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I'm brewing a Belgian Tripel. I don't typically use a secondary fermentation. The Tripel however, is my biggest beer so far, and requires much more time. Should I transfer to a secondary?

All I have at the moment are buckets, but I'm considering a carboy purchase. Would that be necessary?

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3 Answers 3

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A secondary isn't required for regular strength beers, but for high gravity beers like your tripel, the conditioning time is much longer, and so a secondary is beneficial. Also, high gravity beers use about twice as much yeast as with the regular beer, so leaving on the yeast for a long time will give some yeast bite.

If you can get hold of a carboy before primary reaches 3 weeks, then that would be ideal. Second choice would be to rack to one of the buckets you already have. If you rack when gravity is still a few points above final, then fermentation will displace the air reducing the chance of oxidization from the large headspace.

I would definitely rack a beer this big, since there is more likelihood of off flavors by not racking.

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If you keg, you can use your keg for conditioning, rather than a carboy. –  Dustin Rasener Jun 26 '12 at 0:54
    
Ah yes, I didn't think to mention using the keg. I often do that. Sometimes I also don't rack again to another keg, just pour off a couple of glasses to get rid of the sediment. –  mdma Jun 26 '12 at 1:04
    
See also this related question: homebrew.stackexchange.com/questions/7229/… –  Dale Jun 27 '12 at 21:47

If you have the time (ie, don't otherwise need/want to use the bucket), you can easily leave it until it's finished fermenting; a carboy is not strictly necessary.

The biggest differences between bucket and (glass) carboy is oxygen permeability for long-term storage and the ability to clean, especially with "bugs": souring yeast/bacteria cultures. If you're laying something down to age for months at a time, you might want glass rather than plastic. Plastic can also scratch in the face of mechanical cleaning (brushes, &c.), those scratches can then harbor bacteria.

Another point about "secondary" fermentation is often regarding autolysis of yeast, but on a homebrew scale this occurs on the order of many-many-months, and it not something to generally be concerned with.

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This is a high gravity beer, so conditioning time is many months, making autolysis and yeast bite real possibilities by the timescale you give. I've had autolysis occur after 4-6 weeks. Once primary is done, the alcohol content in this big beer will prevent the propagation of other microbes in the scratches. –  mdma Jun 25 '12 at 19:27
    
I know autolysis isn't really a concern for a typical length conditioning, but I do plan on leaving this for around 3 months. If that becomes an issue around 6 weeks, then I think I'll go for a secondary. –  Colin Jun 25 '12 at 23:01

I routinely leave my brews in a bucket for 4 weeks. The longest I've left it in was (I think) 6 weeks.

The longest I've ever heard of is a guy who forgot about his batch for 18 months. When he found it is was still basically drinkable but virtually all of the hops had oxidized out and it was watery malt water.

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The question is about a big beer - the practices are different there. But I agree that 4 weeks should be the maximum, 6 weeks for very healthy yeast. –  mdma Jun 25 '12 at 19:29

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