What does a secondary fermenter do?

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TheCache

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Good discussion going on here. I have only been brewing a few years and do all extract with steeping (mainly with DME). I used a secondary for my first few batches, but then read enough about it being unnecessary that I removed it from my process. For the last 30 batches or so I have not used a secondary, but I did start using Irish Moss and cold crashing after reading about them on HBT.

These two steps have made a big difference in the clarity of my beers. When I first started cold-crashing I had to move the fermenter into a fridge which may have provided the jostling that @Bobby_M mentions above. Now I do all of my fermenting in a chest freezer connected to an Inkbird (also using a fermowrap) so I can cool to crash temp without moving the fermonster. The beer comes out very clear but I have taken to crashing for 48-72 hours based on some reading on HBT. The crashing seems to be a big deal because it appears to cause the trub to pack down fairly tightly in the bottom of the fermonster (which also has a lowered section for the trub to collect in) so even when I lift the fermonster so I can gravity feed to bottling bucket I do not see much sediment reintroduced.

As a first year newbie I stopped using the secondary because of 1) the time and extra steps it required, and 2) the comments about oxidation. However, <BLASPHEMY ALERT>, as a second year newbie, I wonder if the fear of oxidation is at times overblown. I understand that oxidation can be an issue, but in my brewing now I have to open the fermonster top once or twice to check gravity. I also open it when I transfer to a bottling bucket and then of course the bottling bucket itself is open. All of these steps allow oxygen contact with the beer, but I am careful to move as gently and as quickly as possible and so far my beers remain good tasting and have appropriate color.

All that to say, I think using a secondary to condition and clarify beer is entirely up to the brewer and a brewer should not be overly concerned about oxidation or sedimentation whether using one or not - as long as they understand the pros and cons of their process and are careful in executing it.

But this discussion has now evolved to include taste differences and that has me interested. Since I was very new when I dropped the secondary process I may have missed some taste differences that I now wish to explore. It seems like secondary use could be another subtle impact that I could use to my advantage at times. Sort of like bagging vs non-bagging hops in the kettle. The impact maybe subtle, but like @D.B.Moody talked about, does it soften flavors? At times that might be valuable.

Hmm, so many paths to explore. I love this hobby!
 

Wables

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@Wables : this approach to brewing / storing may be of interest to others - so I think it's worth bringing together a couple of ideas from some recent replies.



Aside to readers: certainly, there are alternatives (buy more kegs, ...). My point here is to highlight an alternative that appears to work in the right set of conditions. If readers find inspiration for other places where a similar idea works, everyone wins.



Many people here currently use wide necked containers (that's neither good nor bad, just an observation).

A related observation: There was a recent reply over in the The definitive NEIPA bottling experiment! topic where a bottling process that yielded good beer in the 120 to 200 day range was anecdotally reported. Filling the "dead space" in containers with C02 during the bottling process appears to have been the key.

Thank you @Wables for sharing your process, even though it seems to not fit into common, current "forum" practices and conventions.
This old dog is learning new tricks. I have a 65l Brewzilla and two 7.9 gallon all-rounders with pressure kits on the way. I’m looking forward to comparing old school vs. new school techniques. I’ll probably do my 10 gallon IPA with my normal technique and the full blown no o2 contact method, and put them on tap together.

…and now I need to convert 8 kegs to ball locks. I never had the need to ditch the pin locks until now.
 
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D.B.Moody

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Today I compared #282, left, 7 weeks in the bottle and #283, right, which experienced a transfer to a secondary, 6 weeks in the bottle. They looked the same. There is no darkening from oxygen exposure apparent.
282 & 283 9:28.png

I poured without any attempt to control sediment. Both beers poured easily, left the sediment adhered to the bottom of the bottle, and cleared nicely. (These batches used Nottingham yeast.) They also tasted very much the same. I like them both, but have a slight preference for #283, the one that experienced secondary, as being a just a little bit mellower.

(Edited to correct batch identification error.)
 
