When is a secondary fermenter a good idea?

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pc_trott

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I brewed up a Northern Brewer Imperial Stout extract kit a couple of days ago, (OG - 1.08) using 2 packs of Safale S-04 yeast. I'm glad I attached a blow off tube, because it boiled off about half a gallon of foam over the next two days. While it was fermenting I looked at the post-ferment instructions, and they say to rack it to a secondary and let it condition in secondary for two to three months before bottling. that's two or two and a half months longer than I've let any of my other brews sit in the fermenter after fermentation is done, and I've never used a secondary (having read many times in this forum that it is unnecessary and just introduces oxygen).

So the question is, how long is too long for a conditioning brew to sit on the yeast cake? If I'm going to leave the brew in the fermenter for an additional three months after the initial month in the primary, should I rack it to a secondary first? Thanks in advance for your advice.
 

davidabcd

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If you must use the secondary, do it at the prescribed time in the directions, i.e. when primary fermentation is almost complete. That's according to kit instructions I've used from Brewer's Best.
How long is too long? Three or four months, based on my experience, isn't a big deal. But then I'd bottle and let the conditioning occur there.
Anyway, based on what you want to do, yeah, use a secondary for long term.
 

GoodTruble

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@Bobby_M

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-If for some reason, it was more than 1 month without bottling or kegging, I would consider a closed transfer to a secondary. But It would be really unusual circumstances, and really, at that point, I would just transfer to a keg, let it finish there, and bottle from the keg later if needed.
 
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pc_trott

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I'm not altogether sure I'm following you...
-If for some reason, it was more than 1 month without bottling or kegging, I would consider a closed transfer to a secondary. But It would be really unusual circumstances.
So, do you think NB is recommending too long of a rest in the fermenter? Are you recommending I bottle after 1 month in primary? Or is the rest in secondary a good idea? (In spite of the fact that I don't have the equipent for a closed transfer to secondary.)
 

Bobby_M

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When is a secondary fermenter a good idea? In 1985, not now. It's a joke mostly because not many people are using a secondary these days. Your concerns are valid but there's no way I'd move that beer into a secondary without CO2. I recommend aging it in the primary for a total of 1 month from brew day and then bottle it right away to protect it. Age it in the bottle.
 

GoodTruble

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Modern homebrewing conventional wisdom (though contested) is that secondary is not worth the extra oxygen exposure. The yeast cake in primary probably doesn't hurt anything and/or is less worrisome than the added oxygen exposure entailed in transferring to a secondary fermenter.

If the RIS hits final gravity, then I would just bottle or keg at that point and let it age it the bottles or keg (at cool if not refrigerated temps).
 

Erik the Anglophile

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As others have said, let it finish fermenting + an extra week or so, then bottle and age the beer in bottles in the basement or something.
Just be aware that it may require AT LEAST 6 months to really start tasting good.
I brewed a 1.080 more oldschool British inspired RIS last year, quite heavy on the roasted barley.
I thought I had failed a little recipe wise, but now at about 8 months in bottle it is a lot smoother and really starting to taste nice.
 

McMullan

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It's a joke mostly because not many people are using a secondary these days.

🤔 Brewing under rules of democracy? Interesting.

There are definitely occasions when a secondary is useful, or even required, if you can be bothered and you have the basic skills required to prevent oxidation during transfer. E.g., if you need the beer to be ready sooner, which is why commercial breweries often use settling tanks after fermentation is done; and, ironically, why home brewers get so excited about conicals, which become secondaries once the yeast cone gets dumped. And long-term ageing of big beers, of course. The idea green beer is fine sitting on the yeast for weeks or longer is not always true. It assumes the yeast are healthy. In some cases high levels of yeast autolysis risk transforming beer into drain water.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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It's a joke mostly because not many people are using a secondary these days.
Brewing under rules of democracy? Interesting. 🤔
To me, "not many people are using [it]" reads like "peer pressure" brewing.

eta: and yes, the disrespectful (IMO) 'clowning' of topics before reply #5 is getting old.

It assumes the yeast are healthy. In some cases high levels of yeast autolysis risk transforming beer into drain water.
Autolysis. It's been a while since I've seen that word.
 
