphoning the wort/beer. I have also started kegging. But adding another step such as a secondary, with extra cleaning and time, just isn't worth it for me right now. The risk isn't worth the reward where I am in my brewing experience.
Since I learned to brew when doing a secondary was standard, I don't think of it as extra work. In fact not doing it has created trouble as I can't see my beer clearing because my primary is plastic and my secondary was a glass carboy. So far the beer I'm bottling is murkier and ends up with more stuff at the bottom of the bottle. Also, I have a casual attitude about certain things. I start my siphons by inhaling on the siphon, and I just wash things, so it's one bucket, one lid, and some siphon tubing. This is not a long or involved process. I am trying the no-secondary thing because of recommendations on HBT and I can understand oxygen as unwanted, but so far I've experienced no advantage. That's why I have to do the comparisons. I will post results, but the test brewing won't start until this summer. I've got to order the makings and I still have two batches to brew.
BTW another reason I'm skeptical of some advice is that i've used liquid yeast once, and rehydrated dry yeast once. All other batches were just dry yeast pitched on top of the wort in the primary bucket. Rehydrating yeast was supposed to be best, and liquid yeast became the thing. I found both just a bother. All my batches have fermented just fine. And now, go figure, dry yeast is coming back in style. :)
 

IslandLizard

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So far the only result of not doing a secondary is that my beers aren't as clear as I'm used to.
They aren't as clear a) when you bottle or b) when you pour the conditioned beer from the bottles into a glass?

a) Are you racking from the very bottom of the fermenter, sucking up trub perhaps? Many racking instructions I've seen stick the siphon or cane all the way on the bottom. It's much better to start siphoning from the middle of the beer, and lower the cane as the level drops. When you get close to the trub layer, and see trub being sucked up, stop the siphon!​
b) All trub should settle on the bottom of the bottle. By pouring carefully and slowly and tipping the bottle back as soon as trub starts to appear in the bottle's neck, your beer should be clear. Longer conditioning and/or chilling time should clarify the beer.​

Secondaries are generally not needed, or make your beer clearer. But they will increase the risk of infection and oxidation.
Racking/siphoning beer from one vessel into another, without introducing air (oxygen) is impossible, and it will harm the quality your beer. Unless one can perform closed transfers under CO2, exposure to air cannot be avoided. So those O2 (air) exposures should be limited (exposure is volume * time), and reserved for that short time when bottling.

IOW, especially for beginning brewers, for ordinary beers, secondaries should be avoided. There's nothing they (can) fix because there's nothing to fix.

If you're adding fruit (for a truly secondary fermentation) a secondary could be used, yes. Take a look at pictures, most are filled up to the brim, 1-2" under the bung. Very little air in there!
If you're bulk aging, beyond 2-3 months, sure, get it off the yeast.

The one thing I've not seen much of is purging secondaries with fermentation gas (CO2). Then siphoning the beer into that, it remains under CO2. That would make a very good case for secondary some beers.
 

D.B.Moody

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They aren't as clear a) when you bottle or b) when you pour the conditioned beer from the bottles into a glass?
Not as clear when I bottle, not as clear in the bottle after two/three/four weeks, and I have to pour more carefully than I am used to. Please see my post (#13) after the one you cited. The opinion of knowledgeable, reasonable people like you and @BrewnWKopperKat is why I have to try my comparison. The only CO2 purging I could do would involve me exhaling into th carboy. I don't think that's a good plan. :D I know I introduce oxygen doing a secondary. I just need to see if not doing a secondary produces positive results for me.
 

IslandLizard

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The only CO2 purging I could do
... is flushing your secondary with fermentation gas from your primary. We purge/flush kegs like that.
You need a stopper with 2 holes, one having a dip tube (like a racking cane) to the bottom. That's your input. Airlock on the output hole.
It won't be 100% CO2 in the end but darn close, and 1,000,000 (est.) times less O2 than air.
 

orionol73

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Maybe a better experiment would be to try other options to reduce sediment in your beer other than using a secondary fermenter. There is more than one way to skin that cat.
This actually is a great point. I started out using a secondary because of similar findings about clarity and trub in the bottle. Once I started actively filtering between steps I was able to only use one vessel.
Things implemented include adding a valve to the boil kettle, using a stainless mesh hop basket to strain when running off the mash and filling the fermenter, using a SSBrewtech brew bucket and finally cold crashing. Results have actually improved due to the reduced oxygen and getting the same quality results
 

Brews and Blues

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I get the argument that there could be other ways to clarify and reduce trub, but that’s not the point. DB’s experiment only works if all other factors are kept the same. His experiment is attempting to see if using secondary clarifies and reduces trub in his beer more than not using a secondary. Adding In additional steps might help solve the problem but doesn’t answer the question about the secondary.

I’m a total newbie and have no intentions of starting to use a secondary. But DB has made beer that he really enjoys for a while by using one. And if he doesn’t like his beer as much when eliminating the secondary, then what’s the point? You’re supposed to enjoy what you brew right?
 

