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An Informal Survey

Hello Everyone,

I’ve been reading several posts lately about how long one can/should leave beer on a yeast cake and then when/if the beer should be transferred to a secondary vessel. I know that these questions are perennial on the forum, and for good reason. In the responses to these questions, I’ve also seen occasional/anecdotal mention of leaving the beer on the yeast cake for anywhere from several months to a year without any problems, usually with the caveat YMMV. These responses are usually balanced by opinions that advocate for no more than 4-6 weeks in primary.

To take another approach, I am proposing a survey. I thought that asking for first hand experiences, as opposed to opinion/hearsay, might be useful in giving some perspective on the topic (not that any definitive conclusions would result). The goal here would not be to discuss whether/by what method certain styles of beer should be aged, just how long a beer can stay in primary without issue (assuming healthy yeast, proper pitching rates, etc.).

What I have not seen, and would like to ask is:

  1. What is the longest that you, personally, have ever left a beer on the yeast cake without issue?

  2. Have you ever experienced any ill effects that you can trace directly to leaving the beer in primary for too long?

  3. The A-word. Have you ever had any direct experience with autolysis in your own brewing?

The longest I’ve left a beer in primary was a little over three weeks, with no ill effect. Thankfully, I’ve had zero personal experience with autolysis, directly or indirectly.

How about you?

  1. 2 months. That’s the longest I’ve left it and there were no problems. Might have been able to go longer.
  2. no
  3. no
  1. 6 weeks
  2. no
  3. no
  1. 3 months (barleywine but might have been over kill)
  2. No but at the time my palate might not have been good enough to recognize off flavors
  3. No.
  1. 2-3 months in a bucket (and haven’t gone longer than that, so don’t know what might happen).
  2. No
  3. No

Maybe I’m pulling this out of my rear because I have no reference as to where I read this, but I am pretty sure I’ve read that autolysis is a concern for commercial breweries and would almost never be a concern for home brewers considering the scale we brew at.

  1. 6 weeks
  2. No
  3. No
  1. 3 1/2 to 4 weeks
  2. No
  3. To tell the truth, I don’t even know what autolysis actually means without looking. Semi New Brewer here… :mrgreen:
  1. I’ve gone up to 3 months with the beer on the yeast cake cold, in the fridge . No neg. affects there, although it was a very hoppy IPA, which may have hidden off flavors. I’d say I’ve gone about 4 weeks in primary, without chilling, and it’s been just fine.

  2. Yes I have. On three separate occasions. The first time was on Wyeast-3068 (Hefe). It sat at room temp for 8 weeks (life wasn’t playing nice and beer took a back seat). I got a very distinct cider flavor. I have temperature controlled fermentation and have no reason to believe the beer was infected. The second time was a recent ESB. The beer sat on primary for 7 weeks (poor planning on my behalf and I had nowhere else to put it until kegs kicked). 5 gal of US-05 (less affected) and 5 of Wyeast - 1469 (more affected). This time I had the same affect, although far less prominent. Just a slight cider flavor. Once again, temp controlled fermentation and no other signs of infection, just a slight off flavor. For all I know, maybe it was something else (infection/faulty temp control), but the only common link was the extended amount of time on the yeast. The third time…

  3. …is when I experienced the dreaded autolysis. I forgot about a 2.5 gallon primary, at room temp for about 4-5 months (the other 5 gals didn’t turn out so great and I didn’t feel like bottling it). That’s the only time I’ve ever gotten the burnt rubber, gross, yeasty flavor/aroma from excessive time on the yeast.

So there you have it. Learn from my mistakes and make some great beer.

6-8 weeks
no
no

4 weeks
no
no

5 gallon batch of mead on the yeast for over 1 year. Tastes fine.

IMO, if a 17% drink sits on the yeast for that long and doesn’t cause an issue, there will never be an issue. On the home brewer scale.

  1. 5-6 weeks with no issues
  2. no
  3. no
  1. 6-7 weeks
  2. Nope
  3. Yes, but it had nothing to do with extended primary. I had recultured yeast from a bottle but they must have been stresses and didn’t take well to cold crashing. Unfortunately I didn’t taste the starter before pitching and wound up with a beer that tasted the way a tire fire smells.

I’m positive that I read the same thing. I must have pulled it out of your rear as well, because I can’t find a reference to save my life.

I’m positive that I read the same thing. I must have pulled it out of your rear as well, because I can’t find a reference to save my life.[/quote]

I’m not sure what you guys have read, but autolysis certainly CAN happen if a primary is left too long. You really have to abuse it though.

  1. With sac yeast only, I’ve gone 3 months with a lager (including lagering time), and 5 months with a saison. With lambics/sours/mixed bugs, I’m at nearly 3 years and counting.
  2. No.
  3. No.
  1. 6-8 weeks.
  2. No.
  3. No.

:cheers:

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