Secondary fermentation is a tricky term. It is used many times to describe a conditioning phase for beer, wine, cider, etc. but a true secondary fermentation would happen only if a new fermenting microbe was added to the beer (for example, brettanomyces) or more fermentable material is added to the beer for yeast (for example, honey) to consume.
Tips on Starting a Secondary Fermentation
- Anytime you open up your fermentor, you want to be careful not to introduce any microbe that may cause off flavors or other problems
- Make sure you sanitize any packet or instrument that you are using before you open the fermentor
- Check the manufacturer’s instructions of any packet of yeast or cultured bacteria to ensure your addition will be successful
- If you are adding other fermentables like fruit, honey, or other sugars to the fermentor, plan your process so that you can add it as quickly as possible
- Once the addition is complete, monitor the progress of you secondary fermentation as they can be more vigorous than the primary one so check on it often to avoid messy situations
If you are not attempting to trigger a secondary fermentation, you are most likely looking to add a conditioning phase to your brew. This phase isn’t necessary for many beer styles but let’s discuss when you should follow this procedure.
Should you use a secondary fermentor?
If you are asking this question and you are not adding anything to the finished beer, you are asking if you need to condition beer in a separate vessel before bottling or kegging, not if you need to have a secondary fermentation.
For most ale styles that do not have a high starting gravity, a secondary conditioning phase in a separate vessel is not necessary. In our experience, it does not improve the quality of an ale with a starting gravity less than 1.070.
Some sources state that one of the reasons to have a conditioning phase after primary fermentation is to get the beer to clear. The truth is, there are many things you can do to increase your chances for non-hazy beer before primary fermentation.
These steps include:
- Adding Irish Moss or Whirlfloc during the boil, using as directed
- Employing a 75-90 minute boil as lengthening the boil time beyond 60 minutes ensures a really great and complete hot break to denature many haze forming proteins
- Using a wort chiller after the boil to chill your beer rapidly to coagulate haze producting proteins – this coagulation is called a cold break and when the proteins bind and fall out of your wort, you can rack clearer wort into your fermentor
By following any if not all of these techniques, you will be well on your way in your quest for clearer beer without the need for a conditioning phase.
Another point to keep in mind after primary fermentation, the beer is ready to move to the next phase – kegging or bottling. Either phase can have a condition element to it to help you get to clear beer nirvana.
If you are kegging your beer, after the transfer from the fermentor, chill the keg down in your fridge or keezer and then start your carbonation process with pressurized CO2. In a week or two of conditioning and force carbonating, you will be drinking clear beer.
If you are bottling your beer, prime and cap your beer and keep it somewhere where typical room temperatures last all day long. After two weeks, your beer should be carbonated. Once it’s carbonated, you can condition the beer in the bottle by storing it in the fridge for another two weeks if you want to have clear beer. If you don’t want to be patient, you can start drinking it then.
So for most ale styles, you can skip the secondary and still get clear beer.
For lager styles, using a secondary condition phase is a necessary step.
Read this post about how and how long to lager your beer.
Check out our post on primary fermentation as well.
We hope you learned something from this post about secondary fermenation and secondary conditioning phase. There is more information about this topic around the internet but we hope that our little slice of it helped you out.
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