Jim R

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He should probably also then test to see if transferring to a tertiary fermenter makes the beer even clearer yet :). I agree though - to each his own.
 

D.B.Moody

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And if he doesn’t like his beer as much when eliminating the secondary, then what’s the point?
Yes, though technically I'm doing the tests to see if no-secondary improves my beer vs doing a secondary. If it doesn't, I'll probably go back to using the secondary because I'm used to the process. What I'm trying to find out is if the oxygen I introduce in doing a secondary makes any difference to me.

BTW: I think it's cute that someone thinks I could do a cold crash. My temperature control is my basement. One time during a very cold spell some years ago I did move the fermentation pail to the side of the basement with the furnace and hot water heater. Worked like a charm BTW.
 

Birrofilo

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The problem for some brewers in not making a secondary fermentation is that one must move the fermenter in bottling position in advance, maybe two-three days before bottling in order to let all the yeast, which was necessarily stirred during the transfer in position, set again.

I understand this does not apply necessarily to kegging performed by means of pressure. But bottling normally uses gravity and space and that implies moving the fermenter to some table to work with a little comfort.

Also, different strains of yeasts have different flocculation. Some remain pulvurent and in suspension for days as soon as they are disturbed, others will form a firm slurry on the bottom of the fermenter.

Finally, if the beer is clarified through fining agents, those also have different behaviour. For what I know, some re-settle relatively fast when disturbed, and some don't.

If one uses a yeast which likes swimming in the beer and has not the possibility to move the fermenter in position three days before bottling, and the goal is a clear beer, a transfer to a secondary fermenter allows the brewer to get rid of most yeast in suspension, provided that the transfer is made without moving the primary fermenter of course.
 

cactusgarrett

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one must move the fermenter in bottling position in advance
Not using a secondary does not necessarily mean bottling out of the primary fermenter. When i bottle my sours, i leave everything in the primary, then come bottling day i transfer to a bottling bucket to re-yeast and charge with sugar. This is still considered "not using a secondary fermenter" in my opinion. This cuts down on trub into the bottles.
 

Birrofilo

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Not using a secondary does not necessarily mean bottling out of the primary fermenter. When i bottle my sours, i leave everything in the primary, then come bottling day i transfer to a bottling bucket to re-yeast and charge with sugar. This is still considered "not using a secondary fermenter" in my opinion. This cuts down on trub into the bottles.
I agree, but that works only if your original fermenter is already in a position where you don't have to raise it in order to rack it into the bottling bucket.

If person A raises his primary fermentar in order to make a transfer to a secondary fermenter, and some days later bottles, and person B raises his fermenter in order to transfer to the bottling bucket, person B might experience a less clear beer because he did disturb the yeast which, depending on the yeast and the manoeuvre, might cloud the beer a bit.

If instead the original fermenter was already in a position where it did not need to be moved, the yeast is not disturbed, whether you bottle from there or you rack to a secondary fermenter.
 

hout17

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I agree, but that works only if your original fermenter is already in a position where you don't have to raise it in order to rack it into the bottling bucket.

If person A raises his primary fermentar in order to make a transfer to a secondary fermenter, and some days later bottles, and person B raises his fermenter in order to transfer to the bottling bucket, person B might experience a less clear beer because he did disturb the yeast which, depending on the yeast and the manoeuvre, might cloud the beer a bit.

If instead the original fermenter was already in a position where it did not need to be moved, the yeast is not disturbed, whether you bottle from there or you rack to a secondary fermenter.
Or you could just move the primary in to position a day or two before (to give yeast a little time to resettle) and then transfer to your bottling bucket. Happy brewing everybody.
 

cactusgarrett

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I just move the fermenter gently at the beginning of the bottling session, as it gives it time for the little bit that may have kicked up to settle. I would say i get more from the suck-up of the racking cane when i find it's initial positioning above the trub layer. Regardless, it all settles in the bottles for clear beer anyway. Again, time is a panacea for nearly all clear beer issues.
 

renstyle

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A secondary is good to employ with fruit usage, but it won't do anything for clarity that time won't do. Would those brewer friends of yours have been doing this for a while? Decades? I've been brewing for 20 years and it took me a while to buy into not doing it - like changing over to one space after a period instead of two when typing ;) To me it sounds like it's confirmation bias when they say using a secondary improved the flavor of their beer. However, I can see the merit in how some oxidation could make a beer better - like for darker, bolder beers where some oxygen encourages sherry-like flavors.
TWO SPACES AFTER THE PERIOD! That's how I was taught.... on an effing typewriter no less. The change has bugged me for years! Good analogy! 🤣😂🤣
 

D.B.Moody

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I was taught that way too. I even typed my dissertation on a manual typewriter. I still put in the second space; if they don't like it, they don't have to print it. (In fact I'm doing it while typing this post.):D
On subject: For me this is not about beer clarity but whether or not avoiding oxygen by not doing a secondary is of benefit to me. It's not about what is best practice but whether or not it benefits my ales.
 
