Whether to Secondary Ferment or Not?

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thomer

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I have recently started BIAB after brewing with extract kits for a while. Most extract kits recommend secondary fermentation, but I see a mix of opinions with all grain. I have done some Googling and most of the opinions for all grain secondary fermenting seem to be quite old. For example, I was looking at a piece on BYO and it recommends secondary fermenting pretty much all the way through. But looking at the date it was written in 2003..... I brew mainly IPAs and a few Belgium beers.

What is the 'modern thinking'?
 

MaxStout

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The idea of homebrewers needing to rack to secondary is a stubborn urban myth. It comes from a lot of LHBS kit instructions (they want to sell you another vessel, of course). It also comes from the commercial brewing world, where yeast autolysis is a serious issue due to the higher pressures at the bottom of large conical fermenters. However, autolysis is not an issue at the homebrew scale.

About the only time racking to secondary makes sense is if you are planning to bulk-age the beer for a long time (i.e., several months or more). Otherwise, you can leave the beer on the cake for a few months without harm.
 

DBhomebrew

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I'm about to use my first secondary. A beer with brett that will sit in the cellar for 10-12 months. It started as a 3.5 gallon batch in a 5 gallon fermenter. Lots of headspace for a big krausen. Once the sacc drops, I'll rack ~3 gallons into a 3 gallon fermenter. Less airspace, less oxidation.

So, to amend my answer above. No secondary except for special cases.
 
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thomer

thomer

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I'm about to use my first secondary. A beer with brett that will sit in the cellar for 10-12 months. It started as a 3.5 gallon batch in a 5 gallon fermenter. Lots of headspace for a big krausen. Once the sacc drops, I'll rack ~3 gallons into a 3 gallon fermenter. Less airspace, less oxidation.

So, to amend my answer above. No secondary except for special cases.
You just made me look up Brett. Sounds interesting.
 
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hotbeer

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I only moved to a secondary one beer that I've brewed. It was one of if not the worst beer I brewed. However there might have been other reasons too. One of them being that it was the shortest time I ever kept a beer in the fermenter before bottling.

I have no issues going six weeks in the primary if that is what it takes. I wait for them to clean up without having to fuss with gelatin and cold crashing. Some have said they've been 2 months or more in the primary.

Currently though I've been getting getting better at controlling mash temps, boil and other things so most beers now are finished fermenting and cleaned up in the primary by day 14 to 18 after pitching yeast.
 

D.B.Moody

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I did four comparisons of primary only and secondary batches last year. I reported on them here: What does a secondary fermenter do?. These were all ales. None were Belgian. I will continue to use a secondary for all but my IPA. I find it easier to use a secondary, but it does mute the hops, which is what the IPA is about. Just so you know, the differences in taste were minimal, and we tended to favor the batches that had been in the secondary. Using a secondary is useful to me because it goes from a white plastic bucket to a glass carboy that i can see into, and it helps clarify the beer so that there's less sediment in the bottles. If you keg or clarify other ways you may not care about that.
 

Captain Blacktoe

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On some of my brews I transfer from my fermenter to my brite tank to carbonate, clarify, and serve, ( I guess it is considered a secondary). On others I carbonate in my Spike conical or in the keg. So in answer to the OP’s question; both, it depends on the final product.
 

gunhaus

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Interesting thread, and interesting answers! But in reality there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the secondary question.

It is true that in the good ole days it was recommended to go fermenter to secondary for period of clearing, and that over time folks began to figure out that the risk of oxygen far outweighed the presumed benefits. So it became fashionable to drop the secondary, and now the no-secondary has become dogma. Thing is, this thought process has really become obsolete itself. Remember when the move away from secondary began most of us were fermenting in carboys, or buckets of some kind. Transfer to keg, secondary, bottling bucket whatever was done with racking cane or via spigot and gravity. There was no real way to avoid oxygen, you just minimized it. But today a good many of us are fermenting in sealed pressure capable vessels be they stainless or plastic. CO2 purging has become commonplace. CO2 transfer is the norm. And there is now no more real world "extra chance" of O2 ingress from transferring to a secondary than there is just leaving it. Not if your system is correctly assembled and you know how to use it! If you can pressure transfer to a keg for service without o2 issues, you SHOULD be able to add a step in between without issue as well. And don't forget that when you ferment a lager, then transfer to the ultimate serving vessel then store for several weeks or months to mature and clear you ARE in fact using a secondary, even if that second is also your serving vessel.

