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Benefit to long primary?

I know that the general consensus is that secondary is not really necessary but I am wondering if there is a benefit to leaving the beer in the primary for a longer time than required for active fermentation. I have a red ale in the primary now and I just hit three weeks. Active fermentation was done after 5 days. In the past I have bottled after 2 weeks. Does allowing more time in the primary serve any benefit? Clearer final product? Better flavor. Or will it be detrimental? what is a good rule of thumb for when the negatives begin to appear?

I usually get ready to bottle when FG has been reached and the hydrometer sample does not contain a lot of CO2. By this time the beer has cleared. This is usually three to four weeks for a low to average gravity beer.

I typically keep all ales in primary for a minimum of three weeks too. If dry hopping, it may be even longer. I do this primarily because of lack of free time and number of beers in rotation. Lagers can go up to a month. I have no scientific evidence to prove this, but IMO, my beers tend to taste better after leaving them on the cake for 3+ weeks. Just a personal preference.

So I am seeing a pattern developing here. I am a victim of my lack of patience. Fortunately I am now about 6 months into this hobby and I am starting to be able to be more patient. In the beginning I wanted to brew today and drink it as soon as possible. I am now drinking a cream ale that I bottled 4 weeks ago and it tastes dramatically better today than after 10 days in the bottle. I think I am going to start to force myself to allow 4 weeks in the primary before bottling, and 4 weeks in the bottle before the first taste.

This becomes easier the more regularly you brew. If you jump yourself ahead of what you consume or give away by a batch or two, it becomes easier to wait until the beer has a chance to mature/carbonate because you have other beer to drink while you wait. Then of course you need to buy more carboys or buckets to hold your beers in different stages, then you need more bottles, then SWMBO complains about you taking up so much space in the fridge for all your beer, so then you start kegging. :lol:

When I started kegging at the beginning of this year, I brewed up 4 batches (I’m aging the bourbon barrel porter for Christmas) before March so that now I can brew roughly once a month and always have two beers on tap aside from the two weeks for carbonation where I only have one. With a little bit of planning, it works out really well and makes the waiting easier. :wink:


We’ve all gone through this when starting. Good beer takes time. I’ve noticed most of my beers taste best 4-5 weeks after bottling. 2 weeks in the fermenter is bare minimum in my opinion but 3+ almost always results in a clearer beer in the end.

In four decades of homebrewing, patience is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned (second only to careful attention to sanitation). Many homebrewers are simply in too much of a hurry, and haven’t experienced the joys of a properly aged beer. This applies to commercial brewers these days as well, since for the time is money; as a result a lot of brews get rushed out the door hyped for “freshness”…when in fact many of them would be much better with some good ol’ fashioned bulk aging…anything from 4 weeks to a year or more…

I absolutely hate bottling, and I don’t keg much (for a lot of reasons that I shall not go into here), so… I tend to leave most of my beers in primary for a good 3-5 weeks before bottling. Sometimes the extra time makes no difference, and sometimes it makes a ton of difference, and usually in a good way. For example, my last ESB hit final gravity very quickly, after roughly a week in primary. But then it just refused to clear – was cloudy as all heck. Tasted very yeasty and overly fruity in not such a great way. So I let it sit. And then it still didn’t clear. Later on, must have been after about 4 weeks, I added gelatin, and that cleared it right up in a few days. I was going to bottle a couple of days later, but the yeast sediment still was about 2 inches thick so I said, meh… I’ll leave it another week. Left it another week and sure enough, the yeast sediment was very compact, and the ESB tasted wonderfully clean and caramelly. Bottled 'er up, and she won the local club competition. Patience (er, um, in my case should I say, laziness??) is usually a very good thing in homebrewing.

HOWEVER… you can take it to another extreme. How about the dozen or so batches where I didn’t bother to rack them out of primary or bottle even 3 or 4 or 5 months later? Yeah, the vast majority of those tasted like crap and I had to dump them out. So there is certainly a limit to how lazy you can be before it screws it up. In my experience, you can safely leave a beer in primary for about 2 months. Towards 2.5 months and you might be in trouble. To be on the safe side, I’ll never leave a beer in primary longer than 6 weeks anymore. Unless I forget. I’m lazy like that.

I would also say that most of my ales hit their peak of excellence maybe 4-6 weeks after bottling. Lagers often need much longer, maybe 4-6 months or even longer. Also many times, a beer that tastes mediocre within 6 months at cellar temperature (50-60 F) will taste much much better after sitting in the refrigerator (30-40 F) for another 6 months. On the other hand, sometimes it goes stale and tastes like crap after another 6 months. I guess you never really know what you’re gonna get.

And I guess I’d better stop procrastinating and get back to work!

As a follow up to your question, I would like to know if extended time in a secondary detrimental. Both my bourbon oak porter and petit orange are due to be bottled in mid-July. Due to unseen circumstances I may have to waiting an additional 3-4 weeks to bottle. Is their any reason I should worry?

