To Secondary or Not… what’s your position?

First off, let’s make sure we are talking about the same thing here… you fill up your fermentor (bucket, carboy, conical, etc.) and you ferment your beer… once it’s done fermenting you leave the beer sitting to condition. If you move the beer to a different fermentor and leave the yeast behind, then you are using a secondary fermentor to condition… if you leave the beer in the same fermentor with the yeast after fermentation is done, then you are not using secondary fermentor…

… in either case, the beer is conditioning…

So why transfer the beer to a secondary or why leave it in the primary?

Well, here’s my position, what I actually do, and the reason why I am a No Need To Secondary type of brewer…

There are three reasons why I secondary…

1. I suspect my yeast will die
2. I want to keep my yeast flavor profile
3. I need my primary fermentor

It is my understanding that some brewers who have been brewing longer than I’ve been alive as well as some new ones who happen to be smarter than me, always secondary… and the reasons they do it is because they claim it helps clear out the beer, avoids off flavors from dying yeast and that’s the way they’ve always done it… among other things…

… all claims are valid, but not always…

… I just don’t see a huge advantage to secondary and I can see similar if not better results by keeping my beer in the primary fermentor…

Those who are hardcore No Secondary brewers claim that yeast help the beer clean up after fermentation is complete and removing the beer from the yeast cake means less yeast to help clean up the beer… in other words, they claim that leaving the beer on the yeast cake helps the beer clean up…

… I actually question that theory since the yeast at the bottom are usually yeast that have already flocculated and gone dormant… and I believe that good clean up depends highly on temperature control during fermentation, not after…

… So a major reason for me Not to Secondary is just avoiding the hassle of an extra day to clean equipment and transfer my beer to a secondary… Now, some say that you risk exposure to oxygen and infection, but I’m not afraid to expose my beer to oxygen or bacteria since I am extremely careful and good at racking my beer, cleaning and sanitizing… I just rather drink home brew and make bottles available for bottling day… 🙂

Now, if I suspect my yeast may die from either being left in an alcohol environment (aka the one produced after fermentation is complete) for long periods of time, as in 4-6 weeks or more, then I’ll get the beer off the yeast…

Why?

Well remember, the whole reason to secondary is to prevent off-flavors from yeast dying, and this usually doesn’t happen until 4-6 weeks depending on the alcohol content… (and sometimes longer)… but I usually bottle after 3 weeks so no need to secondary…

Another time I would secondary is if I plan on re-using the yeast and I want to dry-hop or add fruit to the beer I’m currently fermenting. If I dry-hop or add fruit, the yeast will develop a character that will carry on to the next beer and if I don’t want that character to develop and keep a clean yeast strain, then I may secondary and dry-hop or add fruit once the beer is off the yeast… that way my yeast keeps the character I want if I am re-using the yeast…

Last… if I need my primary fermentor to brew another batch, then I may secondary…

So I am open to the idea of Secondary, but I still think there is No Need To Secondary in 99% of MY brewing… I don’t believe in “Always secondary or Never secondary”…

I used to “Always” secondary for lagers, but I just experimented with a Munich Helles, fermenting for 14 days and then lagering for another 17 in the same fermentor at 39 F…

I just bottled Wednesday, and sampled the beer pre-carbonation and it is fantastic… which changed my “always secondary to lager” thinking towards “No Need To Secondary”…

… now, if I were to plan on lagering near freezing conditions where I may kill the yeast, then I may actually get the beer off the yeast cake… if I would’ve lagered longer, then I would’ve secondary…


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