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Secondary- transfer after fermentation complete or just before?

My second brew is getting close to finishing up its fermentation. It’s the Brewers Best Belgian Tripel kit, and it seems like everything has gone well so far. The OG was 1.087 and after two weeks I measured last night at 1.024, which is really close to the kit’s FG range. I am going to measure it over the next day or two and plan on transferring it into my carboy secondary (big mouth bubbler).

Arguments- yes, I’ve read the dozens of posts that state that secondary is not really needed with modern homebrews, its a point of contention for a lot of people, most experts now recommend against it and to just do everything in primary; however, it seems that most people that do still secondary their beer typically don’t have issues with it. FAIR POINTS - but I want to free up my brew bucket for my next batches from NB, and I figured a high gravity beer like the Tripel would benefit from going into a secondary to help clarify the brew and mellow out the flavors before bottling.

Question - do you transfer to secondary after fermentation is fully complete or when fermentation slows before complete? Most places say to transfer after fermentation is finished and your SG readings are constant for a couple days. BUT the Kit Instructions state in bold letters to transfer to secondary once fermentation slows and before it is complete. That seems odd since it contradicts common recommendations, but the kit instructions specifically state to transfer before fermentation is complete.

Any thoughts? Thanks!!

Or is it all a moot point and secondary really and truly is a bad idea nowadays?

The other option would be to just keep this batch in the primary bucket for another few weeks, and to start my second batch fermenting directly in the carboy (big mouth bubbler). I tasted a small glass from the hydrometer test tube sample, and it tastes decent but has a lot of hot alcohol flavor in it right now.

I’d wait until complete. Think about it this way… you’re nearing final gravity, with the last few points representing a little more sugar that can turn into beer. The more yeast present to finish the job, the better off you’ll be. If you transfer off of yeast, you’re leaving far fewer yeasties to eat the sugar.

Also, part of doing a secondary is to get the beer off of the trub, and to get things clearer. In fact, “bright tank” is really a more accurate term than “secondary fermentation.” Letting the big stuff settle out first can only help.

For the record, I secondary often. I’m kind of a racking klutz, so any chance to clear up the beer, I’ll take. I also subscribe to the theory that dry hopping is better in secondary than in primary. And I tend to make big beers that take some time to bulk age. And I like to open up primaries for the next beer.

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@uberculture is spot on for the reasons he gives, but freeing up your primary bucket is a perfectly valid reason to rack to secondary. However, your big mouth bubbler is less than an ideal vessel for this. Probably better than your bucket for longer-term storage, but they have a tendency to not seal well. The whole reason a carboy works well for secondary is the narrow opening that when filled as much as possible, leaves very little headspace to cause problems. Giving it a large, easy-to-clean opening kinda defeats the purpose…

But since that’s what you have, might as well make the best of it. I would rack it now, before fermentation is complete, because all the CO2 in there will do a great job of filling that large headspace. And knocking a little CO2 out of solution and introducing a bit of oxygen at this point may help the yeast finish out fermentation. Don’t worry about stalling fermentation - the yeast at the bottom of your bucket are pretty much spent, and the ones in suspension are the ones doing the work. They’ll come along for the ride when you rack it. That’s a bit high of a final gravity for my taste - I certainly prefer a tripel on the drier side, but everyone’s tastes are different.

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@uberculture and @porkchop - thank you for the replies gents, you learn something new everyday! Now I know the rationale behind the shape of carboys for limiting headspace and exposure to oxygen, which is why they are preferred for secondary clarifying/aging when less CO2 is there to shield the brew.

Let me make sure I understand properly- It sounds like for most brews that I should wait for full fermentation since you have more yeast available to get those last few points of sugar consumed, and secondary aging is still routinely used for clarifying; however, I don’t have a preferred style carboy that has the limited amount of headspace (the bubbler was a freebie when I bought my brew kit), so in this scenario it may help to have a small bit of fermentation left to create a CO2 ‘blanket’ while the brew is clarifying. Does this sound correct?

My Conclusion- this is a good excuse to get more equipment and buy a proper carboy for secondary brews. Then I’ll have a carboy for the Tripel, along with two fermentation containers with the traditional bucket and bubbler for get my next brews going!

Side Question- you mentioned that you prefer tripel drier in general. If my brew finishes out at a higher point, say an FG of 1.020 when it stops changing from a high OG, what do you do to get it to continue fermenting? It should be around mid-8% ABV at this point, so it’s done a decent job. Do you give it a shake to stir things up, or pitch more yeast or how do you push it to consume that last bit of sugars?

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The yeast that are dropped out mean nothing it’s suspended yeast like @porkchop says. Rack before done will limit oxidation since you will still be gassing off co2. The little more oxygen you add helps the yeast finish. Of course you don’t want to do a sloppy transfer and even purging the carboy will not limit all the o2 during the transfer. Good sanitation is a must. I’m not sure if racking to a secondary helps gain a few gravity points but it might help a stuck fermentation. I don’t secondary in carboys.

