When is a secondary fermenter a good idea?

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z-bob

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CO2 blanket is real, but it doesn't really protect all that much from oxygen unless enough new CO2 is being produced to replenish the blanket faster than the O2 diffuses in. As in, an actual "air" current flowing away from the surface of the liquid. (I might be fooling myself about CO2 replenishing faster than O2 diffuses in; I don't know the rates.) A layer of bubbles or foam should make a good barrier, until it collapses.

Gases mix all on their own due to something called "partial pressure". Otherwise we wouldn't need air locks.
 

McMullan

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Partial pressure based on what, textbook models that assume homogeneous space, a vacuum? Neither the world (nature) nor the artificial (closed) environments of our active FVs are that ordered. What you’re saying really, @z-bob, ironically, is something more like, ‘get the beer off the yeast as soon as’. The belief that gases spontaneously find order universally at the drop of a hat (all other things being unequal) is a little bit funny.
 

z-bob

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All I'm saying is the CO2 blanket on top of the fermenter is unreliable. I didn't say it wasn't there; quite the contrary. It doesn't stop oxygen, only slows it down; the O2 will infiltrate your blanket. (so will nitrogen, but we don't care about that)
 

McMullan

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Eventually, yes. Hence why you recommend ‘getting the beer off the yeast as soon as’. I like it. It makes so much sense 🤫
 

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OK, 'cause your earlier post made no sense. That if it weren't for wind, maybe my proposal of gasses mixing on their own could actually be real. Or something. So, anyhow, you're a firm believer in CO2 blankets? I think. Even while you say at the same time there's disorder and chaos in reality, and that having no headpsace or purging it is a good idea.

OK, I guess. I can move on.
 

McMullan

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OK, 'cause your earlier post made no sense. That if it weren't for wind, maybe my proposal of gasses mixing on their own could actually be real. Or something. So, anyhow, you're a firm believer in CO2 blankets? I think. Even while you say at the same time there's disorder and chaos in reality, and that having no headpsace or purging it is a good idea.

OK, I guess. I can move on.
There are no valid comparisons between your model and the real world, be it on top of a mountain or inside a fermenter.
4073CE0C-C199-41EB-A282-857DA2861B21.jpeg
 

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Sorry, but that expresses far too much ignorance

exist in minds

your model

You have an interesting mind, I think. You keep refuting that gasses mix, then go on to describe why gasses certainly mix. I'm not trying to win here, I'm just trying to figure you out. Gas mixing has been well established for perhaps hundreds of years, a long time anyhow. It's not my model, nor ignorant. I think you maintain a CO2 blanket is real, and at the same time say that gasses go nuts and mix like crazy even inside fermenters.

Sorry to everyone else, I'm just curious to figure this out. If it should be deleted I certainly understand.
 

McMullan

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You have an interesting mind, I think. You keep refuting that gasses mix, then go on to describe why gasses certainly mix. I'm not trying to win here, I'm just trying to figure you out. Gas mixing has been well established for perhaps hundreds of years, a long time anyhow. It's not my model, nor ignorant. I think you maintain a CO2 blanket is real, and at the same time say that gasses go nuts and mix like crazy even inside fermenters.

Sorry to everyone else, I'm just curious to figure this out. If it should be deleted I certainly understand.
I haven't refuted anything. Just pointed out how it doesn't work as you imagine, in the real world. One of the reasons I try to avoid active volcanic craters. The blanket of toxic gases. Ditto smogs and other air pollution events, which tend to linger in calm (FV like) conditions, especially in the city, where high levels of pollution get generated then trapped for hours, days or even weeks.
 

Bobby_M

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🤔 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.

I guess all comments need to be carefully crafted. I made a blanket statement that most people don't do it anymore and I skipped over the part where those people have good reasons.

If one does not have a way to effectively mitigate oxygen exposure during a transfer, that transfer should be avoided if possible. When faced with the option of transferring to an unpurged second vessel or bottling and aging there, I recommend bottling.