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BrewnWKopperKat

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So the question is, how long is too long for a conditioning brew to sit on the yeast cake? If I'm going to leave the brew in the fermenter for an additional three months after the initial month in the primary, should I rack it to a secondary first? Thanks in advance for your advice.
AFAIK, good methods to objectively measure the various approaches are either expensive or otherwise hard to find.

Personally, my experience with brewing a couple of 10% barley wines suggests a "lazy home brewer" approach: leave the beer in the FV for around three months, then bottle it.
 

Oleson M.D.

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We have not used a secondary ferment vessel in over 20 years. A friend, and former LHBS store ownwer, and head brewer at the Hofbrau in North Texas, told me there is only one fermentation. And, you allow it to completely finish in your primary fermenter. No need to rack off into a secondary.

We have allowed finished beer to remain in the first ferment vessel for up to one month during cold-crashing. Some think this actually improves the beer.
 

BrewnWKopperKat

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FWIW: one can find ancedotals from expert brewers that suggest that they do closed transfers of beer before dry hopping and packaging to get flavors they want and avoid flavors that they don't want.

Closed transfers are a known and effective way to mitigate oxygen ingress.

Peer pressure ...
not many people are using a secondary these days
... shared knowledge
Here's a great AHA post where Palmer answers it's older but relevant.

We know a lot more about brewing now than before because of forums like this where knowledge is shared instead of being kept as a trade secret.
Especially when we share what we have read and what we are doing.

In most forums here, I have a preference for seeing URLs over seeing memes.
 

McMullan

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And yet John Palmer is basing his premise on the assumption home brewers are pitching enough healthy yeast. Unless fermentation’s complete within a few days or so, it’s not the case. A commercial brewery where beer sits on yeast in the primary for up to a month isn’t a viable business. It’s good practice to get the beer off the yeast as soon as regardless. Especially if you want to be drinking it.
 

Oleson M.D.

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And yet John Palmer is basing his premise on the assumption home brewers are pitching enough healthy yeast. Unless fermentation’s complete within a few days or so, it’s not the case. A commercial brewery where beer sits on yeast in the primary for up to a month isn’t a viable business. It’s good practice to get the beer off the yeast as soon as regardless. Especially if you want to be drinking it.

Commercial breweries typically filter their beer, so allowing it to naturally clear over time in the ferment vessel is not a consideration. And the big breweries are more interested in volume production, so it is a time and cost factor.

Our beers complete the ferment process in 14 days to one month. We always pitch a healthy, fresh yeast slurry. Cold-Crashing (30 degrees) normally will last 7 to 21 days, depending on our schedule and keg rotation.

Allowing the beer to remain on the yeast for an extended period has never been detrimental to the flavor in our experience.
 

McMullan

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Commercial breweries typically filter their beer, so allowing it to naturally clear over time in the ferment vessel is not a consideration. And the big breweries are more interested in volume production, so it is a time and cost factor.

Our beers complete the ferment process in 14 days to one month. We always pitch a healthy, fresh yeast slurry. Cold-Crashing (30 degrees) normally will last 7 to 21 days, depending on our schedule and keg rotation.

Allowing the beer to remain on the yeast for an extended period has never been detrimental to the flavor in our experience.
Some commercials do filter beer, but the beer still needs to be pretty clear before filtering in most cases, unless using a centrifuge, like the big macros.

Sounds like you're pitching healthy yeast 👈
 

tellyho

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Honestly surprised there's this much debate here. OP: directions for homebrew kits were written likely a decade ago. General homebrew practice has changed a lot since then. Personally, I have decided that a lot of fussy brewing practices make no difference in the end quality of my beer and have discarded many of them. Secondary transfer is one - I haven't done it in 10 years.
 

RM-MN

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And yet John Palmer is basing his premise on the assumption home brewers are pitching enough healthy yeast. Unless fermentation’s complete within a few days or so, it’s not the case. A commercial brewery where beer sits on yeast in the primary for up to a month isn’t a viable business. It’s good practice to get the beer off the yeast as soon as regardless. Especially if you want to be drinking it.

