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My first home brew beer is ready to be bottled but I've been busy and haven't gotten around to it yet. The beer was in a primary fermenter for 2 weeks, then I racked it into a secondary fermenter (carboy with airlock) where it has been for about 3 weeks now. Do I need to bottle it immediately or can it sit in the secondary for another week or so?

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I'm surprised this question hasn't been asked before. –  Dean Brundage Jun 15 '10 at 3:42

5 Answers 5

I once left a red ale in a glass carboy for almost a year. My girlfriend thought it was ruined, but I kept the airlock full.... it came out great, clear and mellow. Beer I would have paid money for....

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As Jim answered earlier, with good sanitation, you can leave your beer in secondary for nearly as long as you want. However, if your beer continues to ferment, this will likely affect the finish of your brew depending on factors such as yeast type, temperature stability, and the specific gravity of your beer when you decided to transfer it from your primary. Also, any sediment can and will affect the flavor of the brew. Neither issue are problems as such. Just something to keep in mind depending on the beer style you are brewing, and the flavors that you are aiming for. Some pale ales taste better (subjectively) with a little sediment and cloud in them, but this would not be as desirable in your carefully crafted Pils.

In the end, it's really boils down to whatever it is that floats your beery boat! ;-)

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Well now, it all depends on your sanitation! If you were careful and sanitary while a) cooling your wort, b) racking to primary, and c) racking to secondary, the beer can stay in secondary for a lot longer than you think! Lagering and cold conditioning are basically long-term secondaries, after all.

Just keep the temperatures low and keep it protected from light, and make sure the airlock stays full - it's easy to forget about that when it's been sitting for a few weeks. Happened to a carboy of a beautiful cherry-smoked hefe I brewed once...well, I'm guessing that it would've been beautiful, because by the time I got to it it smelled like old gym socks.

Personal pet peeve with the term "secondary fermentation" - except for really big beers, there is rarely any fermentation happening in secondary. I like to call it brightening or conditioning, but I'm weird like that.

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Let it ride for as long as you want. Keep in mind that the beer is aging and depending on its style and storage temp it may peak in flavor while you are off doing other things.

As long as you protect it from light and keep it as cool as possible (<70F-75F-ish) it should be fine.

The best thing for storing beer in a carboy would also be to ensure there was an shot of CO2 on the surface after you racked it into secondary. But unless you are a kegger already you may not have that option.

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Good point on the style part. I guess if you have tons of hops, you lose the fresh taste part by letting the beer sit for too long –  hookedonwinter Jun 15 '10 at 15:16
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And to even further add to the style thing, there are a few high gravity styles (Imperial Stouts, Barleywines, etc.) that really benefit from long term conditioning in secondary. It can take a long time--maybe 4 months and higher--to attain the optimum flavors from those brews. –  markskar Jun 15 '10 at 21:02

It's fine. It's just sitting there, minding it's own business. I've been busy and left beer in carboys for longer than that, and it turns out fine. I think Brew Your Own (byo.com) did some experiments on this and found no ill effects, as long as it's kept clean.

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Probably want to make sure it's somewhere dark too, light can do some funny things to the taste of beer. I've only ever killed a batch of beer with a big temperature swing which sucked the airlock dry :( –  David Hayes Jun 23 at 18:42

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