Even when using a conical, which effectively becomes a bulk aging tank after dumping as much yeast as you can, a source of CO2 is all but required for the same oxygen exposure reasons.
 

D.B.Moody

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If one does not have a way to effectively mitigate oxygen exposure during a transfer, that transfer should be avoided if possible.

Despite what you said just before this, you make another blanket statement, and one I happen do disagree with. It may be true for most, but not for all. My comparison batches showed that the effect was small to extremely hard to deject, was slighter in less hoppy ales, and we tended to prefer the ones that experienced a secondary. I don't brew lagers and my ales are lightly hopped by today's standards. I am not denying oxidation, and I'm going to move my IPA recipe to no secondary. The thing is that not doing a secondary did not improve my brews, and doing a secondary helps clarify my brew for bottling. Could you just include a qualifier in your pronouncements?
I reported on these comparisons here: What does a secondary fermenter do?
 

Bobby_M

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FWIW, I have experienced the off-flavors associated with autolysis (in a commercial craft beer).

As a beer judge, I can say with some confidence that the instances of inappropriate levels of Diacetyl and Acetaldehyde in entries outweigh autolysis by about 100 to 1. It's reasonable to conclude that more people are moving the beer off the yeast too soon than too late, amongst other causes.
 

Bobby_M

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Despite what you said just before this, you make another blanket statement, and one I happen do disagree with. It may be true for most, but not for all. My comparison batches showed that the effect was small to extremely hard to deject, was slighter in less hoppy ales, and we tended to prefer the ones that experienced a secondary. I don't brew lagers and my ales are lightly hopped by today's standards. I am not denying oxidation, and I'm going to move my IPA recipe to no secondary. The thing is that not doing a secondary did not improve my brews, and doing a secondary helps clarify my brew for bottling. Could you just include a qualifier in your pronouncements?
I reported on these comparisons here: What does a secondary fermenter do?

You have collected several data points that describe your preferences and I could put a general disclaimer that your mileage may vary on any number of common widespread believed best practices. The only thing that really matters is how the intended audience perceives the beer in the glass. For your beer, that's your prerogative. If you do a bunch of side by side tests and conclude you like a certain method more, no one can tell you that you're wrong and of course no one would. If you care to know how those variables translate outside of your own preferences (and it's completely fine if you don't care), you can have more people blindly try them. Even better, put them into competitions.

I don't think the server has enough data space to contain all the caveats that people might inject into their posts here in order to make sure everyone's experience is captured.
 

Yesfan

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As a beer judge, I can say with some confidence that the instances of inappropriate levels of Diacetyl and Acetaldehyde in entries outweigh autolysis by about 100 to 1. It's reasonable to conclude that more people are moving the beer off the yeast too soon than too late, amongst other causes.


Bobby, can you elaborate more on when to move the beer off the yeast? On my typical ale batches, I'll keg after two weeks in the primary, and then on gas for a week at 10-11psi, before tapping (about 3 weeks total). In the past, I had some green apple issues (acetaldehyde?) with some beers, so I'm wondering if I've moved too fast when transferring from primary.
 
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Everyone tastes beer differently (The New IPA, chapter 5, first couple of paragraphs). Anecdotally, some people appear to be very sensitive to the off flavors that come from autolysis (see the various strong opinions in Homebrew All-Stars).

FWIW, I have experienced the off-flavors associated with autolysis (in a commercial craft beer).

Learn to identify off flavors, learn the process step(s) where the off flavors can come from, adjust the process to remove the off flavors.
As a beer judge, I can say with some confidence that the instances of inappropriate levels of Diacetyl and Acetaldehyde in entries outweigh autolysis by about 100 to 1. It's reasonable to conclude that more people are moving the beer off the yeast too soon than too late, amongst other causes.

And, as I suggested in the comment you quoted from:
Learn to identify off flavors,​
learn the process step(s) where the off flavors can come from,​
adjust the process to remove the off flavors.​
 
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I think I've learned 2 things. Maybe 3 but I won't say the 3rd.

