Craft beer, Homebrew

Do I need transfer to secondary?

Craft beer, Homebrew

Brewskidude craft beer and homebrew

The great debate

There is a great war waging in the depths of the Home brewing community. No this battle is not a simple as you say gueze I say gose! Actually it has nothing to do with style for the most part. I know what your thinking. What is this debate creeping up through the ranks of hardened homebrewers, and how does it affect my precious brew? What is all the brewhaha? It is something that older brewers like myself learned to do as part of the normal process of brewing beer at home. The debate is all about whether or not to transfer our precious liquid goodness to a secondary fermenter.

Which side am I on?

When I first started brewing in 2003 it was just a step that was part of every home brewing book or kits process. It never dawned on me to question the process until I ran into this article. written by Marshall Schott. The results were shocking. I have always believed that if you didn’t rack to secondary your beer would be cloudy and could have off flavors.  All of which was handily refuted in the Brulosphy exbeeriment.

Not only was it refuted that racking/transferring to secondary doesn’t affect the final product but it also opens your brew up to possible oxidation or picking up airborne stow aways. This can beeasily mitigating by making sure you don’t splash into the secondary ferementer while transferring. Sterilizing everything coming into contact with the brew as helps. Honestly though even after I read and agreed with these findings I still didn’t stop with the practice. I also hadn’t stopped spouting the virtues of using a secondary to anyone who brought it up in passing or on any of the homebrew facebook groups I belong to.

A turning point

Recently a Facebook discussion got heated between the secondary and single vessel proponents on the efficacy of the process. I even had my own anecdotal story about leaving my brew in my plastic fermenter for weeks on end with undesired consequence. Then an interesting thing happened. I began to think long and hard about the brewing dogma I was helping to regurgitate. One of the guys on the group linked to the brulosophy article above which I quickly clicked through and reread.

Rethinking the dogma

This made me think hard about my story and about the virtues I had been parroting about transferring to secondary. It made me realize that it was a bias I had due to the way in which I learnt the craft. I had been arguing with easily refutable facts, something I personally hate when other people do. What about my shitty yeast suspended ale story? Why hadn’t that beer come out right if it was ok not to rack to secondary? That made think of the process even more. What if my process of fermenting in a single vessel was flawed? What if I hadn’t taken the correct procedures to ensure my product was unmolested?

I thought about the process. One of the arguments was if secondary wasn’t necessary why do breweries all transfer to a brite tank to clear the beer out? Well truth is most don’t transfer for that reason. They mostly transfer to free up the fermenter space for a new load of juice. This got me thinking about single vessel fermentation and the process used at home and by Pros.

Things to consider

Pro brewers use conical fermenters. The shape helps with clarity as dead yeast drops into the cone of the vessel. They have the benefit of having a valve at the bottom where spent yeast can be dumped. This limits time in contact with the beer. They are also air tight stainless steel vessels that can’t be scratched easily and are less likely to harbor unwanted organisms.

Homebrewers may use canonicals but mostly use glass carboys for single vessel fermentation. Using a carboy is good practice because glass is 100% airtight and can’t be scratched. The shape of the carboy tapers at the top which also helps keep oxygen out once the wort produces Co2 as it ferments.


I came to the  conclusion that the reason my single vessel brew didn’t fair so well is probably because I didn’t pay close attention to the things necessary to produce the desired affect. For one temperature control was non existent. Fermentation was performed in a 6.5 gallon plastic pale with a bubbler attached.

The wort was left in contact with the yeast for more than a few weeks after fermentation had completed. Hell I don’t know could of been even longer. Might have been close to two months if I remember correctly.

Finally it is a safe bet the siphon into the keg wasn’t performed carefully. There was probably an attempt to get every last drop of beer out of the fermenter. In my haste to preserve as much beer as possible a lot of spent yeast probably came with it.

Mitigating the risks

Here are some important steps to consider in clarity and making sure you don’t end up with a hazy mess! Regulate your fermentation temperature to ensure a highly active and strong fermentation cycle. Cold crashing the beer which involves lowering he temperature to about 35 degrees from anywhere to 3 to 7 days for ale yeast and up to a few weeks for Belgian strains, helps clear out any suspended yeast. Some basic information on that can be found here.

I have also heard people adding unflavored gelatin to the beer which aids in clarity by binding to particles and weighing them down to settle on the bottom. I have never used  gelatin but will try it when I get a chance in an upcoming brew session and post about it when I have more information.

Quick Tip rundown

  • Use Irish moss or Whirlfloc tablets the last 5 minutes of boil. Whrilfloc Tablets
  • Make sure you allow the beer to ferment all the way out and settle the yeast to the bottom. This takes 10 to 14 days.
  • Cold crash if possible.
  • Don’t move the fermenter around at least a few hours before bottling or racking
  • When transferring to your keg or bottling bucket don’t let the siphon pick up the last few inches of wort directly on top of the yeast cake.
  • If you really want to go for the absolute accept no substitutes clarity you can use an inline filter that will remove particles. I will have a separate article on that coming soon.

It’s all up to you

In short in the choice is up to you my friend. Do what works best for you. If you have time and are willing to mitigate the risk, go ahead and rack away. If you want to save time and still make great beer don’t rack. Just make sure you follow best practice to avoid any issues. There are some situations you’d want to use a secondary vessel, more on that in an upcoming article. I am sure I have missed things so comment and please considered signing up to receive updates.

Thank you and good night!

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