Layman’s Beer Making: Secondary Fermentation

I know when I was talking in my first Layman’s Beer Making post I said I don’t usually do a secondary fermentation. But since I was on a roll with that last post, and this is a lighter beer than I usually make and so will visually benefit from being nice and clear, I thought I might share with you my method for secondary. So here goes!

First, gather all of the things you will need.  There on the bottom is the most important part–the 5 gallons of beer, still in it’s bucket like we left it two weeks ago.  On the counter is the 6.5 gallon glass carboy, my sanitizer solution (in the big measuring cup), another airlock with a holey rubber stopper, and the siphon (which hasn’t been assembled in the picture yet).  Since the carboy has been sitting for half a year, I washed off the layer of dust with some hot water before pouring the sanitizer into it and swishing the solution around thoroughly.  I also ran the sanitizer through the siphon to make sure that everything was clean.  You shouldn’t have to worry too much at this point, as the beer has it’s full alcohol content, but it is always better to go on the safe side.  They say that a spoiled batch is always just a matter of time, but I have been able to avoid it so far…

Now, what I always find the hardest part, remove the lid.  It really likes to stay on there.  You can see a few of the hop leftovers stuck to the rim–depending on the amount/type of hops you use, there could be some still floating in the beer, but here most of the hops have settled to the bottom.  Be careful not to drop anything in, and be careful not to slosh it.  At this point you want to keep the beer from being re-oxygenated, as this can oxidize the beer and cause off-flavors.

Carefully siphon the beer out of the bucket and into the carboy.  This process is called “racking.”  Again, don’t go spraying it all around, you want it to go nice and gently, without adding too much oxygen.  Also, try to keep the siphon end that’s in the bucket from wandering all around the bottom and sucking up all the dead yeast/hops that have settled out.  The whole point of this exercise is to remove the beer from the sediments.

Plug in the stopper/airlock assembly and move the carboy back to your cool, dark place where you did the primary fermentation.  Let it sit for a couple more weeks to let even more of the sediments settle out.  Technically, now you are in a non-gas-permeable container (that is another problem with the plastic buckets), so you could let it sit this way for a long, long time, as long as you keep the airlock from drying out.  I’m planning on  bottling in a couple few weeks here, so that isn’t particularly important to me right now.

Here’s all the dregs in the bottom of the bucket.  Dead yeast and soggy hops.  Put it in your compost or down the sink, if you are brave and didn’t use whole or leaf hops. 

And that’s that.  Still hard to see if this batch is going to be as red as I wanted it, but it should be good in any case.  Perhaps I’ll snap some photos when I bottle it, too.



Filed under Beeeeer, wasting time

2 responses to “Layman’s Beer Making: Secondary Fermentation

  1. Looks good so far.Not being a beer guy, is the secondary primarily to clarify? Or is it to boost alcohol/flavor/get it off the hops to finish fermentation?

  2. Primarily to clarify it, yes, but also to prevent oxidation by taking it out of the slightly permeable plastic bucket, and also I believe that the dead yeast layer can cause off flavors. Unless you add more sugar, there really isn't any more fermentation that takes place in secondary–I don't know why exactly it got that name, but there you go. Also, if you are making a fruit beer this is where you add the fruit, as the vigorous primary fermentation will eat up all flavor of the fruit.