Well said Dave. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason; other times it’s pure science!

Jasperjuice: In secondary you’ll be fine. You need to keep your beer away from copious amounts of tired dying yeast. If the yeast cake is less than a half inch deep (e.g., in secondary), then you should be fine. At least that’s my experience.

Thanks Dave

Regarding bottle conditioning, is there a benefit to extending bottle conditioning at room temperature beyond two weeks? I haven’t had a problem with carbonation, but what is optimum for the taste of the beer?

The minute you have adequate carbonation, the colder you can get your beer, the better. Most of us don’t have enough refrigerator space for 2 cases of beer every time we brew, and that’s fine, cellar temperatures in the 60s are not too terrible… but if you did have a huge refrigerator, it should all go straight into your huge friggin fridge, soon as it’s carbonated, for maximum flavor preservation.

my latest batch, Plinian Legacy, hit two weeks yesterday and is carbonated adequately so into the garage medium friggin fridge they go!


First, congratulations on the win! After fining with gelatin, have you found it necessary to add more yeast prior to bottling?

My last few batches have been cloudy … maybe it’s a seasonal thing with my well water … I don’t know. I had a blonde that developed some chill haze after I refrigerated. It poured cloudy and had a slightly bitter flavor that I didn’t really like … not bad … but it wasn’t what I was shooting for. So I just left it in the refer and pretty much ignored it. About a month later, I gave it another shot. It was crystal clear and the flavor was perfect for my tastes … the bitterness was gone.

I’m wondering if this is a perfect example of a beer that just needed more time in the primary/secondary? I left it in the primary for almost four weeks. I’m also curious if you think a simple gelatin treatment would have a similar effect as all that time in the refer?

Time is often your friend. But when primary fermentation results in a cloudy beer even after 3-4 weeks, that’s odd. Might as well hurry things along, add the gelatin, and be done with it. That’s how I view gelatin. I add it when even my laziness is insufficient for clearing, as it just hurries the settling process along to where it should have been already. You can add gelatin to any and all beers if you like, to speed things along. Just make sure fermentation is 99% done before you do it.

Gelatin doesn’t affect carbonation at all. I primed my beer as normal, and if anything, it’s a little bit TOO carbonated for my liking. Nice big head on 'er. It doesn’t interfere at all with that. Sure, gelatin removes 99% of the yeast. But with billions of cells in your fermenter, you still end up with millions to do the carbonation for you. No worries.

All of my beers stay at room temperature until a few days before I want to drink them. With brewing a new 5-gallon batch every other weekend, it’s a space issue more than anything, as I only have one refrigerator, and I have to eat occasionally. Not one of them has exhibited any loss of flavor, as far as I can tell; on the contrary, all of them have only improved with age, even IPAs. I recently finished off a cream ale that I bottled mid-March and it was great to the last drop. I’m also just about to the end of the T-Can and Bearcat’s Wheaten Beatdown that I bottled in the third week of April. It went into the fridge last night, I’m drinking it right now and it’s also excellent. Both were better at the end than after 2 weeks of bottle conditioning. Both were held at between 60 - 80 degrees F, in ambient conditions, subject to the fluctuations of the weather and whether or not I broke down and turned on the A/C. (Less money to the power company means more money for beer and beer-making accessories!) Now, I don’t think I make award-winners, but I think they’re better than any of the beer produced by the large commercial breweries, and better than a lot of craft beers I’ve had. (It’s more of a personal preference thing than a quality issue, though.) There are still beers that I buy that I never think I’ll ever come close to besting (Surly and Bells come immediately to mind) and I also love buying sampler packs whenever I think I need more bottles, but I pay close attention to sanitation, process, record-keeping and handling, so I do alright. I just think of what a beer has to go through to get from wherever it’s made to my refrigerator, and I have to believe that it goes through worse conditions than what my home brew experiences in storage…

Question for dmtaylo2.

Would the six weeks in primary that you think is a safe interval of time still apply if the fermentation vessel is a 6.5 gal ale pail made of white food grade plastic?

I keep it in fairly dark by putting a black trash bag over it and then a heavy dark towel over that.

Thanks in advance for your answer.

[quote=“lazy ant brewing”]Question for dmtaylo2.

Would the six weeks in primary that you think is a safe interval of time still apply if the fermentation vessel is a 6.5 gal ale pail made of white food grade plastic?

I keep it in fairly dark by putting a black trash bag over it and then a heavy dark towel over that.

Thanks in advance for your answer.[/quote]

out of curiosity why do you have so much protection over a pail? I’ve never heard of this much paranoia of light.

I wouldn’t worry about the porousness of an ale pail for 6 months. Maybe if you were bulk aging a RIS or barleywine for 6 months id transfer to glass but you should be fine.

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