Purpose of secondary

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Purpose of secondary

Postby spgriffin » Sat Sep 19, 2009 8:48 am

A few questions on primary to secondary fermentation:

1. When is it necessary?
2. Should I always?
3. How long should beer be in a secondary?
4. Is 3 weeks too long for low gravity beers?

Those questions are primarily based on ale fermentation.

Thanks in advance.
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Postby slothrob » Sun Sep 20, 2009 3:22 pm

Here are my thoughts on secondaries:

1) A secondary is foremost for clearing and bulk aging without a risk of off flavor from a dying yeast cake. A secondary is necessary if you want to age a beer prior to bottling. It's widely believed that aging progresses faster in bulk, but mostly you want to bulk age something that will benefit for being allowed to vent (like blowing off sulfur) or from precipitating material that you don't want in the bottle (like cold conditioning to clear a beer). I like to age big beer like an Imperial Stout for 6 months or more in secondary, then 6 months or more in the bottle, but I don't know if it would come out any different if I only aged it in the bottle.

If you have trouble getting a good clean transfer for bottling, though, a secondary is worth using just to minimize the amount of yeast in the bottles.

2) No.

3) Minimally, secondary until it has cleared, and any sulfur, acetaldehyde or diacetyl have disappeared. It's best if those are gone by the end of primary, though, and there can be some reduction of all these after bottling. On big beers, I like to sense some smoothing and melding of the flavors and a reduction of any hot alcohol character.

4) Low gravity, like an Ordinary Bitter (say 1.040 or less)?
I think they're usually better fresh, so I wouldn't usually secondary, but when I have, I don't usually go more than a week or 2 to clear the beer or maybe blow off some sulfur.

When I make some moderate gravity beers (~1.047) with low flocculating yeast, like an Alt or a Kölsch, it wouldn't be uncommon for me to age or cold condition the beer in secondary for 3 weeks to a month before it goes clear and tastes like I think it should.
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