1) There are some homebrew subjects best avoided, including the use of a secondary.
2) If you have to ask if you should use a secondary, the answer is probably - no, you probably shouldn't be using a secondary.
 

Bobby_M

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Bobby, can you elaborate more on when to move the beer off the yeast? On my typical ale batches, I'll keg after two weeks in the primary, and then on gas for a week at 10-11psi, before tapping (about 3 weeks total). In the past, I had some green apple issues (acetaldehyde?) with some beers, so I'm wondering if I've moved too fast when transferring from primary.

In general, acetaldehyde can linger for a few reasons. Poor initial yeast health, low pitch rate into low oxygen wort, drastically wavering fermentation temps, premature crashing the yeast via cold, removing the beer from yeast very close to the time FG was achieved. Assuming a healthy pitch of yeast, appropriate for the wort gravity and fermentation temps, my estimate on the primary cause is the natural cooling that happens after extremely active fermentation slows. It's an unintended cold crash that happens especially to people who just ferment in a cool ambient environment. Without knowing the exact particulars of how the beer actually WAS fermented, I recommend a fermentation profile that boosts the temperature by a couple degrees after peak fermentation has been observed and leave it there for a solid week after FG is reached.
 

McMullan

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As a beer judge, I can say with some confidence that the instances of inappropriate levels of Diacetyl and Acetaldehyde in entries outweigh autolysis by about 100 to 1. It's reasonable to conclude that more people are moving the beer off the yeast too soon than too late, amongst other causes.
If I had a beer flawed by autolysis I wouldn't enter it in a competition. This might explain why it's so rarely detected in competitions.
 
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Yesfan

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In general, acetaldehyde can linger for a few reasons. Poor initial yeast health, low pitch rate into low oxygen wort, drastically wavering fermentation temps, premature crashing the yeast via cold, removing the beer from yeast very close to the time FG was achieved. Assuming a healthy pitch of yeast, appropriate for the wort gravity and fermentation temps, my estimate on the primary cause is the natural cooling that happens after extremely active fermentation slows. It's an unintended cold crash that happens especially to people who just ferment in a cool ambient environment. Without knowing the exact particulars of how the beer actually WAS fermented, I recommend a fermentation profile that boosts the temperature by a couple degrees after peak fermentation has been observed and leave it there for a solid week after FG is reached.


Thanks. I'm one of those "cool ambient environment" types (mid 60s basement, year around). I've thought about a heating pad for my fermenter to raise the temps near the end of fermentation.
 

McMullan

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In general, acetaldehyde can linger for a few reasons. Poor initial yeast health, low pitch rate into low oxygen wort, drastically wavering fermentation temps, premature crashing the yeast via cold, removing the beer from yeast very close to the time FG was achieved. Assuming a healthy pitch of yeast, appropriate for the wort gravity and fermentation temps, my estimate on the primary cause is the natural cooling that happens after extremely active fermentation slows. It's an unintended cold crash that happens especially to people who just ferment in a cool ambient environment. Without knowing the exact particulars of how the beer actually WAS fermented, I recommend a fermentation profile that boosts the temperature by a couple degrees after peak fermentation has been observed and leave it there for a solid week after FG is reached.
Isn't this more to do with poor yeast pitching practices than getting beer off the yeast too soon? I find this quite interesting, because I suspect many home brewers under pitch, based on bad advice from commercial yeast suppliers and mysterious online calculators.
 

Bobby_M

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If I had a beer flawed by autolysis I wouldn't enter it in a competition. This might explain why it's a so rarely detected in competitions.

That's a strange conclusion. You wouldn't put an acetaldehyde bomb in either.

This assumes people who enter beers into competitions can detect all possible off flavors. Either many can't or they can and they want an independent verification of what they already suspect.
 

McMullan

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That's a strange conclusion. You wouldn't put an acetaldehyde bomb in either.

