Homebrewing Blog and Resource

Time in Secondary

I see this question alot in the homebrew forums on-line: “How long should I leave my beer in secondary?”

This depends on a lot of things.  The reason most people do a secondary fermentation step is to get more stuff to settle out of the beer.  If you use a glass carboy for this (preferred) then you can visually check the beer on a week to week basis.  Once the level of junk at the bottom doesn’t change much, you are good to go.  I think in most applications 2-weeks should be plenty to help clarify a beer.

The second reason is to “bulk” age or maturate a beer.  Again this is very recipe dependent.  If the beer is not a high alcohol beer then it will mature faster than a big monster beer.

Lastly, you really will just need to experiment with maturation times.  You get a sense from the bottled product too if longer maturation is needed.  Then next time you brew maybe you can add some of that time to the secondary instead of waiting it out in the bottle.

The last thing to concern yourself with extended secondaries is yeast for bottling. If you plan to bottle condition (prime with sugar before bottling for natural carbonation) generally there will always be enough yeast to carbonate.  The longer the secondary, the longer it may take to carb.  With that said though, if I was to leave something in secondary for 6 months or more… that yeast may be worn out and too weak to really carbonate well, and adding an eighth to a quarter packet of rehydrated dry yeast to the bottling bucket may be necessary.

I hope that helps clear up some of that issue.
Check out these other threads of ours regarding secondary (and primary) fermentation:

Primary Fermentation

Skip the Secondary

Better Bottle Carboy 

Spices in Secondary 

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3 Comments

  1. Aaron

    Even 6 months might not be too long for the yeast. I’ve seen ciders that go that long and can still be bottle conditioned from the original yeast.

    I like to do a secondary because it keeps me involved with my beer while it’s fermenting. It’s kind of boring to set it and forget it, and I don’t get to do enough brewing to be active all the time, so I like to rack to secondary just to give me something to do with the beer.

  2. I generally don’t use a secondary at all but that is mostly because I only have one fermenter and one bottling bucket. What I have done in the past was rack my beer to the bottling bucket, clean out the fermenter and re-sanitize it and move the beer back to the original fermenter.

    This has been a big pain so for my last few batches I skipped the secondary all together without any noticeable difference. About the only difference was that I had to leave the beer bottle condition for an extra two weeks but to me that is no big deal.

    The short story of my comment is that if you don’t have a secondary, don’t worry – it’s not going to ruin your beer to go straight from primary to bottles/keg and let the beer mature there.

  3. Before I started kegging I used to move beer into secondary just to have a place to store it if I wasn’t going to bottle for a while. I can remember leaving beers in secondary for 4-5 months just because I was lazy and didn’t get around to bottling. They always carbed up in the bottle too. Sometimes just took a little longer.
    So I can see your point (Aaron), sometimes you can do secondary just to have something to do with the beer.

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