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CascadesBrewer

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A related observation: There was a recent reply over in the The definitive NEIPA bottling experiment! topic where a bottling process that yielded good beer in the 120 to 200 day range was anecdotally reported. Filling the "dead space" in containers with C02 during the bottling process appears to have been the key.
Ohhh...I guess I don't have the "Bottling/Kegging" forum in my list of watched forums so I missed that thread.
 

D.B.Moody

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This final tasting of #282 and #283 is a few days late because we were attending our high school 60th reunion. I mean we didn't get home until after 8:30 Tuesday and Wednesday.

So today we did our last comparison of #282, 8 weeks in the bottle and not having a secondary, with #283, 7 weeks in the bottle and subjected to a secondary. They look the same:
10:8:21.png

My fellow taster (and fellow member of the class of '61) without knowing which was which picked #283 as being preferred as it was "smoother." I could taste a slight difference, but did not have a real preference. This is in line with all the tastings. Foregoing a secondary did not improve this beer.
 

RodeoDave

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You have to understand that I’m a walking time capsule. I quit doing any type of brewing research in 2009. I’ve still brewed 200+ gallons a year since, but using the standard, accepted practices of that era. I got back online 2 weeks ago and learned that I was making crappy beer because I use a secondary, don’t purge with co2, yadda, yadda, yadda. I’d be willing to bet most people regurgitating all of this oxygenating stuff have never experienced oxidation, and are just repeating what they have learned as if it was settled science.
Finally, some common sense, rather than the new status quo regarding the post fermentation process. I too started brewing long ago, back in the early 1990's. Most of my brews were extract with some steeped specialty grains. I remember making some very good beers that spoiled my taste buds. I just could not find anything commercial, especially domestic that could compare to the character of my fresh brew. Yes, secondary vessels were recommended for a better final product (I won't call it a fermenter, but surely there is a small amount of fermentation because there are still yeast and sugars present and now some small amount of oxygen may have been picked up during transfer). I stopped brewing about 25 years ago, just before I was ready to take the next step to all grain brewing. But it seemed too daunting and required multiple steps and vessels I did not want to invest in and store. I agree with Wables, there seems to be too much purist ranting today as I look to get back into home brewing. All I seem to read about is fear of oxygen and an addiction to something called StarSan. Granted these are all good measures to take, but after reading many articles, listening to many Podcasts (Brulosophy - the Myth Busters of Brewing), and watching numerous, inspiring Youtube videos (Gash @ HBN, CH at H4L, the Bitter Reality guy and David Heath), I plan to keep it fairly simple for now and use those borosilica glass, Crisa carboys I purchased decades ago to "stage" my beers and keep my FV ready for the next brewday. But, being a bit older and with a healthier bank account, I am looking forward to using my new Brewzilla, Fermzilla (where were those Aussies 30 years ago?), iSpindle (thanks Cade), and an amazing selection of malts and hops available.
 

CascadesBrewer

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All I seem to read about is fear of oxygen and an addiction to something called StarSan.
There are lots of ways to make beer and lots of definitions of "good" beer. Without a doubt, avoiding cold side oxidation was a massive improvement for my hoppy beers. Even simple Pale Ales lost some of the caramel sweetness and became a shade lighter in color (much like the trials in this thread have shown).

There are lots of shades of oxidation and different styles are impacted differently. Some oxidation in a Porter or Stout might give it some "aged" character that people might desire. I would advise people to not transfer to a secondary in most cases, to take extra steps when packaging, and to generally avoid opening their fermenter unnecessarily after fermentation has started to slow. If you are brewing hoppy beers (especially NEIPA style beers) then extra steps will improve the quality of your beer.

Proper cleaning and sanitization seems like a no-brainer first step for making decent beer. Star San is very easy to use and is very inexpensive if you are only making small amounts and using a spray bottle.
 

MaxStout

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If you ever have had an infected batch you will consider Starsan a necessity, and not an "addiction."

Good sanitation is a fundamental that new brewers either embrace from the beginning, or discover the hard way.
 

