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Secondary Fermentation Timing

My Irish Red Ale has been fermenting for 7 days. The Krausen dropped after 4. The airlock is bubbling every 1:30.

Am I ok to rack it to my secondary to free up that primary for another brew or should I wait until all activity ceases in the airlock?

OG: 1.044
Current Gravity: 1.010

Thank you,
BC

I wouldn’t use a secondary at all on a beer of that OG. It’s an outdated concept and few brewers use secondary these days. The exception would be if you were going to add fruit or dry hop. Here’s what John Palmer, author of How to Brew, has to say about it…

These are good questions – When and why would you need to use a secondary fermenter? First some background – I used to recommend racking a beer to a secondary fermenter. My recommendation was based on the premise that (20 years ago) larger (higher gravity) beers took longer to ferment completely, and that getting the beer off the yeast reduced the risk of yeast autolysis (ie., meaty or rubbery off-flavors) and it allowed more time for flocculation and clarification, reducing the amount of yeast and trub carryover to the bottle. Twenty years ago, a homebrewed beer typically had better flavor, or perhaps less risk of off-flavors, if it was racked off the trub and clarified before bottling. Today that is not the case.

The risk inherent to any beer transfer, whether it is fermenter-to-fermenter or fermenter-to-bottles, is oxidation and staling. Any oxygen exposure after fermentation will lead to staling, and the more exposure, and the warmer the storage temperature, the faster the beer will go stale.

Racking to a secondary fermenter used to be recommended because staling was simply a fact of life – like death and taxes. But the risk of autolysis was real and worth avoiding – like cholera. In other words, you know you are going to die eventually, but death by cholera is worth avoiding.

But then modern medicine appeared, or in our case, better yeast and better yeast-handling information. Suddenly, death by autolysis is rare for a beer because of two factors: the freshness and health of the yeast being pitched has drastically improved, and proper pitching rates are better understood. The yeast no longer drop dead and burst like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life when fermentation is complete – they are able to hibernate and wait for the next fermentation to come around. The beer has time to clarify in the primary fermenter without generating off-flavors. With autolysis no longer a concern, staling becomes the main problem. The shelf life of a beer can be greatly enhanced by avoiding oxygen exposure and storing the beer cold (after it has had time to carbonate).

Therefore I, and Jamil and White Labs and Wyeast Labs, do not recommend racking to a secondary fermenter for ANY ale, except when conducting an actual second fermentation, such as adding fruit or souring. Racking to prevent autolysis is not necessary, and therefore the risk of oxidation is completely avoidable. Even lagers do not require racking to a second fermenter before lagering. With the right pitching rate, using fresh healthy yeast, and proper aeration of the wort prior to pitching, the fermentation of the beer will be complete within 3-8 days (bigger = longer). This time period includes the secondary or conditioning phase of fermentation when the yeast clean up acetaldehyde and diacetyl. The real purpose of lagering a beer is to use the colder temperatures to encourage the yeast to flocculate and promote the precipitation and sedimentation of microparticles and haze.

So, the new rule of thumb: don’t rack a beer to a secondary, ever, unless you are going to conduct a secondary fermentation.

Thanks for posting that Denny. There have been a lot of discussions around the need to secondary lately and it is good to hear that quote from John Palmer, whom many are quoting from his older writings to justify the need to secondary.

I’m not asking if a secondary is necessary. Im asking if it’s too early. I want to make another brew in that primary. Thanks for the John Palmer quote. Ive read that before.

In my opinion it’s time to go ahead and rack it.

The Palmer quote provided by Denny also contained your answer. (in conjunction w/ your current gravity reading).
“…the fermentation of the beer will be complete within 3-8 days (bigger = longer). This time period includes the secondary or conditioning phase of fermentation when the yeast clean up acetaldehyde and diacetyl.”

Thanks all. Can anyone tell me what the final gravity ‘should’ be for Irish Red Ale?

1.010 is 77.2% attenuation, and is right on track for that beer and yeast.
Take another gravity reading today, if it reads 1.010 again, go ahead and rack it to free up your primary so you can brew another batch

That’s a loaded question and has so many parameters. All you really want to know is if its “done.” The only way to know for sure is to take a hydrometer readings 2-3 days apart and if they are the same, your beer should be done. I say “should be” cause there is always the possibility of a stalled fermentation. To prevent a stalled fermentation I always a rouse the yeast a little after your first reading (GENTLY swirling the bucket/carboy).

Thanks gentlemen. The Gravity reading was 1.010 which is the same as it was last Sunday. Tasted like a flat, warm red ale. I think everything is nicely on the right track. :cheers:

Those gravity readings put the beer at 3.53% alcohol by weight. Seems low but what do I know?

SORRY! I see that alcohol by volume is 4.41.

Not to thread jack, but what about beers such as Belgian trippels which the instructions say to secondary for a month or two?

Should I just go from primary to bottle and age it for the additional time?

I’m totally confused here. Jamil says no secondary needed except for 2ndary fermentation. The instructions from NB on my imperial stout say to xfer after primary fermentation “for secondary fermentation”. I’m not adding any fruit or anything so is that statement correct ?

Also, for a big beer like this (1080 OG ), I assume you would want to remove it from primary to condition for several months, correct ?

[quote=“john57”]I’m totally confused here. Jamil says no secondary needed except for 2ndary fermentation. The instructions from NB on my imperial stout say to xfer after primary fermentation “for secondary fermentation”. I’m not adding any fruit or anything so is that statement correct ?

Also, for a big beer like this (1080 OG ), I assume you would want to remove it from primary to condition for several months, correct ?[/quote]
Your instructions are referring to the secondary phase of fermentation, which happens in all beer. However, your instructions are recommending you transfer to a separate (secondary) vessel, Jamil and John were advising this is not necessary.
IMO: whether or not you transfer it depends on 1) if you believe the transfer adds clarity and clarity is important to you 2) whether you want to bulk condition the beer or just allow it to condition in bottles 3) if you need to free up the fermentation vessel. My own 2 cents is that if you want to bulk age longer than a month, transfer the beer off the yeast cake. You’ll find all kinds of opinions and recommendations on this but as Obi-Wan said "you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” :blah:

[quote=“john57”]I’m totally confused here. Jamil says no secondary needed except for 2ndary fermentation. The instructions from NB on my imperial stout say to xfer after primary fermentation “for secondary fermentation”. I’m not adding any fruit or anything so is that statement correct ?

Also, for a big beer like this (1080 OG ), I assume you would want to remove it from primary to condition for several months, correct ?[/quote]
To answer the second question first, yes you do want to condition a big beer for a longer time, though how long depends on what beer and your own personal taste preferences. Barley wines and RIS benefit from a year or more of aging. Belgian Triples and German Dopplebocks for at least several months. Many prefer IIPAs fairly fresh. But once the beer has cleared, aging can happen just as well in the bottle as in bulk.

Now to the first question. There is a growing but not universal consensus among brewers that using a secondary fermentation vessel is unnecessary for the vast majority of beers. Most instructions were written when the consensus said transferring to a secondary was beneficial. But as the quality of ingredients and level of tools available to homebrewers has improved over the past 30 years, the optimal methods to use have evolve as well.

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