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I ferment all my beers single stage in a glass carboy immersed in a water bath to maintain temperature. This is the first time I've made a bigger beer (this one started at 1.080) on this system. I made a nice big starter and aerated twice. It took off well and visible signs of yeast activity are essentially gone after a week; everything looks great.

Typically I would allow another 1-2 weeks for the yeast to clean up before bottling. My question is: with a bigger beer, and without the option of transferring to another vessel for conditioning (other than a bottle), should I give the beer more extra time on the yeast, or less?

I would guess that additional time would allow the yeast to clean up the larger amount of by-products it likely produced during the adaptation and attenuative phases, but the environment inside the fermentor is also more hostile, so perhaps off flavours from old and dying yeast, which I normally am not concerned with, and have not noticed in my beers, are worth worrying about now?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

You may or may not need extra time, but my experience is that it never hurts to give the beer more time. 4-5 weeks will be fine. The best thing to do would be to start taking gravity readings after 3-4 weeks and taste the sample. Between the gravity and the taste, you should be able to tell when it's done.

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The shortest time I've ever given a beer from grain to glass (including 2 days of forced carbonation) was 19 days, and it was a 1.087 Imperial IPA. That said, I do recall it tasting better after a week in the keg, and the malt bill was a 50/50 split of American and English 2-row, so nothing fancy aside from the tremendous amount of hops.

In my experience, the hops (or lack thereof) drive the schedule. If it is a hop monster, I like to enjoy them very fresh. If they are malt or yeast forward in flavor (e.g. Pilsner, German Wheat styles, etc), they could possibly stand to last a bit longer in the fermenter. Case in point, I have a very high gravity (1.100 OG) smoked bourbon barrel pepper porter that I am going to age for far longer than I ever would with the aforementioned IPA, as most of the hop flavor would die off by the time this makes it to the keg.

After your normal amount of time in the carboy, draw a sample and taste it. If it doesn't taste quite as good as you'd like it, give it another week, and another until you either like it, or grow too impatient.

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