RodeoDave

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I would advise people to not transfer to a secondary in most cases, to take extra steps when packaging, and to generally avoid opening their fermenter unnecessarily after fermentation has started to slow.

Proper cleaning and sanitization seems like a no-brainer first step for making decent beer. Star San is very easy to use and is very inexpensive if you are only making small amounts and using a spray bottle.
Thanks for the comments. With my new equipment, I plan to do a closed transfer to the secondary and will take extra care during bottling (fortunately I maintained a vintage collection of flip tops, capping by yourself sucks). It will take me a little time to update my old soda kegs (corny's) and then find a used freezer to convert into a keezer. Hopefully, by that time, my wife will like my beer well enough not to argue. Star San will be part of the process too. I just keep thinking about the Greek father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding with his Windex every time I watch a brew day video.

Glad to get back into this and have a community to share with.
 
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From #114 (link) with emphasis added ...
The standard theory of 12 years ago was that when you transferred to the secondary, you would get some minimal contact with air, but you keep the output end of the siphon in the beer to minimize splashing. [...] If you aren’t dry hopping, you make sure that your batch is big enough to fill into the neck of the carboy. You are then left with a few cubic inches of air space that will be filled with co2 as fermentation completes.
If nothing else, this approach would seem to be useful, in the early 2020s, for those who want to free up a fermenter.
 

CascadesBrewer

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Glad to get back into this and have a community to share with.
Good luck! My advice would be to keep and open mind and try out different things. For a few decades I fermented in a pair of glass carboys, transferring from my 6.5 gallon to my 5 gallon one for a secondary. About 3 years ago I moved away from doing a secondary and I also moved to using PET Fermonster fermenters. Both moves were significant improvements in both the quality of my beer and with my brewing process. $30 for a second fermenter is a sound investment in my book.
 

z-bob

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What are you using for a primary? If it's a bucket, transferring to a carboy or some gallon glass jugs might be a good idea. If it's in a carboy already, it's generally better to leave it there. It won't be sitting on the dead yeast long enough to hurt anything; that's more of a wine thing.
 

bobtheUKbrewer2

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What on earth is the difference between 20 litres of beer in a secondary for 14 days and 2 litres of beer put into a 2 litre PET bottle after a 6 day fermentation ?
 

VikeMan

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What on earth is the difference between 20 litres of beer in a secondary for 14 days and 2 litres of beer put into a 2 litre PET bottle after a 6 day fermentation ?
I'm not sure exactly what you're asking, but...

Beer 1) Primary transferred to "secondary," then transferred to bottles (or keg).
Beer 2) Primary transferred to bottles.

Beer 1 was transfered twice. Beer two was transfered only once. Beer one was subjected to more oxygen exposure.
 

AlexKay

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Somewhat related question. I’m making an eisbock, and have to transfer the beer into a secondary container (PET fermonster, fwiw.) I can’t think of any way to freeze-concentrate without the extra step. So here’s the question: since it’s going to be in secondary already, do I leave it at ~55 F for a while before the freezing step, or just go straight from concentrating to kegging to carbonation and cooling? If so, how long and why?

First eisbock. First two actually; one is a standard doppelbock recipe, and the other will be an eisrauchbock made from lavender-smoked malt.
 

bobtheUKbrewer2

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Vikeman - transferred straight to 2L bottles after 6 days fermentation
z bob - more but not a lot more from actual experience
Moody - not exactly 18 litres - sorry - - -
 

