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My guess is that my homebrew will be done fermenting while I am out of town. Is there any harmful effects if I don't bottle it until a few days after the fermentation process stops?

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3 Answers

As long as your beer hasn't been contaminated with bacteria (which won't happen if it's sealed), there is absolutely no harm in bottling it late. In fact, some (specialty) beers are aged after fermentation and before bottling (e.g. in oak barrels). Nothing changes about bottling--you still add the same amount of priming sugar, for example, and it will still need just as long to age in the bottle before drinking.

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Most "conventional" homebrewing literature has you moving beer way to soon, IMO. You can almost never go wrong waiting longer. You can easily wait a month or more for beer in the fermenter without harm.

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Totally this. Most folks want to rack off of primary after a week, I've found that 2 weeks makes a MUCH better beer. –  Pulsehead Dec 27 '10 at 13:31
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And IME 3-4 weeks can be even better! –  Denny Conn Dec 27 '10 at 17:46
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I have abandoned a secondary altogether now, unless it is specifically required by the recipe (i.e. racking to fruit, etc.). Now, all of my batches do a four week primary and the result has been a clearer, cleaner-tasting beer. –  joseph.ferris Dec 28 '10 at 12:21
    
I often bottle after four weeks or more, although I almost always rack it off the trub after a few days (around 3 to 7). It's still technically primary fermentation at that stage anyway. Since beer tends to take a month of maturation before it's starting to reach peak condition, I think it makes sense to bottle when it's actually ready to drink. Then you just wait for the priming to happen - about a week - and it's ready to drink. –  CJBrew Dec 30 '10 at 15:07
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UPDATE: After seeing the comment regarding contamination, and researching some more, I believe I agree that my off flavor must be due to wild yeast contamination. My downfall must have been a combination of weak yeast pitched directly from packet without starter and plastic PET carboys with liquid fermlocks that probably either went dry or sucked water back in, contaminating the brew.


There's a lot of information, and people discussing multiple factors regarding this, and I don't know enough of the science to speak to that.

In my experience of 3 years and roughly 30 all-grain brews, I have never, until my last 20 gallons, failed to bottle at about 2 weeks, give or take a few days. My last batch was bottled at a little over 4 weeks, and had a flavor my friends and I now refer to as band-aid flavor, and we've come to expect this from the 3 or so brews we have allowed to sit that long in primary fermentation.

This off flavor mellowed with time, but contributed to my two least favorite brews in my time brewing. The total was 10 gallons pale ale, 10 gallons Belgian strong, both recipes I had brewed before.

I can't defend all the reasons, but in my circle of brewers, we avoid going much more than 2 weeks in primary, all things being equal.

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that sounds like chlorophenol or wild yeast contamination. –  baka Dec 28 '10 at 4:23
    
Is it possible that this contamination could occur late in the fermentation? Perhaps my ferm locks aren't working correctly, and early fermentation is just keeping the CO2 going enough to prevent contamination. –  Mlusby Dec 28 '10 at 16:37
    
It's possible, but unlikely. After the beer has been fermenting, the alcohol and low pH tend to make it resistant to infection. –  Denny Conn Dec 29 '10 at 19:59
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