This assumes people who enter beers into competitions can detect all possible off flavors. Either many can't or they can and they want an independent verification of what they already suspect.
So you're saying they're acetaldehyde bombs? I wouldn't submit one of them either.
 

Bobby_M

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Isn't this more to do with poor yeast pitching practices than getting beer off the yeast too soon? I find this quite interesting, because I suspect many home brewers under pitch, based on bad advice from commercial yeast suppliers and mysterious online calculators.

It's impossible to know exactly what the majority cause is. I don't think it can be completely isolated to underpitching. I have a lot of customers that I finally convinced to re-evaluate their pitch rates (and pushed for using dry yeast for those with budget concerns) and they still had issues until they sorted out their temp control. It seems the problems are more common during seasons of high ambient temp fluctuations. Who knows. I often taste poorly executed beers that followed all those scenarios like a play book such as one pack of 7 month old Wyeast into a 1.080 Doppelbock fermented on a back porch that goes anywhere between 45 and 70F depending on time of day. It's hard to know which aspect to address first because not a single correction is likely to yield a miraculous result.
 

Bobby_M

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So you're saying they're acetaldehyde bombs? I wouldn't submit one of them either.

There are nuances in everything, but yes. I've never judged a competition where there weren't glaring problems in about 10% of the beers on the table and maybe another 10-20% with levels that are understandably missed by the entrant.
 
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pc_trott

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1) There are some homebrew subjects best avoided, including the use of a secondary.
2) If you have to ask if you should use a secondary, the answer is probably - no, you probably shouldn't be using a secondary.

I know you probably didn't mean it that way, but I feel vaguely insulted by the above. I would hope that there are *no* homebrewing subjects that can't be talked about civilly in a group dedicated to homebrewing and those who pursue the quest for ambrosia. Also, may I point out that the question wasn't "if" I should use a secondary, it was "when would it be a good idea."

Without knowing the exact particulars of how the beer actually WAS fermented, I recommend a fermentation profile that boosts the temperature by a couple degrees after peak fermentation has been observed and leave it there for a solid week after FG is reached.

And this is the kind of tip that I think makes this group and this type of discussion so valuable; some specifics on how a brewer might improve their method. It might work for me, it might not, but you can't know until you try!
 

davidabcd

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I transferred the beer to a secondary on my first two batches before I read how that method doesn't improve it, generally speaking. There were pictures, side by side, and group taste tests.
Being inclined to reach a point by the shortest route, I tried it. I do use a sieve when transferring from the boil kettle to the fermenter and let time take care of the rest.
I ended up liking just the one vessel system and then bottling. As far as clarity, I've never cared if the beer was a little cloudy but even that is taken care of with time.
 

D.B.Moody

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Being inclined to reach a point by the shortest route, I tried it. I do use a sieve when transferring from the boil kettle to the fermenter and let time take care of the rest.
I ended up liking just the one vessel system and then bottling. As far as clarity, I've never cared if the beer was a little cloudy but even that is taken care of with time.

I like the approach you took. I don't use a sieve in going to the fermenter. When I mention that a secondary helps clarify beer, I'm talking about how much stuff winds up as sediment in the bottle. Here's a composite of differences in a brew put through a secondary and a brew that was not at bottling two weeks after brewing, in the bottle three weeks, and sediment at the bottom of the bottles. These are from various batches, but the primary only batches are on the right in all cases.

composite.png


Time does clarify the beer in the bottle. With certain yeasts the extra sediment can be aggravating when pouring.
 
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I would hope that there are *no* homebrewing subjects that can't be talked about civilly in a group dedicated to homebrewing and those who pursue the quest for ambrosia.
HomebrewTalk, when it's at it's best, delivers that.

If, as a community, we can agree to avoid 🤡ing a topic in brewing related forums until the 2nd (3rd? 🙏) page, that would be nice.
 

bobtheUKbrewer2

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In over 50 years of brewing I have never used a secondary - fermenting 4 to 6 days then bottling. That does not mean that I am telling people secondarys are a waste of time.
 