cmac62

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I have never used a secondary, I've left big beers in primary (on the trub/yeast) for up to 2.5 months and have never experienced autolysis (sp?). Also, I have never been really concerned with clarity. Now most of my beers are kegged and sit in the lager fridge for a month or so waiting for room in the keggerater. I also have a fermonster with the pressure cap/floating dip tube and a Fermentasaurus with the pressure transfer rig, but the whole process of the pressure trans just seems a pain (liquid purge the receiving keg then doing the TRF). Now I use a little Ascorbic Acid (AA) in the keg as an antioxidant and open trf with as little splashing as possible, then cap and purge the keg asap, and my hopped beers last a lot longer in the keg. During brew day I also use BTB, Kmeta and AA, both in the mash and in the boil to minimize 02 exposure on all fronts. For me this is an easy way to reduce the oxidation. I was wondering it a small dose of kmeta and AA going into secondary would mitigate the O2 exposure at this stage also. My limiinted understanding about the kmeta and AA is both are antioxidants with kmeta being longer acting and the AA shorter acting. Seems it may be an effective means to reduce the oxidation effects of using a secondary. Just my thoughts. :mug:
 

z-bob

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I have never used a secondary, I've left big beers in primary (on the trub/yeast) for up to 2.5 months and have never experienced autolysis (sp?). Also, I have never been really concerned with clarity. Now most of my beers are kegged and sit in the lager fridge for a month or so waiting for room in the keggerater. I also have a fermonster with the pressure cap/floating dip tube and a Fermentasaurus with the pressure transfer rig, but the whole process of the pressure trans just seems a pain (liquid purge the receiving keg then doing the TRF). Now I use a little Ascorbic Acid (AA) in the keg as an antioxidant and open trf with as little splashing as possible, then cap and purge the keg asap, and my hopped beers last a lot longer in the keg. During brew day I also use BTB, Kmeta and AA, both in the mash and in the boil to minimize 02 exposure on all fronts. For me this is an easy way to reduce the oxidation. I was wondering it a small dose of kmeta and AA going into secondary would mitigate the O2 exposure at this stage also. My limiinted understanding about the kmeta and AA is both are antioxidants with kmeta being longer acting and the AA shorter acting. Seems it may be an effective means to reduce the oxidation effects of using a secondary. Just my thoughts. :mug:
I do use a secondary for most beers, then I bottle directly from the secondary instead of using a bottling bucket. There is still lots of yeast in the beer when I do the transfer, and I add a little sugar so it will quickly scavenge the oxygen. I don't know if that's a good system or not, but it works for me. And I avoid transferring to a bottling bucket, which is another opportunity for oxygen uptake.

There's too much crap in the bottom of the primary fermenter to try to bottle from that. And depending what yeast I use, I sometimes primary in a bucket instead of a carboy.
 

Jezwald101

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Hello all. So I am making the ace of spades black ipa also. I am to the point of adding the dry hops.. I have a fermzilla all in one fermenter and I am pressure fermenting at 10psi. I lowered the pressure to about 5psi with a spunding valve and opened the valve at the bottom to dump the trub. Filled container all the way up and there was still trub to go so I closed valve and slowly drained some of the trub through the caps on the side until it was low enough to remove the canister to dump out the trub. I then rinsed it and sanitized it and screwed it back on the fermenter. Not thinking about the oxygen that would be in the container. (I don't have the ball locks for this canister yet) opened the valve slowly to dump out the rest of the trub. Then I realized I just added oxygen to it. Crap. So after shutting the valve I raised the pressure to 10psi of co2 and purged it about 5 times. Then lowered the pressure to 1 psi slowly with the spunding valve. Moved the gas line to dip tube and kept the pressure of co2 at 1 psi while I opened the lid to add the dry hops. Closed the lid as fast as possible then removed gas line from dip tube back onto the gas line and raised the pressure to 10 psi and purged about 10 times. I was gonna try the magnet trick but didn't have any magnets strong enough when I first added wort to fermenter .
Any suggestions how I could have done this any better?
 

D.B.Moody

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Today we compared batch #286 and batch #287. These were brewed to my "JB Gold" recipe that uses amber DME, 60L crystal malt, EKG and Styrian hops, and Muntons ale yeast. (The recipe is here "I Brewed a Favorite Recipe [link], but will require scrolling to post #60 because I don't know how to do these links.) Batch #286 was brewed 10/23. transferred to a secondary 10/29, and bottled 11/6. Batch #287 was brewed 10/30 and bottled 11/13.

