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Conditioning question: carboy vs. keg vs. bottle

So I’ve been thinking about the whole conditioning process after active fermentation has come to a halt and all the trub has settled in the beer. Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to just letting it sit for the X amount of weeks it needs beyond active fermentation to condition and mature before packaging and consumption. But then it struck me, what if after active fermentation I just stuck it in a keg or in bottles (force carbonated) to finish out that conditioning?

Would there be a difference in kegging or bottling for the conditioning phase or is it best to just condition in the carboy (with trub) for the remaining few weeks/months that it may have? Are there benefits to being patient with the carboy or is it perfectly legitimate to keg or bottle immediately after active fermentation?

Once you’ve verified that the fermentation is complete (e.g., same SG reading on a few consecutive days), there’s no reason not to bottle or keg condition. Many brewers (like me) skip a secondary and just leave the beer in the primary a little longer to clear and clean itself up. However, I still try to get the beer off the trub sooner than later. Beer can stay on trub and yeast for a while (at least a month) without too much worry about yeast autolysis, so it’s not like it has to be rushed out of the primary, either.

How I proceed also depends on what is appropriate foe the beer’s style. For me, it generally works out that I leave “normal gravity” ales in the primary around two weeks, verify FG, then package. For lagers, it’s usually about three weeks in the primary with part of that being a diacetyl rest, then into a keg for a month or more of lagering before packaging. For me, packaging usually means force-carbonation in a keg.

I’ve found that you need to leave the beer on the yeast cake to get it to finish up. For whatever reason the small amount of yeast that transfers doesn’t seem to be enough to metabolize the diacetyl or acetaldehyde. Theres no substitute for ten days to two weeks in primary. After that, then yes clearing and all that can happen in the bottle.

Lenny,

Do you find 10 - 14 days for lighter beers is better like wheat beers and pilsens?

John

I appreciate the feedback on that. I’ve been contemplating just going right to a keg after two weeks in the carboy (longer if they’re lagers or really high gravity beers) and force carbonating my beers then bottling them, and then maybe letting them rest at cellar temp for a period of time if the beer might benefit from a little maturing (for those higher ABV beers).

So if I understand you correctly about lagers, you’d wait the two weeks for initial fermentation to be fully realized and then finish out the lagering in a keg? Would you just put in enough CO2 (and bleed out the oxygen) to seal it up or would you go all the way and just force carb it and let it sit and lager?

I should’ve specified that the two weeks is for ales, not lagers. Definitely wheat beers are ready and tasty young. Pilsners are lagers and I do the usual lagering process and that is a secondary that takes weeks.

What’s your hurry? I know, you want to drink your beer. Well I have found that if you wait a while in primary it improves your beer. This BS about yeast autolysis and all the horrible flavors resulting from not getting into secondary ASAP is just that. If you have done a good job filtering the mash and filtering the wort into fermentation you will have happy yeast eating sugar and not garbage. The sludgy crap from grain tannins and proteins and unfiltered garbage is part of your problem with the “yeast cake” flavor issues. In fact a lot of yeasts need that extra time to clean up the flavors.

Forced carbonation. What a disaster. Lazy brewers who don’t bottle prime and age drinking CO2 forced green beer just to get in on tap fast. Yes bottles are a pain in the ass but you want good beer you bottle condition. Of course if you are concerned about yeast autolysis then maybe forced carbonation is the way to go.

I only bottle when I don’t have a free tap or are trying smaller test batches, and frankly want clean carbonation a without the sludgy by-product of bottle carbonation. You shouldn’t have to tell your friends, "yeah, you can enjoy MOST of that beer, just don’t let that last bit get in your glass. My force-carbonated bottled beer has tasted just fine, if not a bit better, than when I’ve used a corn sugar or carb tabs to carbonate my bottles.

Implying that brewers who use forced carbonation and keg rather than bottle are lazy and produce bad beer because they’re in a rush is bull-dookey. Sure, that can happen - but many brewers who use force carbonation do so after lengthy lagering or secondary. As well, plenty of brewers produce BJCP and NHC award-winning and high-scoring beers that aren’t bottle conditioned. Of course, for some styles (e.g., Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, certain Belgian styles) bottle conditioning is most true to style and almost necessary if you want to pour your weizen “mit hefe” - though that can be accomplished through natural carbonation in a keg, too.

I’ve made beers carbonated by bottle conditioning, sugar priming and natural conditioning in kegs, and force carbonation. I sometimes bottle condition and force-carbonate portions of the same batch. I think it would be awfully hard for even the most refined palate to discern between them in a blind test.

And as a point of clarification, I’m not in a rush to drink my beer or drink it “green”. I know that some varieties need time to age out while others are better fresh. My whole purpose in posting this thread was to ask if there’s any difference or benefit to AGING in the bottle or keg as opposed to sitting on top of trub in a primary for that same period of time called for to age the beer properly.

After the first few weeks, if anything extended aging is safer in a bottle since the seal is better.

It depends some on what you are trying to achieve with aging. Wood barrel aging for example will add a whole different type of aging than in a bottle. Maybe that’s good for your lambic or barleywine to add complexity and oxidation.

The aging of a beer force carbonated with no yeast in a bottle would seem downhill at best. What will change for the better for a beer given that situation? Fermentation has stopped. In fact aging while beneficial to some extent once completed for many styles is always a negative. The basic distinction is high alcohol beers will age better while low alcohol beers just degrade in flavor. And this is not to say ALL high alcohol beers need or will benefit by extended aging.

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