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Racking time...how early is too early?

I hear people say that keeping your brew in primary for 2-3 weeks, if you need to rack to secondary for say dry hoping, is the way to go to ensure primary fermentation is complete. I just bottled my first batch, dead ringer IPA, and I sampled a bit and it tasted great.

I guess my question stems from that I was given some advise to rack to secondary a bit sooner than the 2-3 weeks. I was told that I should rack when bubbles hit more than 20 seconds a part, which happened at about 5 days for me. The reasoning was that he felt this ensured he got some active, healthy yeast in his secondary to help along conditioning.

I’m curious for opinions about this, particularly the science. Do both ways each have merits, or do you really want to wait that 2 weeks?

I usually take a hydrometer reading 2 days apart and if there is no fluctuation in gravity I will transfer. You shouldn’t transfer if active fermentation isn’t complete.

What temperature was your beer when fermentation was taking place? If it was on the higher side (70s) There is a chance its done after 5 days but there’s no way to be sure unless you take consistent gravity readings.

Starting fermentation it was around 75. As temps declined it was about 70-71 during secondary.

When taking such frequent hydrometer readings, how do you collect so many samples without “wasting” so much beer, assuming that you are discarding each sample?

I myself usually just wait 2 weeks before even taking my first reading. It only takes like 4oz to take a reading which is 1/3 of a beer. I will sample the beer at this point, share some with my wife, then dump what’s left. Out of a 5 gallon batch, its insignificant.

If you’re brewing smaller batches, you could just wait 2-3 weeks in primary to be safe but if you have a stuck fermentation or an infection, you’ll never know for sure.

I think “ever” is too early. I rarely secondary anything any more unless all the kegs are full and there’s nowhere to put the stuff after 6 weeks in the primary.

I rarely rack to a secondary anymore, I leave it in the primary for 2-4 weeks and it always tastes fine to me.

Racking to secondary is a matter of choice: some swear by it, others swear it has no benefits. Personally I only rack to secondary if I plan to add fruit or some similar addition that I want to add after the bulk of fermentation is complete, but which I don’t want to splash into the primary.

If you decide to do a secondary, the primary benefit is in separating the bulk of the beer from the trub at the bottom of the primary, which then allows you to rack to your bottling bucket with less stuff that will end up as sediment in your bottles. But you should wait till the beer has finished fermenting to do that. And counting bubbles is a poor way to make any decision about the progress of the beer. All it takes is a low pressure weather system coming through to make the airlock go wild and make you think that fermentation has picked up again. Use a hydrometer.

To reduce the amount of sample, you can use a wine thief. The hydrometer fits in it, you sanitize the whole thing, and let the beer flow back into the fermentor after the reading. No waste at all.

I don’t rack under most circumstances. However, if you must rack for some reason…

Don’t rack until the beer is totally done fermenting, i.e., it has hit final gravity and you have confirmed this by taking a second reading 3 days later and the reading stays the same. Otherwise you are swiping the rug out from under the beer, so to speak, removing an awful lot of that good yeast that is still trying to finish its job.

But, you really don’t need to rack unless you are harvesting the yeast for future use, or if you plan to have the beer fermenting slowly like in the case of a lager or fruit beer for more than a couple of months. Otherwise, no need to rack at all.

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Why do you need to rack to harvest yeast? As long as you don’t transfer too much trub from the kettle, the yeast cake on the bottom of the primary is clean enough to use.

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Why do you need to rack to harvest yeast? As long as you don’t transfer too much trub from the kettle, the yeast cake on the bottom of the primary is clean enough to use.[/quote]

True…but in most cases it’s about 3 times as much as you need for the next brew.

I think what I meant to say is, if I want to transfer some of the yeast cake into a new batch right away, I might want to rack the existing batch to get it out of the way so I can deal with the yeast cake. Because of course on bottling/kegging day, you need to rack the beer off the yeast anyway, so you can keep the beer in primary till bottling/kegging day, then harvest some yeast, unless you want that yeast very quickly for a new batch before the existing batch is done fermenting. But… I do also think it’s best not to rack until fermentation is 100% complete, so racking before that to steal some yeast isn’t always the best thing to do. But there’s also nothing saying that you couldn’t throw half the yeast cake right back into the existing batch after you’ve stolen some of it for a new batch. So anyway… not sure if I explained that very well, but I do think we are pretty much on the same page, at least in my mind.

I typically ferment in primary for 1-3 weeks until reaching terminal SG.
Then leave an additional week on the main cake for VDK cleanup.
Then If dry hopping it happens in the primary for 4-6 days after VDK is complete.
Then if a lager, high gravity but “light SRM” or dry hopped it goes to secondary for clearing/ lagering.

OK, that makes more sense Dave. I rarely get the chance to get new batches going quickly enough for that to be a problem. I have a couple of times though top cropped to harvest yeast off an active fermentation. If the timing works out, that gives really great quality yeast, and doesn’t cause problems for the batch you harvest off of.

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