Now I see the growth of folks fermenting, carbing, and serving all from the same vessel. I will not be shocked if this is the wave of the future and becomes the norm in some fashion. And good if it does! But it will still not end or solve the secondary question for a number of reasons. There are and will remain legitimate reasons to secondary for some brewers.

While it is true that secondary is not necessary for most low to modest gravity beers, and that "fresh" IPA styles are likely best left in the primary for hop utilization reasons, there are a number of beers that may very well benefit from secondary. There are many styles that benefit from or need long term bulk aging; many RIS or Old Ale, or Barleywine styles come to mind. I know there are those who claim that leaving such beers for long term storage of many months in primary on the trub will show no issues with autolysis, or vegetal flavors. I also know many others (Myself included) who have experienced quite the opposite. This tells me that at the very least this is a hit or miss area. I for one know the frustration of building a very expensive Barleywine, and investing the time and effort into it only to have to dump it a YEAR into the process because I bought into the notion that the it would be fine all that time on the crud!!! I'll pressure transfer to a clean vessel and bulk age clean for long term beers from now on thank you! THEN there is the question is oxygen all that bad all the time? I for one do not think so, and it has been pretty well documented that some O2 character is a good thing in many really big, long aged beers. The same could be argued for things like Frambois, some lambics, some big Belgians, etc. Again, one-size-fits-all is not true for O2 and beer anymore than it is for anything else in life.

If I could I would like to add some personal anecdotal rhetoric to this: For MANY years now I have brewed a big RIS, and a Big barley wine or Old Ale on an annual basis. This goes back to the days of buckets/carboys/racking canes (In fact back to a home made bucket in a bucket mash tun!) These were always fermented for 4-6 weeks, then transferred to a secondary for bulk aging of 9-12 months in a cool dark corner. I still have many going back years and have greatly enjoyed how they change and mature over time. But a few years ago there was a blip in this rotation. The above mentioned Barley wine that i left on the trub for almost a year. The flavors that formed in that experiment are NOT something I am willing to risk again. It was awful and an awful waste. Others get away with it; good for them. I will rack and risk the O2. Which brings up the topic of just how bad or not is O2 is beers like these. Following the disaster of the Barley wine I did what so many people do - I went off the deep end the other way. I brewed my annual RIS (A take on Courage) and this time I used ALL the gizmos and tricks. I fermented in a stainless conical. I close transferred to another stainless bucket that had been purged with CO2. I bulk aged this 9 months which has become my standard with this beer. I pressure transferred to a corny for carbing. Then took the finished keg to a friends brewery where he bottled it for me on his counter pressure filling station. This batch was as O2 free and sediment free as i could get it. And of all the brews of RIS I have done going back to about 1990 when I started this annual session it has been my least favorite. It never developed the deep flavors i have come to expect and it has not aged very well (It is five year this year since bottling six since brewing ) I have gone back to some old school backwards brewing for these beers since. I have fermented the past four years in good old plastic buckets for 6 weeks, them I transferred by gravity to a sanitized keg with a mylar balloon of CO2 on the airlock. I purged the headspace on the keg a few times then bulk stored in a cool place. After 9-10 months I primed, and bottled with a bottle filler just like the stone ages and bottle conditioned everyone of them. Welcome back complex flavors and continuing maturation! (And NO they do not taste like wet cardboard or paper! I WISH cardboard and paper tasted like these old brews! I'd be chewing a big wad of it all day everyday if that was the case! Hell, that would be COOL really)

I have no doubt others have differing experiences. And that some will disparage my tastebuds! But that is ok, mine are the only ones that really matter in the end. I am equally sure there are those who have gasped and fainted at the sheer horror of an O2 molecule contacting beer! And doubtless there are folks who will wish too thrash me about the head and shoulders for even daring to suggest that some O2 might not only be OK, but even GOOD thing at times. But that's ok. I am still happy.
 
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thomer

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I have gone back to some old school backwards brewing for these beers since.
Many thanks for the very detailed response.

