When do you start your secondary fermentation? Some people wait until the bubbles of the wort stop completely, others leave the wort in the fist fermenter for 3-4 days and then move on to secondary fermentation, regardless of what the bubbles do. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each method?
I wait until a day after the krausen has fallen back into the beer. You shouldn't leave it in the primary for more than 2 weeks.
Racking to a secondary can clean up a beer, and allow you time to condition the beer in bulk before bottling or kegging. It also will seperate the floculated yeast and trub giving you a cleaner beer in the end. You are also not rushed to bottle or keg it, since you can leave it in the secondary for a long time if you are busy. This also frees up your larger carboys for primary fermenting new beers.
Increased risk of contamination durring racking. Make sure everything is sanitized. Increased contact with oxygen is also detrimental. I have a spare CO2 tank, that I purge my secondary with. This is not really neccessary, I just take comfort in it. You also need additional equipment, another carboy.
CON of not Racking
If you don't rack to a secondary you will probably get additional gunk in your bottles/kegs. If you don't rack to a secondary, after two or more weeks autolysis can occur and you will get some really funky (not the good funk) flavors. I have only tried this once, and noticed that the flavor was not very desirable.
I have sucessfully done this over a hundred times, and if the beer wasn't already contaminated then I have never had a problem. Hopped, Low pH, alcoholic liquid is pretty inhospitable environment for bugs.
Please see John Palmers opinion. The best beer is Racked to a secondary, if the pros do it, so do I. Why be lazy when it's an easy step. Additionally if you use a smaller carboy for your secondary, with a small head space, the disolved C02 in the beer will be forced out durring racking, and force the much of the oxygen out, reducing contact.
I tend to completely ferment out in primary before moving my beer to 'secondary'. I ferment in primary for 14-21 days almost always. I crash cool the primary for the final 5-7 days of that total primary time. Then I rack to keg.
I think most people can agree that a secondary ferment is not a ferment, its just another conditioning step in the process.
Minus the cooling step, people who put beer in kegs out of primary (myself included), or probrewers using a bright tank are doing the same thing as "using a secondary"; putting fermented beer in another container to sit for a while.
(In reality, I have an extra corny keg that I have trimmed the dip tube off about 3 inches. I use that keg as my "bright beer tank". Then use a jumper set up to push the beeer to a serving keg after that)
I don't rack to secondary unless I'm adding something (fruit, hops, spices) or aging (barleywine, etc). The risk of introducing bacteria is too great for me.
For most of my beer I leave the beer in the primary for 2 weeks which clears up the beer as much as I need. But, for those beers that need extra time to clarify I leave the beer in there longer.
I believe you can definitely leave your beer on the yeast cake for longer than 2 weeks, and I'm not alone. I stopped racking to secondary when I started listening to Jamil Zainasheff on Brew Strong. He claims the 2 week autolysis is a myth.
Read the answers to this question: What's the difference between primary & secondary fermentation?
I am an advocate of not racking to secondary. To answer your question:
(of not racking)
I do not rack to secondary and still get very clear beer. After kegging I cool the beer to the low 30's F for a week or so to brighten. Crash cooling drops a lot of protein out of suspension. The first pull is pretty goopy, but the rest of the keg is pretty clear.
Pro brewers do this in a separate tank called a brite tank.
If you bottle you can get the same effect by racking to your bottling bucket, sealing that up and crash cooling it for a week in the bucket. Be very careful moving it, or bottle straight out of the fridge.
My name is Joseph and I have been making wine for about 50 years. It has become a tradition being passed down from generation to generation. I have always made good wine and I can't remember spoiling a batch but I must have. It happens to all wine makers even the pros. Lately I started to brew beer and I have made about 6 batches of Coopers home brew. I have always used a seconday fermenter to keep the product as clear and clean from sedament as I could. I am a clean freak and sanitize everything I touch even the scooper when I check out the brew with the hydrometer. So far my son after trying my first brew told me he would not purchase another case of beer from the beer store unless he was hard up. After adding up the figures that I spent on the brew he told me Dad I can't believe it. Here I am drinking a tall boy for 50 cents a bottle opposed to 2.35 a Bottle and your beer tastes greater. I feel that if you have achieved the success you wanted why chance another procedure. You can only get so much out of what you got so why fix it if it's not broke. Keep all your equipment sanitized and also your hands and you should always have some good success. Thank you. I find all of your comments most desirable and I have learned some knowledgable things reading this site. Take care.