Not only is it not good for business to tie up the fermenter for a month, there isn't a choice as the big fermenters (conicals) concentrate the mass of settled yeast in the bottom of the conical where the heat they generate can cause yeast death and autolysis. For them it is get the beer off the yeast as quickly as then can. That frees up the fermenter for another batch to get started and avoids the possibility of autolysis ruining a batch.
 

McMullan

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Personally, I have decided that a lot of fussy brewing practices make no difference in the end quality of my beer and have discarded many of them.
Good practices are recommended to minimise the chance of failure. Following them in home brew doesn't necessarily produce better beer. Ignoring them is a personal choice. Perhaps it says more about our individual acceptance levels than the validity of the practices themselves. For me, personally, following good practices is about brewing consistently with predictability. Not just the alcohol. Home brew is quite a unique community when you think about it. Never a shortage of debate being pushed by a broad continuum of personal preferences, ranging from good, bad to damn ugly. Never a dull moment. Especially when the annual 'are secondaries worth it' thread gets posted. There's a list of them under this one 🤫
 

D.B.Moody

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What does a secondary fermenter do?
I brewed four secondary vs no secondary comparison batches last year. I did this because of the vociferous posts against doing a secondary. I decided I preferred the batches that went through a secondary but will change my IPA recipe to no secondary. My brews are ales and lightly hopped by today's standards.
 
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hout17

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Commercial breweries typically filter their beer, so allowing it to naturally clear over time in the ferment vessel is not a consideration. And the big breweries are more interested in volume production, so it is a time and cost factor.

Our beers complete the ferment process in 14 days to one month. We always pitch a healthy, fresh yeast slurry. Cold-Crashing (30 degrees) normally will last 7 to 21 days, depending on our schedule and keg rotation.

Allowing the beer to remain on the yeast for an extended period has never been detrimental to the flavor in our experience.

Not only is it not good for business to tie up the fermenter for a month, there isn't a choice as the big fermenters (conicals) concentrate the mass of settled yeast in the bottom of the conical where the heat they generate can cause yeast death and autolysis. For them it is get the beer off the yeast as quickly as then can. That frees up the fermenter for another batch to get started and avoids the possibility of autolysis ruining a batch.

I've also read elsewhere that since the volume is much larger in commercial brewing there is a lot more pressure on the yeast cake and another reason not to leave it on to long. Maybe this is the same thing as @RM-MN is talking about.

I'm interested to see what you all think about that? Honestly I can't remember where I read that as it's been a few years ago.
 
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hout17

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What does a secondary fermenter do?
I brewed four secondary vs no secondary comparison batches last year. I did this because of the vociferous posts against doing a secondary. I decided I preferred the batches that went through a secondary but will change my IPA recipe to no secondary. My brews are ales and lightly hopped by todays standards.

I agree and personally with a big stout that needs aging I wouldn't hesitate to rack it to secondary after a month in primary and bulk age before bottling.
 

McMullan

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Getting back to the OP, my favoured choice is to use a corny keg as a secondary for ageing and naturally conditioning an imperial stout. I subscribe to the idea of transfering beer to its final package when it's ready. Bottles for an imperial stout. A bit more classy. Not sure if that's an option for @pc_trott, but a great reason to get a keg and beer gun.
 

RM-MN

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I agree and personally with a big stout that needs aging I wouldn't hesitate to rack it to secondary after a month in primary and bulk age before bottling.
Bottles make good secondaries. Oxidation when bottling will happen and there is no reason to make it worse by moving the beer to a secondary and then bottling later.
 

hout17

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Bottles make good secondaries. Oxidation when bottling will happen and there is no reason to make it worse by moving the beer to a secondary and then bottling later.
There is also the argument that some oxidation adds to the flavor of these styles. I've personally never had an issue.
 

D.B.Moody

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Oxidation when bottling will happen and there is no reason to make it worse by moving the beer to a secondary and then bottling later.