That quote was interesting. I am relatively new to brewing (1 year) and still consider myself a noob. I know sealed fermenters etc are all the rage now, but my gut tells me that the majority of home brewers are still using 'backwards brewing' techniques either due to financial, time or space limitations. Would you agree?
 

jkuhl

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I put blackberries in my primary (dropped them in during the wort chilling process when the temp was around 160, thinking they'd pasteurize as the wort continued to cool.

Is there a need to put the beer into secondary? Or can I just go straight to bottling when the wort is no longer fermenting?

I don't have any kegs, so it's just carboys and buckets at the moment.
 

The_Antikveik

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If a home brewer isn’t skilled enough to transfer beer from vessel to vessel I guess he should drink from primary. One of my latest ‘experiments’ was a lager left (lagered) on the yeast for a month before serving from primary. Not a bad beer, just not quite as crisp and refreshing as usual. The benefits of a secondary are obvious. If a home brewer can’t be bothered and/or believes it’s unnecessary that’s fine, but he shouldn’t pretend it’s true because he can’t transfer beer from vessel to vessel. It makes me chuckle a little bit when the same home brewers bang on about conicals, shiny or not. To be fair, I was paranoid about oxidizing beer during transfer so from the beginning of my home brew journey I was practicing ‘closed’ transfers between BetterBottles with all their optional paraphernalia. I find the beer is cleaner tasting and better balanced.
 

gunhaus

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Many thanks for the very detailed response.

That quote was interesting. I am relatively new to brewing (1 year) and still consider myself a noob. I know sealed fermenters etc are all the rage now, but my gut tells me that the majority of home brewers are still using 'backwards brewing' techniques either due to financial, time or space limitations. Would you agree?
Yes, I think there are tons of folks out there using big orange coolers, and cheap stoneware pots, and good ole white buckets with bubby gadgets or low tech hoses stuffed in the top. And they are making tasty beer and loving it. It doesn't have to be all hard, and it sure should be mostly fun, and if the process is causing anxiety and ulcers and deep rooted obsessions, perhaps the process needs tweaking!
 

crazyjake19

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The only secondary I would consider is long term aging in barrels or something like that. Under normal circumstances, the keg essentially functions as a secondary fermenter.
 

Golddiggie

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In the past the only time I moved something to 'secondary' was for batches of mead that I wanted to get off the lees. For beers, I've only moved to a new vessel (out of primary) when aging for an extended period. Otherwise, it goes from fermenter to serving vessels. With conical fermenters I'm not even sure if I'd move things. I'm planning to make a batch of mead soon (plan to get a Spike CF5 for that) where it will probably stay in the conical until being packaged.

IMO, transferring when it's not a complete benefit is just making more work for yourself. Plus, depending on your transfer method, opens you up to more risks for the fermentation.
 

lumpher

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If a home brewer isn’t skilled enough to transfer beer from vessel to vessel I guess he should drink from primary. One of my latest ‘experiments’ was a lager left (lagered) on the yeast for a month before serving from primary. Not a bad beer, just not quite as crisp and refreshing as usual. The benefits of a secondary are obvious. If a home brewer can’t be bothered and/or believes it’s unnecessary that’s fine, but he shouldn’t pretend it’s true because he can’t transfer beer from vessel to vessel. It makes me chuckle a little bit when the same home brewers bang on about conicals, shiny or not. To be fair, I was paranoid about oxidizing beer during transfer so from the beginning of my home brew journey I was practicing ‘closed’ transfers between BetterBottles with all their optional paraphernalia. I find the beer is cleaner tasting and better balanced.
Wow...I had no idea I have no skill. I very rarely secondary. I only do if adding fruit. Should I return my Bluebonnet Brewoff awards, or is it ok if I keep them?
 

The_Antikveik

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Wow...I had no idea I have no skill.
Generally or just in home brewing? ;) One of the arguments often claimed against using a secondary FV is the risk of oxidation. What I typed previously again…

And how do you know you wouldn’t have scored higher in competitions had you used a secondary?
 
