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Home-Brew – Secondary Fermentation

I want to start by saying secondary fermentation is in no way an absolute necessity for home brewing great beer. I have made plenty of batches using only a primary fermentor and never had any problems. So, if you don’t have a second carboy and don’t want to spend the money to get one, don’t worry. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

However, there are several advantages to a two stage fermentation process. The first and arguably the most important advantage is that it separates the spent yeast cells from the beer that is being created. Once the initial “blast” of the fermentation process subsides some of the suspended solids and dead yeast cells will settle to the bottom of the fermentor. In time this sediment will start to break down and create an undesirable taste in the beer. Another advantage is clarity. By racking (transferring) your beer to a secondary container it is separated from the sediment and other by-products of the fermentation process. The remaining active yeast cells will continue to do their job and other solids will settle out, resulting in a cleaner, better tasting beer.

The process is simple; however, care should be taken not to contaminate your beer. Once the initial fermentation has subsided (usually around the 2nd or 3rd day) you are ready to rack the beer to the secondary fermentor. As always, the most important issue is sanitation. Make sure everything you use during the process has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Now, before you open the primary fermentor, have everything set up and ready to go (i.e. siphon hose, secondary carboy, and air lock). Have everything within arm’s reach so that once you pull the top on your primary you can transfer your beer as quickly as possible. This will minimize the chances of contamination.  (As a side note, when you are going to be using a two stage fermentation process it’s a good idea to place your primary in a raised location when you initially put it away after the brewing process. This will keep you from having to move it when it comes time to siphon to your secondary. If you have to move it you run the risk of re-suspending the solids that have already settled out.) During the siphoning process take care to keep your hose away from the sediment in the bottom of your primary. I know….duh! Once your beer has been transferred to the secondary seal it up and attach the air lock. Let it work for another week to ten days for ales (until fermentation is complete), then bottle it as you normally would. The process takes a little longer but is definitely worth it.

One other advantage to this process is it allows you to be a little more flexible on when it comes to bottling your beer. Sometimes you just can’t get to bottling immediately after the fermentation is complete. You might be sick, out of bottles, on vacation, or just don’t have the time. Don’t worry. By separating your beer from the sediment at the bottom of your primary you have removed the possibility of those particles breaking down and yucking up your beer. Thus, giving you a larger window to get you bottling done.

As always, please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. Have fun.


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3 Responses to Home-Brew – Secondary Fermentation

  1. Hi, I’m a relative new comer to the home brew circuit but I’ve done several batches of wine, cider and beer (from kit) with great success. I usually bottle my beer, adding a small amount of sugar to each bottle after primary fermentation (7 days, give or take) After another week, I’ve got good beer with a little fizz. Recently I have experimented by dissolving sugar in a little boiling water, allowing to cool and adding it straight to the fermenter just before bottling. This seems to work quite well. I get a fizzy beer with a great taste but it just doesn’t seem to clear particularly well. It does save a lot of time though. Any tips?

    • Nathan, You can do a couple things to clear up your beer. 1st) Try adding a Whirlfloc tablet to your boil. If you are doing 5 gallon batches add 1 tablet to the last 10-15 minutes of the boil. This will combine with the proteins and drop out of suspension before you run your wort into the fermentor. 2nd) you can add about a 1/4 -1/2 tsp. of gelatin to your bottling bucket just before you bottle. This will clear things up while in the bottle. Hope this helps.
      Happy Brewing!

  2. Thanks Clay, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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