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I'm homebrewing using a Northern Brewer starter kit, but I seem to be losing quite a lot of beer. I'm starting with 5 gallons in my primary fermeter, but by the time I bottle I end up with roughly 3.9 gallons.

I know I'm losing some liquid when racking to a secondary fermenter and when bottling to avoid sediment, but losing more than a gallon seems excessive. Should I be using some filter to get the last bit of liquid out of the sediment, or maybe adding extra water when pitching to make up for this loss?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

First, there is almost never a need to use a secondary fermenter unless you add something to the beer that produces a true secondary fermentation. The idea of using a secondary on a regular basis comes from the commercial brewing industry. The fermenters homebrewers use are far smaller and the risk of autolysis is virtually nonexistent, unlike commercial breweries. Most homebrewers no longer use secondary and homebrew "experts" no longer recommend them. That will cut part of your loss.

If you add extra water to make up the loss with out adding extra fermentables, your beer will be watered down. When I formulate a recipe, I make it for 5.5 gal. to account for the loss, but if you buy kits you can't do that. You'll just have to try to xfer all you can and accept what's lost.

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Regarding the literal second fermentation, I've had just as great results doing so in the original fermentation vessel and have yet to find someone that could provide a verifiable reason for racking to a secondary vessel for a second fermentation. –  Scott Mar 30 at 0:04
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Well, to me, racking to a secondary is a way to get a clearer beer (there is always another deposit in the secondary), and also it gives me the time to bottle while minimizing the contact of beer with oxygen. Am I wrong thinking that? –  Simon Lapointe Apr 3 at 12:32
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Yeah, I think you are. If you leave the beer in primary for 3-4 weeks, it will be as clear as if you rack to secondary. At least that's what happens for am and many others. And by racking you actually increase the contact with O2, as well as increase the chance of contamination. No matter how careful you are, you're taking additional risks for no perceptible benefit. –  Denny Conn Apr 3 at 14:57

I've found that if you don't cold crash your beer before siphoning it off, you'll want to let it sit for a day or two before siphoning it to ensure that all the trub at the bottom of the carboy/bucket has settled out. This means that if you didn't refrigerate your beer before siphoning to secondary or your bottling bucket, you'll want to move it to where you will siphon, and let it sit for a day or two. If you do cold crash your beer, an hour should be adequate since it seems to stick to the bottom a bit better at lower temperatures. This should give adequate time for all the trub to settle back down at the bottom, and reduce waste.

Also, make sure if it's a glass carboy, or clear plastic that it's concealed from any light while it's sitting in its siphoning location as to not skunk the beer. Finally, when you go to siphon, prop the back of the carboy/bucket up with a book or something to get the bucket to sit on an angle, so that you can maximize your return on beer without having to jam your siphon into the trub at the bottom.

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Are you sure you have 5 gallons when you start fermentation?

I found that I was losing more than expected during boiling; I was only getting about 40-43 bottles instead of the expected 48-52.

I marked my fermentation vessels with gallon marks on the outside so when the instructions say to fill to 5 gallons, I know how much water to add. I now get the full 2 cases and a taste/feel that is more like what I expected.

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