You are assuming this oxidation hurts the beer. I did not find this to be so for my beers. We preferred the taste of the beers that went through a secondary. Others may have different tastes and/or brew beers that are made worse. All I can say for certain is that there is a reason to put my beers through a secondary: they're better that way.
 

davidabcd

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eta: and yes, the disrespectful (IMO) 'clowning' of topics before reply #5 is getting old.
I agree, maybe not on pegging a specific number of posts though that could have been just to make a point (I wait until all legit info has been provided before I make a pun), but I agree.
One member I've seen has written, on more than one occasion, "Don't do that." It was cryptic, lacked information and reasoning and could be considered a disturbing communication.
New members/rookies/etc. don't ask because they know the answer. Obvious, I know.
In summation, I agree with you.
Cheers
 

davidabcd

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I agree with @D.B.Moody in some respects (especially where a stout is concerned). Oxygenation has far too much emphasis placed on it. I used to abuse my beer with air and never experienced any noticeable difference from introducing it. Eliminating oxygen to near zero might be fine and far better; that's for the high-tech brewer to decide, but from experience, I can't get on board with those methods because I've seen, first hand, that a good product results from what I do. I don't own any tanks of any gas and I get by fine.
I do know, from personal experience, the secondary is not needed (feel free to disagree), in general.
I don't want to go round and round; it's all good.
 
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z-bob

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[I wrote this this morning and forgot to hit the Post reply button] Unless you're doing something unusual (like adding fruit, or more wort) there is just one fermentation. I usually use two vessels; I transfer the beer when fermentation is not quite complete to get it off the trub; often I add a tablespoon or so of sugar so the yeast will quickly scavenge the oxygen that gets picked up during the transfer. Then a week to a month later I bottle it directly from the second vessel. (usually the first vessel is a bucket and the second is a carboy)

I suspect most people who do the entire fermentation in a single vessel transfer the beer to a bottling bucket. That's still 2 vessels. :) Oxygen gets picked up during this transfer too and there's less yeast to scavenge it, but then priming sugar is added so the yeast probably does use up the oxygen.

I doubt there is much difference.
 

davidabcd

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I doubt there is much difference.
Double like! I would have never started making beer if it was as difficult as can be portrayed here at times. I still use the basic method from years ago and haven't been disappointed. I don't own gas tanks of anything. I'm careful to quickly and quietly transfer to bottles and that's as far as I'll go.
I mention this because I'd like to make sure a new brewer knows basic processes make good quality beer.
Post isn't directed at you, particularly, but you reminded me of the thought.
Cheers.
 

davidabcd

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But can be as difficult as you want to make it. Some people get off on complicated processes. That's a good thing; more power to them.
That must be a universal truth about folks (getting off on complicated processes). It's all good and I don't mind seeing how it plays out. I'll say though that I would never have come anywhere near to being a beer maker if it hadn't been presented in the simplistic form that enticed me.
 

Rikk

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Going from the number of posts here proves the point there is no one way to brew. That said the OP asked when it is necessary. Maybe in a big beer. I’ve been home brewing for 30 years. My technique has changed drastically since those early days. I haven’t used a secondary in many years. Even big beers sit for 3-4 weeks in pressure fermentation then kegged. NEIPA is only in fermentation for 10 days then kegged.
So many old school ways have been proven wrong or not necessary.
I’m just about to go to a 30 minute boil for certain small and medium beers. Times change.
 

McMullan

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Going from the number of posts here proves the point there is no one way to brew.

True, but there's only one way the brew beer X.

So many old school ways have been proven wrong or not necessary.

Practices change due to progress, i.e., development and availability of improved equipment, ingredients, etc. I'm not so sure the idea that personal preferences prove 'old school ways' to be wrong. They all worked at some point in time. Many still do. My personal preference is to get beer off yeast as soon as. I think the beer tastes so much better a lot sooner. I'm really struggling to understand why I wouldn't want to do that really. Get my beers off the yeast and stabilised as soon as. Maybe I'm just old school :rock:
 

Oleson M.D.

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So many old school ways have been proven wrong or not necessary.

After reading many of the online articles published by Brulosophy, it appears that many of the old time-honored brewing practices are simply old-wives-tales.
But we still do 90 minute boils, and believe in decoction mashing.
 

Joe P

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After reading "all" the secondary fermentation comments, I've decided to "try" No secondary vessle next brewing season. I gathered enough knowledge and the general consensus from all commentaters point to the second ferm isn't really necessary. So, I'll try it. No big deal. Thanks all!
 
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