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Golddiggie

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Generally or just in home brewing? ;) One of the arguments often claimed against using a secondary FV is the risk of oxidation. What I typed previously again…

And how do you know you wouldn’t have scored higher in competitions had you used a secondary?
IME, cold crashing does more than moving to secondary to clear a brew. :p I do that in primary (conical) with the glycol chiller setup. I got rid of racking hardware ages ago. Even when I was not using conicals, I would move from fermenter (primary) into serving kegs via CO2 push. No lifting of fermenter took place to get the beer moved.

Do secondary if you want. But don't believe the hype that it's a cure-all for things. I also got very clear beer with no cold crashing simply by giving the yeast time to settle out of suspension. Using high flocculation rated yeast means it happens sooner than otherwise. Even with using lower rated yeast, give it a bit more time and you'll get clear beer.
 

kevin58

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After you have brewed long enough you will discover there are many things printed in kit instructions that are way out of date. I started brewing with kits in the 1990's and I think they are using the same instructions today. As far as secondary use is concerned I never use one.
 

The_Antikveik

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I like to view the brewing process as a series of filtering procedures. A secondary is the final filtering step, where maturation (going bright/conditioning) and product stability are promoted, before packaging. It seems to be considered optional by many home brewers these days, but it's undeniably good brewing practice regardless. One of the benefits of home brewing is we get to choose how we do things and that's fine, but this doesn't challenge good brewing practices. Flawed experiments published online, on blogs and marketing platforms like brulosophy and youtube, seem to promote beliefs and confusion in home brew lore. What we decide to do (or not to do) is usually determined by what we, as individuals, are prepared to accept as good enough for us, which gets very subjective. Over recent years we've witnessed increasingly sophisticated brewing vessels enter the home brew market, including some very shiny professional looking kit. Conicals, unitanks, conditioning tanks, maturation tanks, etc. Isn't it a little bit ironic they all promote a final secondary step, if used as intended? I don't always transfer to a secondary, especially since moving to pressure capable unitanks, but I'm confident it makes a noticeable beneficial difference and any well-designed comparison is going to show that. I bet it's quantifiable, too, e.g., by mass spec analysis. It's good brewing practice to get green beer off primary solids as soon as possible. As far as beer production goes, the yeast have finished. Yeast metabolism has shifted away from beer production and risks introducing subtle off flavours that detract from an otherwise nicely balanced beer. That's my experience, according to the taste buds hardwired to my brain.
 

Golddiggie

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The ONLY "secondary" I would even consider is when I'm brewing with a multi barrel system and need to let a recipe AGE for XX weeks and want the fermenter it's currently in for another brew. Anything that's going to be ready for carbonating/packaging in less than three months stays in it's original fermenting vessel.

IME/IMO the misconception that moving a brew to another vessel will "filter it" is staggering to me. From the batches I've brewed, over years, simply giving the batch some more time (a handful of days at times) is more than enough if you also take some care with how you handle it before packaging.

When I used kegmenters, I would give a batch a couple extra weeks to fully settle before moving the beer to carb/serve keg. Since moving to conical fermenters, carbonating IN conical, and doing more closed transfers the brews have only gotten better.

I could understand moving a batch of mead to a different vessel due to the longer time frame that needs to be ready. But, that's also assuming you're using the cheap/bucket/carboy vessels to ferment. Go to vessels that allow you to dump the yeast when it's done and the possibility of that still being needed pretty much goes out the window. I plan to do a test batch of mead in a conical this year.
 

The_Antikveik

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One of the problems with unstable primary solids sat under green beer at the bottom of an FV (apart from the foul-tasting crap being in direct contact with the green beer) is residual metabolic activity of the yeast means floccs bubble up through the green beer with trapped CO2. As they erupt out of the primary slurry, solids, including yeast, get dragged back into suspension. This phenomenon doesn't occur in a secondary, meaning the beer is actually ready sooner and cleaner tasting. This is particularly so with more subtle, traditional, beer styles. Obviously, if a brewer is hopping the crap out of his beers he won't notice. For something like a luscious English Bitter or crisp Czech Pilsner, for example, the difference is difficult to not notice.
 
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The_Antikveik

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"🤣" doesn't really add very much, does it? Maybe some 'I haven't got a clue, to be honest'? It's not even 'Blah! Blah! Blah!' 🤣
 
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