Brews and Blues

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I know this is the eternal home brewing debate... I have friends who swear by secondaries for clarity sake. I don't do them strictly because I am lazy. I'm super happy with how my beers come out without it, so I don't feel like doing extra work.
Also, I kind of like my beers hazy - depending on the style of course. I feel like the finish is thin when a beer is too clear and clean. I realize that's what you strive for when lagering or brewing other styles. But I never brew lagers. I usually like my homebrew to be a seasonal style and if I want something light, crisp, and clear I grab a macro brew out of the fridge.

This may sound weird too but I don't like to wait too long to keg either (of course depending on the style). I sort of like tasting the beer as it cleans up a bit over time in the keg. First few pulls off of the keg taste a little different than the last few. Everyone that argues against a secondary always says to just "give it more time." I like to go a step further and just enjoy a "young beer" for what it is. Keg it, drink it, enjoy it.
 

bwible

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So if you weren’t going to use a secondary, maybe it would be helpful to pick a yeast with a high flocculation. Because that seems like a big factor to me if the purpose of a secondary is to achieve a clear beer.

1056 for example doesn’t usually clear easily and Wyeast notes this: “This yeast usually requires filtration for clear beers.” Where 1272 would achieve similar results and clears more easily. Just another factor to take into account.

People making hazies have no reason to ever use a secondary - it would be working against what you’re trying to achieve.
 

z-bob

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If you're using a top-cropping yeast and you want to repitch it, a bucket makes a splendid fermenter and it is easy to harvest the yeast. It might make sense to transfer the beer to a carboy to finish.
 

D.B.Moody

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So if you weren’t going to use a secondary, maybe it would be helpful to pick a yeast with a high flocculation. Because that seems like a big factor to me if the purpose of a secondary is to achieve a clear beer.
This is true, and it is the reason my IPA recipe's yeast is being changed. I'm going to not use a secondary on it, so I need to quit using S33 for it. I like S33, but it makes an aggravating amount of sediment in bottles when a secondary isn't used to help it settle down.
If you're using a top-cropping yeast and you want to repitch it, a bucket makes a splendid fermenter and it is easy to harvest the yeast. It might make sense to transfer the beer to a carboy to finish.
So this gives me an excuse to use Verdant yeast and keep my secondary. Sounds like a win-win. :)
 

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If one racks to kegs to spund and finish (ie let yeast clean up, D rest), is that considered a secondary?

If so, I'm an offender, I do primary in a conical, rack to kegs to finish, usually around .006-10 worth of gravity works out in kegs as it cleans up and carbonates.
 

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If one racks to kegs to spund and finish (ie let yeast clean up, D rest), is that considered a secondary?

If so, I'm an offender, I do primary in a conical, rack to kegs to finish, usually around .006-10 worth of gravity works out in kegs as it cleans up and carbonates.

I think the pragmatic definition of "secondary" is a vessel that you transfer your beer into and leave it there for some aging/clarifying time between the primary fermenting vessel and the final packaging. That discounts a bottling bucket since the beer would only stay in there for minutes rather than days/weeks. If the transfer to keg is the last resting place before dispensing into a glass, I wouldn't call it a secondary. I'd probably call that a brite/serving tank.
 

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I think the pragmatic definition of "secondary" is a vessel that you transfer your beer into and leave it there for some aging/clarifying time between the primary fermenting vessel and the final packaging. That discounts a bottling bucket since the beer would only stay in there for minutes rather than days/weeks. If the transfer to keg is the last resting place before dispensing into a glass, I wouldn't call it a secondary. I'd probably call that a brite/serving tank.
This is kind of where I am with it. If I don't have an empty keg and/or need a fermenter that's been in use a couple weeks, I'll typically move it to secondary. Then I call my friends over to help drain a keg and brew more beer.
 
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