This is how they looked at bottling:
286 287 at bottling.png

#286, left, was clearer than #287, right.

At two weeks in the bottle they look like this combined shot:
286:287 combined 2wks.png

They appeared about equally clear, but #287, right, the one that did not experience a secondary, is a bit darker.

Today for the tasting they looked like this side by side:
286&287 12:4.png

They are both clear, #287 still appears a bit darker. #286 is 4 weeks in the bottle, and #287 is 3 weeks in the bottle.

#287, right, the one that did not experience a secondary, had more sediment in the bottle:
286:287 sediment 12:4.png


Here they are poured:
286 & 287 pour.png

#286, right, the one that was subjected to a secondary, is lighter than #287. This can't be oxidation. I think #287 got a different dose of crystal malt. This appears to be a case of experimental error. Even the foam is darker:
286 & 287 head.png

#287, right, has a brownish head compared to #286.

I didn't do a picture in the window to show how pretty they are. The sun was already set, and, as you can see in the picture of the pour, these were a bit foamy for a regular pour, particularly #287. I did not get a comparison for ease of the pour avoiding sediment.

They both taste good and very much alike. #287, the one that did not experience a secondary is a bit sharper, probably hops, and #286, which went through a secondary, was smoother. We preferred #286 when directly compared, but liked both.

We'll try this again soon with a more careful pour.
 
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jerrylotto

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I think that the whole "secondary" thing is primarily a function of your equipment. In a conical, you can drop trub, yeast, hops and other detritus that will settle out of the fermenter without transferring your beer to anything else. In a flat bottom world, especially one that consists of carboys, you have no such option.

Addnote: I did not look back far enough in this thread to see that this has already been pointed out :cool:
 
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D.B.Moody

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Today we did another comparison on batches 286 & 287. Batch 286 was subjected to a secondary and is 5 weeks in the bottle; batch 287 was not put into a secondary and is 4 weeks in the bottle. They looked like this:
12:4 in btl.png

I did a carefully pour this time. They looked like this in the glass:

12:11 in glass.png

In both pictures #286, left, the batch that experienced a secondary, is lighter. I can only assume that the 60L carmel malt addition was different in the two brews, but I don't know why. Batch #286 is clearer, and batch #287 was more difficult to pour without allowing sediment into the glass.

Tastewise there is no real difference. We both liked both beers. Batch #286 was not noticeably smoother. Batch 287 is a bit fizzier, but I was not sure it actually had a sharper taste.

I have to call this comparison a wash and problematic due to the crystal malt mystery. I won't be posting further reports on these two batches, but I do prefer the easier pour the secondary provided.
 
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ace0005

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I've never had a problem when I used to use a secondary, just had to be careful not to splash the beer around during the transfer. Personally, I didn't do the transfer to clarify the beer. I used to transfer to add fruit and because I was worried about the trub creating off flavors, but as previously mentioned, it creates more room for error than it's worth.
 

D.B.Moody

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I've never had a problem when I used to use a secondary . . .
And that's exactly why I had to do these comparisons I've been reporting. I had to see if not doing a secondary would improve my beer. I will do a wrap-up report soon, but the short answer is that I will continue to use a secondary fermenter.
 

KyBeer

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When making an IPA that requires a dry hop addition do you dry hop on the primary and then transfer to a secondary for a few days and then package?
 

CascadesBrewer

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I've never had a problem when I used to use a secondary, just had to be careful not to splash the beer around during the transfer. Personally, I didn't do the transfer to clarify the beer. I used to transfer to add fruit and because I was worried about the trub creating off flavors, but as previously mentioned, it creates more room for error than it's worth.
The general recommendation these days is that a secondary fermentation is most useful when 1) there is an actual secondary fermentation (such as your case adding fruit) in which case the additional fermentation will consume up any oxygen introduced or 2) when aging a beer for several months where there might be some issues from leaving the beer on the yeast. I am not sure I have left a beer on the yeast for more than about 4 weeks, but other report leaving beer on the yeast and trub for months without issues.

