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I've just started homebrewing. The guy at the local homebrew store swears that I don't need any secondary fermentors, that I should just leave my brews in the primary to age and then bottle condition them. I have a plastic bucket fermentor and two 5 gallon PET bottles.

I plan to brew some high gravity beers (RIS and an English Barleywine) as well as a dry mead. Since I'm going to be aging a bunch of batches simultaneously I'd rather not spend ~$40/each on glass carboys.

I want to leave them in the primary for 4-6 months, then bottle condition them after that. Is this a bad idea? What's the worst that could happen?

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Perhaps a dumb question but if you just got into homebrewing, maybe high gravity aged ales is not the place to hone the craft... –  Keith Hoffman Feb 29 '12 at 7:43
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That's what I like. I don't see a point in doing brews that I don't drink and wouldn't even bother buying. –  bk0 Feb 29 '12 at 11:41
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High-risk way to start, that's all I'm saying. I share your tastes. Plus if you make 'regular' beer, you can make your friends drink your mistakes. Good luck! –  Keith Hoffman Feb 29 '12 at 22:16

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Abridged answer: primary them for 6 weeks, and if your gravity is where you want it, then rack to one of your PET bottles and age. Simply, you could have some off-flavors as a result of yeast autolysis. For higher-gravity beers, you want to let the yeast do their work, but if there is going to be 9 or higher ABV once fermentation is completed, that is a hostile environment for yeast, and they can break down and leak stuff from inside their cell wall into your beer.

Not an expert, but my general rule of thumb is: after the krausen has subsided, let the yeast clean up some of the other compounds (the higher the gravity, the longer), then if you want to purely 'condition' your beer, get it off the yeast cake and let it mature by its lonesome.

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After considering the answers here, my current plan is to get another bucket fermenter and rack the beers to the plastic carboys. The mead I'll do directly in the carboy and let it sit for a few months. Thanks for the insight! –  bk0 Feb 16 '12 at 14:39

The Worst that could happen is you ruin the batch (undrinkable) and end up with stained containers that give a strange flavor to things you use them with.

That's probably unlikely. If you use the plastic bucket for 4-6 months with the mead, you may end up leaching some of the plastic chemicals into the mead, giving it a plasticy taste. If you're set on using plastic, I'd go for the PET bottles, as they are actually meant for longer term fermentation. They claim to be as good as glass, but I've only read of people using them for beer, which is in there for a significantly shorter period of time.

Personally, I only use a primary fermentation for my meads, and I do it in a glass carboy. I have 14 of them going right now. If cost is the issue, I'd suggest hitting up your buddies for some investment capital. A promise of half a dozen bottles of mead can really loosen the purse strings. =D

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I'd also check Craigs list for glass carboys, I am also a plastic-phobe (probably unnecessarily). I found a guy in MD who was bringing truckloads of 5 gallon carboys from his father's (sold) spring water business in NC. Got 5 of them for $40. –  Pietro Feb 15 '12 at 15:52
    
No luck with carboys on craigslist. :( –  bk0 Feb 15 '12 at 21:31
    
If you are a beginner brewer and go with PET, I would strongly consider reading the 'cleaning and care' instructions on the Better Bottle website before you buy them. The limitations on the amount of exposure to StarSani and PBW that these bottles can take are very restrictive. When I was a new brewer, my brew buddies and I cracked one with excessive sanitation. The other two from the same vintage are still intact but show signs of cracking. Glass rocks! –  Keith Hoffman Mar 2 '12 at 1:28

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