Home brewing in Connecticut Discussions - CT Beer Trail

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm having "secondary thoughts"

I have a confession to make... I've never used a secondary. Yep, I'm that much of a hack newbie home brewing weenie. I've always been hesitant out of fear that I may contaminate the beer during the racking phase. Oddly enough, both home brew supply shops in my area have recommended that I do not use a secondary. They seem to think it an unnecessary step.

Most of the folks I've been chatting with online regarding "Franken-beer", suggest that I rack this puppy to a secondary and let it sit for at least a couple of weeks for clarity and mellowing. Apparently sulphur may be an issue... Pee-ew! And the secondary may eliminate that potential.

If you recall, my buddies and I brewed this beer thinking the recipe I snagged off of beertools.com was for an Oktoberfest. We thought we could convert it into an Oktoberfest inspired ale by selecting a German ale yeast. We later found out that the recipe I selected was a poor Oktoberfest, but a fair Altbier. One of the big concerns was clarity. Everyone who's telling me this will be closer to an Altbier is also telling me to do two things, ferment at a lower temp to avoid the esters, and rack to a secondary to make a more clear beer.

My home brew supply shop owner tells me not to listen to all the advice on using a secondary. While he agrees its sound advice from a text book perspective, he tells me all of you out there are "style snobs"... His words, not mine... His logic was, if the beer is a bit cloudy, but still taste good, my friends and I will be happy. If the beer goes bad after a racking gaff, we'll have 5 gallons of filthy water, and a bad taste in our mouth... (I'm paraphrasing)

I see his point, but I think I need to start taking risks if I'm ever going to grow as a home brewer. I've been stuck, comfortable brewing from kits, and only using a primary. Using a downloaded recipe and raw ingredients on this beer was a growth experience. Sure I wont get the results I was looking for, a Marzen like Ale, but I've learned a lot and hopefully will still come out of this with a tasty brew. I think I will use a secondary...

Now my only issue is, I need to get another carboy. So much for that budget...

Suggestions? Tips?
Do you have any lessons learned regarding the use of a secondary? Anything I need to avoid while racking the brew? Let me know, leave a comment... Thanks!


  1. Again . . . a couple of things:

    Don't worry about racking to a secondary. It's just like bottling except you are putting your beer in a bigger container to "bulk age" it for a while. Whether that "while" is a couple of days or a couple of years, as long as you take proper (not OCD) sanitation precautions, you have NOTHING to worry about.

    No need to add any sugar or additional fermentables to your secondary for a couple of reasons.

    ONE . . . you are trying to get your yeast OUT of solution, not back IN. Adding stuff that they can eat will rouse them.

    TWO . . . your yeast are still producing CO2, so adding more sugar to get a "blanket of CO2" is superfluous.

    THREE . . . unless you planned to do it or it is in the recipe, don't mess with your beer when it's in the fermenter. Everyone gets crazy ideas of things that they want to add after the fact. That's normal. Instead of adding that stuff to your secondary or, even worse, at bottling, craft another beer around your idea and brew it later. You'll get better results if you think through your steps instead of impulsively adding things on a whim.

    Brewing is easy . . . but it's easy to become obsessed with certain aspects of it. After you've been brewing for a while, you'll set your own goals as far as what you want from the process (besides beer, that is) and you'll change your techniques accordingly.

    And not for nothin', but your homebrew store guy should be addressing your concerns in a more constructive fashion. Just saying, "This is an unnecessary step" or "You'll risk infection (EXTREMELY rare if you sanitize properly)" or "These guys are "style purists"" are not good answers to your questions and, in truth, I'm sure that you'd prefer(and probably take pride in) pouring a crystal clear pint of your beer for yourself and your friends over a cloudy, murky one. Especially when it isn't THAT hard to ensure that your beer is a clearer one. However, that choice is up to you. Oh, BTW, beer with a lot of yeast in it DOES taste different. It's not as crisp and clean, so take that for what it's worth.


  2. Sounds like you and I are in agreement... I appreciate all the advice. I think I run out tomorrow and buy a smaller carboy for the secondary and give it a go...

    Stay tuned, I'll let you know how it all goes...

  3. I found your blog (and this old posting) through a google search for results with the Best Brewers Holiday Ale kit. I plan to brew the Holiday Ale kit this weekend.

    I have the same questions you had about a secondary fermenter - is it worth it, etc.

    Now that it is 2 years since your posting - how has the secondary fermenter worked out for you? Has it been worth it for you to use a secondary?

  4. Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for posting your comment. First, the holiday kit is pretty good, but much better after a year of aging... Consider holding some in reserve for Christmas 2011!

    Secondary fermentation is great if your goal is a cleaner beer. It is nice to pour a pint of your own brew and hold it up to the light and see a clear beautiful glass of liquid goodness.

    But if you're brewing something that doesn't really "need" to be clear I would not bother. It is an issue of style and your end goals. Did you want to brew a beer that is clear? If so, give it a whirl and see what happens. Maybe brew up a double batch if time and resources permit and only put a half in the second fermentation carboy and then compare them later.

    I say, set your goals and have fun reaching them... Please touch base and let me know how it goes!


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