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Before I got my conical and before joining this forum I also used a secondary.. then I read some threads here and stopped doing it, was it better?? maybe a little. was it less clear?? maybe a little. i will say that in the particular reference to my IPAs i did get more hop flavor and aroma, plus that flavor and aroma seemed to last longer in the keg. as for the rest of the beers i brew i cant say i noticed a huge difference. naturally when I did a secondary I was always careful to limit oxygen exposure.
 

odie

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what does a secondary do? it makes an extra dirty container to clean and introduces unnecessary risks...

all it makes is extra work...
 

InspectorJon

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I noticed the other day that HBT automatically eliminates the second space after periods. We are being forced to conform to the new ways. There must be some social commentary to be said about this.

I left my last stout in primary for 4 months with oak cubes. Not happy with the result...
 

BeerAndTele

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Before I got my conical and before joining this forum I also used a secondary.. then I read some threads here and stopped doing it, was it better?? maybe a little. was it less clear?? maybe a little. i will say that in the particular reference to my IPAs i did get more hop flavor and aroma, plus that flavor and aroma seemed to last longer in the keg. as for the rest of the beers i brew i cant say i noticed a huge difference. naturally when I did a secondary I was always careful to limit oxygen exposure.
My experience exactly (minus the use of a conical). I happily used a secondary for years and never detected an off-flavor attributed to oxidation. I always noticed gook at the bottom of my secondary - even when I kept the beer in the primary for 2+ weeks and racked very carefully to the secondary - so I figured I was doing a good thing. Then I read a good bit and decided not to use the secondary (unless there is fruit involved) because I feel like I shouldn't ... but I can't really say I've noticed a flavor difference. Yeah, maybe my palate isn't as refined as some.

A fun test would be to split a batch coming out of the primary - half to a secondary (with minimized headspace) and half to a bottling bucket for bottling. Then weeks later, taste 'em side by side.
 

cactusgarrett

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Brews and Blues

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Would something like the Fermzilla be the best of both worlds? Get the beer off of the trub without having to transfer? I have been looking at one of those but not ready to make the jump. Perfectly happy with my plastic buckets right now as I learn.
 

D.B.Moody

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@cactusgarrett, thanks for the study/rant post. He found what I suspect I'll find when I try my tests: no real difference. If I do find that, I'll stay with using a secondary because to me it's easier. But I'm not the one telling others it's better; I'm the one being told it's worse. In any case, I'll have an excuse to carefully brew and drink 4 batches of beer. Work, work, work. What a great hobby.:mug:
 

cactusgarrett

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Keep in mind, too, that experiment was a N=1 data set.

But I'm not the one telling others it's better; I'm the one being told it's worse.
Right - and I'm careful not to tell someone it's better or worse. I suggest people not do it because it increases (from zero, by not transferring) the potential of oxidation. Just because it didn't happen to the guy in Brulosophy for his N=1 experiment, doesn't mean it won't happen to the thousands of homebrewers in the future. It's a pure numbers and probability thing. I staunch opponents to secondaries say "based on the extra work, how is it easier (as you suggested)?" Then couple that with the increased probability of contamination and oxidation, it's not recommended to people just blindly following what a dated homebrew kit instruction sheet says.
 

Birrofilo

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I am grateful to Brulosophy for the interesting work, but I do find, and I understand that this is not very polite and can pass through as sheer presumptuous, that sometimes the very laudable effort is vanified by a somehow careless planning, and the result often is that the exbeeriment is not really apt to give an answer to the question which was on the table.

In this case the question on the table is oxidation, and a 10 day old or so beer is not really the benchmark to inspect whether oxidation is worsened by a transfer to a secondary fermenter. As the article says, oxidation will be noticeable for older beers, which leads to the question, what do we "bring home" from this experiment.

Also, in this test - unlike in other probably more recent tests - participants are given 2 beers and they are told the beers are different. In other tests, more appropriately, participants are given 3 beers, and one is different, and the first layer of examination is whether the panel (or, how many in the panel) isolates the different beer, which is a very important datum, actually in a sense it is the most important datum. Ideally participant should be given 5 beers to choose from with 1 different. All subsequent evaluations are moot if the participants did not get the different beer.

Whether a taster judges beer A more interesting than beer B is straight down to personal taste and personal perceptions like fruitiness or complexity or even sweetness are notoriously quite unreliable and not reproducible even with the same panel in different circumstances. The wine world has, since when I was young which is eons ago, found out that personal sensorial impressions in testing wines are extremely personal and can be generalized only with great difficulty and will vary the day after. Equal or different beer, instead, is quite a datum to mumble on.

Which is to say that, after having expressed again my personal gratitude for this site and my interest for whatever they publish, I wish they could plan the test with a little more accuracy, choosing a beer style and a time span which is fit to actually pronounce a "sentence" rather than giving just a vague impression.
 
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