Me do use the bigmouth bubbler. For primary fermetation. Than after ten days. Take a reading. And transfer to the secondary. Carboy. And let it stand untill. Its work has been done. But do take a few more extra. Gravity readings. And sample taste. Only down fall of big mouth bubbler. Sometimes hard to create a perfect seal. So slow stepping away from the bubbler. And use more carboys. But the last brew session. A carboy did brake. During cleaning. So i did use the big mouth bubbler.

For goodness sake be careful. Use buckets I’m sure you can get plenty of them for free at the restaurants down there

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OK I’ll be devil’s advocate. Leave it alone!

Transfering to an aging vessel is not a bad idea for a bigger beer. That tripel will need some aging before you’re going to enjoy drinking it anyway but I’d keep it in the primary until you’re ready to bottle.

There’s literally zero valid reasons to get it off the yeast on a homebrew level and you could get another point or two of attenuation by leaving it on the yeast. A lot more likely than if you rack it.

You stand more chance of oxidation or infection by racking it and frankly going from one plastic vessel to another for bulk aging is just not a good idea. If you have a glass carboy you could rest that beer for a few months and I’d say yea go for it if you can add CO2 to the carboy. Otherwise you won’t want to leave it in plastic for long anyway. Too much risk of oxidation.

I’d leave it in the primary for 4-6 weeks then bottle.

Use your bubbler for your next brew.

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You can try ramping up the temperature to keep the yeast active, but since it’s an extract batch it will probably finish higher anyways. Not that there’s anything wrong with a tripel on the sweeter side, it’s just a preference. It all comes down to yeast management, though. A healthy yeast starter, pitched at the right temperature into well aerated/oxygenated wort should do just fine.

So you can see from this thread, there are lots of “right” options of what you can do. There are also lots of wrong things to do, but none of those have been suggested here. Is your BMB a 5 or 6-gallon? If it’s 6-gallons, I’d save it for a primary fermenter. 5 gallons is just a bit small, though, for a typical batch. I wouldn’t use it for a 5- gallon batch, as even with a blow-off tube you’ll lose a good amount of volume. It would be great for fruit additions, dry hopping, fermenting half batches, and the like. But if you’re going to get more equipment, just get another bucket or two, then you won’t have to worry about racking to secondary to free up your primary fermenter.

Lots of good info here - I think I’m going to wait it out a bit longer in the primary since it’s a bigger brew; today the SG is still at 1.024 though, so it looks like its tapered off. I do think I’ll go ahead and buy a proper carboy this weekend though, then transfer it over for aging and clearing with this batch. I’ll obviously be careful in regards to sanitation and watching oxidation.

My BMB is one of the larger 6.5-gal units, so it sounds like this is much better to use as a fermentor. I already have my next two kits waiting on deck to brew - another extract and then trying a partial mash kit - so transferring to the carboy will free up the bucket and BMB for both of those. More buckets are on the xmas list since it’s an easy gift for family members to grab. After that, I just need to find more bottles for all the beer!

But the weird thing. Done cleaning. Second step. Starsan. Walk away. To prep the other things. Hear a piiing sound. And a crack in the neck of the carboy

Yikes man…be careful with that thing. When they come apart they’re very dangerous!

A few of my homebrew friends (the folks that got me interested in the hobby) had strongly suggested avoiding glass carboys for this very reason. Are the plastic carboys fine to use if you’re aging for less than a month or two since I would likely proceed with bottling after that? If I do buy a glass carboy I was planning to keep it in a plastic milk crate as a safety measure when moving it around- any other things to look out for when deciding which kind to purchase?

Plastic carboys are fine for long term storage. I’ve switched almost all of my glass carboys to plastic and typically age beers 6 months to a year (or more) without issue.

Use a keg for secondary. Even if you don’t plan on serving from it. It stainless steel and impervious to light. It’s also cheap ($30) and unbreakable.

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Couldn’t agree more philosophically…but where do you get kegs for 30 bucks?

Great Deal on Reconditioned Pin Locks from Keg Connection | Homebrew Finds. Follow this link

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Hmm - that’s a really good idea to kill two birds with one stone - gives you a safe to use secondary, and one less thing to buy down the road for kegging from home.

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OK yea…i think I saw that deal through Homebrew Finds or somewhere. I think I ignored it because I use ball lock kegs. I just read the link “what’s the difference between ball lock and pin lock kegs”. Interesing…I thought there was a bigger differerence in the diamater of the two which is why I went ball lock. I also like the manual PRV and simpler posts. I think after converting a pinlock with a new lid and posts I’d probably be in the range of price for a ball lock…may have to research it a bit.

Thanks for the link @brew_cat

edit: BTW I’m a big proponent of conditioning in kegs. All my beers go directly from the bucket to the keg for lagering, dry hopping, conditioning, etc…

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