The Secondary Conundrum

31 Oct

Since I have been a brewer, this whole debate between performing a secondary fermentation or not has really boggled me. The idea is that when your brew is 75% the difference from your Original Gravity (ABV), then you rack, or siphon, into another container. This allows your beer to clear, and in cases where you must wait long periods of time, can prevent your yeast from becoming cannibalistic, know as autolysis. At this stage in the process, sanitation is imperative, and you risk oxidization, which can lead to flat/stale tasting brew.

So what do the “experts” say? Most of their answers look something like the one at Brew-Dudes. These guys say skip it when dealing with an ale (which is what most beginners end up brewing.) The article tries to make it clear that most “experts” are also kegging and cold crashing, not all beginners use these techniques to achieve clarity in their brew. The reason experienced brewers advise against racking an ale to secondary, is that it isn’t necessary. Ales are known for clearing themselves up with an extra couple weeks in the primary.

After researching a bit, the only main hangs on secondary fermentation were sanitation and oxidation. Many people argue it’s “extra work”, but what do you make of Brew-Dudes’ added 30 minute boil with hot and cold breaks, wort chillers, C02 pressurizers, and vessels big enough to cold crash an entire keg… If you were sanitation impaired, you would have already infected your brew long before a rack to secondary. The myth here is that an extra 15 minutes to sanitize your secondary container and tubing, is a bunch of “extra” work. While sanitization is about the only part of the brewing process that can go wrong, if you are aware of this, it is hard to mess up. Those 15 minutes will go a long way giving you experience with sanitation practices, which are still just as important when bottling or racking to a keg. Interesting enough, Brew-Dudes go as far to say the whole kegging process is a secondary in itself, debunking the fact that “experts” don’t secondary.

As far as oxidization, if you make sure your secondary will fill neatly to the brim, it need not be a concern. My first batch didn’t make it, but I was careful during the siphon, and was able to move my container very carefully, eliminating any splashing inside. Since I racked my brew slightly before fermentation was complete, the carbon dioxide produced will displace any oxygen left. This effectively nullifies any future oxidation concerns. As you can see, these arguments aren’t very major issues to begin with, and both are remedied with practice and experience. This is my whole argument, if you can sanitize, you can secondary, and to do so as a beginner puts you ahead of the rest. You will own a degree more experience when going to bottle your first batch.

There are echos of this in a BeerAdvocate thread on the issue. Most of the first posts are the usual “unnecessary unless” (insert reason here). Getting through that, you start to hear of how it was good practice, beer was still cleared, and how sanitation isn’t the real concern for conscious brewers of any status. Also mentioned here, is how having an extra container open allows you to start another batch.

So if you are a beginner, like me, go for the secondary. I challenge you. If the best warning against it is “too much work”, you are already a sanitation machine. If they try and scare you with words like “oxidization”, fill it to the brim, or transport it like it’s your baby. Your brew is much more resilient than you think, and only time will tell. Do what you can to grab those moments you doubt yourself, and build from them. Getting out there and doing it is the only way to get better. Saying it’s not necessary is a way for the experts to brag about their set-up, which is, as we learned, a fancy secondary fermentation/condition.

Remember folks:




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