I will do a wrap-up report soon, but the short answer is that I will continue to use a secondary fermenter.
It is an interesting conclusion. I see most of these trials and the descriptions as evidence that beers are getting oxidized in the secondary. As I learned to identify the characters of staled and oxidized beers, I have grown to dislike that character more.
 

D.B.Moody

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When making an IPA that requires a dry hop addition do you dry hop on the primary and then transfer to a secondary for a few days and then package?
I can't answer your question because I don't do dry hopping, and, as I pointed out in post #87, my IPA recipe will be changed and it will not use a secondary. The extra exposure to oxygen mutes the happiness wanted in an IPA. Posts #81 and #82 were comparing my IPA with and without a secondary. In general we preferred the batch that went through a secondary, but, in the end, it lacked IPA happiness. So my advice would be to skip the secondary, and this is from the guy who likes to use a secondary and the effect it has on the beer.
The one time I did a dry hop I added the hops to the secondary some number of days before bottling. The beer had already been in the secondary.
 

D.B.Moody

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It is an interesting conclusion. I see most of these trials and the descriptions as evidence that beers are getting oxidized in the secondary. As I learned to identify the characters of staled and oxidized beers, I have grown to dislike that character more.
Yes there is oxidation, but the point of my testing not doing a secondary was to see if it improved my beers. It didn't. The differences were slight at most, and we tended to favor the ones that had been through a secondary. I've been brewing for over 27 years with a secondary, and for all I know it may just be that I'm so used to it that I like it that way. :)

As noted in the post just before this, I will be changing my IPA recipe and moving it to no secondary because of these comparisons.
 
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[...] the point of my testing not doing a secondary was to see if it improved my beers. It didn't.
Thank you for taking the time to question ('challenge') the "conventional wisdom" in public.

Everyone tastes beer differently. Tastes change over time.

The "[complete] joy of home brewing" may be that we get to brew what we like (and like what we brew).

:mug: (for today)
 

D.B.Moody

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I had to see if not doing a secondary would improve my beer. I will do a wrap-up report soon, but the short answer is that I will continue to use a secondary fermenter.
So here's the wrap up:

I did four comparisons between April and December. They were reported on in various posts from #61 to #146. The four:
1. Summer Ale, 10.9 HBUs, US05 yeast
2. Peter Cotton Ale, 15.2 HBUs, S33 yeast
3. Palace Bitter, 8.5 HBUs, Nottingham yeast
4. JB Gold, 7.3 HBUs, Muntons yeast

In each case the beers tasted very much the same. We tended to think of the secondary batches as being smoother and the primary only batches as being sharper. This may be muting of hops, but there might be something to a mellowing of the secondaries beyond that. I don't know. We tended to prefer the secondary batches. Not doing a secondary did not improve my beers.

In each comparison the secondary batch was clearer at bottling. In two cases, #2 and #4, the amount of bottle sediment in the primary only batches was very aggravating. All beers were bottled two weeks from brewing, and S33 and Munitions can also leave a fair bit of sediment even when put through a secondary. My primary is a white plastic bucket that you can't see the beer in, so you can't tell when it's ready to bottle like you can in a glass carboy secondary.

In two cases oxidation due to using a secondary was evident. In comparison #1 darkening was very evident, and it was somewhat evident in #2. These were the more highly hopped brews. The color was the same in #3. Experimental error negates any color comparison in #4.

Conclusions:

1. Since not doing a secondary didn't improve my beers, I will continue to use a secondary. I find it easier to do so. I like the results. This may or may not be partly due to that's what I've been doing all the years since 1994 or that I fell in love with British bitters on trips to the UK as far back as 1988.
2. My IPA recipe, #2, will change to provide for not using a secondary. In the end it just isn't very IPAish due to loss of hop character. I will move to a more floculant yeast (probably S04 or Nottingham), not use a secondary, do some "controlled agitation" as per @Bobby_M, give it three weeks instead of two in the fermenter, and add some ascorbic acid at bottling as per @cmac62.

:mug:
 
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