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Primary Question

So…I’ve seen a good number of posts that say the longer that you let the beer sit on the yeast in primary, the more off flavors are “cleaned up.” I’ve also seen people talk about dumping the yeast out of conicals once the primary fermentation has finished. So what’s the consensus? I’m not worried about this, more curious I guess

I have a batch of bourbon barrel porter in my primary and the bubbles have dropped of significantly since Sunday. I was planning on 2-3 weeks in primary anyway, but figured I’d get some other opinions. I’ve kept it between 61-65 and it bubbled like hell for the first 3 days. 2-3 week primary, 4 secondary sound about right?


This is one of those topics that creates a storm of debate between science, personal experiences, differences in fermentation vessels, etc. It’s a big can to open. =)

As to your brew, take a gravity check to see if fermentation is done. Usually something 3-4 weeks in the primary is definitely done. Only a consistent gravity reading can confirm that though. Airlock activity doesn’t mean much in the end. It sounds like you kept good control of your temps. Unless you have a need to add additional things to your beer in a secondary, I wouldn’t bother with one. You can easily leave it for a couple months on the yeast without worry.

Mmm… now I might have to go brew bourbon porter.

Most average size ales will finish fermenting in a week. After that, the yeast will start cleaning up. After another week without sugar to keep them going, the yeast will go dormant and drop to the bottom. The rest of the time in the vessel is conditioning; ie flavor melding, lowering of bitterness bite, etc. If you move the beer to secondary before the yeast have finished fermenting and cleaning up, you only get the conditioning. In my brewing, if an ale is a month or less from brew to bottle, I leave it the primary.

I don’t secondary at all anymore unless:

A) I need the yeast cake for something;
B) I want to rack onto fruit.

With cider and mead, it’s another story altogether. In those cases, I rack whenever I want to slow down fermentation to prevent gravity from going lower than like 1.005. But for beer, there’s no real need for secondary, with the above 2 exceptions.

Those aren’t necessarily contradictory. With a healthy fermentation (meaning proper pitching rate and temperature control), 1-3 days of “cleaning up” should be more than enough. Even if you dump yeast the day the beer reaches FG, there will still be some in suspension to metabolize those compounds. A lengthy conditioning period on the yeast cake is pretty much exclusive to home brewers - in a brewery setting, it’s just wasted tank space. Of course, a majority of home brewers don’t have consistently healthy fermentations, so it’s also more important.

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