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I am brewing my first homebrew an American cream ale. Was just reading into secondary fermentation. In the directions and books I've read it seems to suggest doing this. But as I search online and read more into it, it seems many say to avoid this and allow the beer to sit in the primary until complete and ready to move to a bottling bucket. I was just curious if leaving it in the primary then going right to bottling, is there a way to give it a little clarity, I'm not looking for bud light clear here but just want to make it look a bit more appealing without sediment flowing around. And the main way, without adding chemicals, seems to be secondary racking. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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Good question. Upvoted. –  brewchez Mar 2 '13 at 14:06
    
I actually forgot to add Irish Moss last time, and racked to secondary after a week of fermentation and was very surprised how much it cleared up after that! –  Dave Baghdanov Nov 15 '13 at 0:22

7 Answers 7

The addition of irish moss in the boiling process helps act as a clarifying agent. 1/2 tsp in the last 10 minutes of the boil.

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The basic problem you will have is that you need some yeast in suspension for bottle carbonation (if you don't have them, you need to add them).

Racking to secondary will increase the clearness of you beer, while adding another chance for getting the beer infected. Generally all literature today recommends you not to rack to secondary unless you have to since the old problem of getting bad taste from the old yeast is not a problem with today's yeast strains.

So unless you are kegging, the clarity is a non-issue at bottling time. And regardless if you are bottling or force carbonating, if you let the beer sit a while, everything will settle. In a Keg, you might get a few glasses of yeast in the beginning, in a bottle, pour carefully and don't take any sediment if you don't like it.

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Avoiding sediment floating around in the glass is often a function of carefully pouring from the bottle. If bottled beer is allowed to sit and condition properly, given time the yeast and other solids in suspension will settle to the bottom and create a fairly tight sediment in the base of the bottle. Upon opening a careful pour should leave much of it behind. I just pour slowly and watch the beer coming out of the bottle As soon as I see a little trail of sediment coming down the neck I stop pouring. This does mean that to pour the clearest beer you are serving maybe only 10oz of a 12oz bottle...

Allowing the beer to sit in primary a little longer than most texts recommend achieved the same thing as secondary. Which is allows more stuff to settle to the bottom.

Lastly, the less stuff you transfer from the fermentor (primary or secondary) into the bottling bucket obviously limits the stuff that will need to settle out in the bottle too.

Gelatin fining is a good idea to but it really works at its best if you can chill the whole fermentor down to near serving temps prior to adding the gelatin (or any fining agent for that matter).

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In my experience, the biggest cause of non-clear beer in your glass is chill haze. You can rush from fermentation being complete to bottling, without any significant "conditioning" time, and the beer in the bottles will become crystal clear quite soon. But put those bottles in the fridge and you'll have chill haze by the time the beer is at drinking temperature. Leave that same beer in the fridge for a few weeks and it will likely be very clear.

This will all be true too if you let a beer settle at about room temperature for several weeks, with or without racking to a secondary.

So I'd say that getting a clear beer isn't so much about racking out of the primary or not, but rather what are the conditions (particularly temperature) of the beer after fermentation.

I don't do much cold-conditioning myself, but I'd say if you really want clear beer, and you have the means to do so, rack to a secondary and keep it at near-freezing temperature for about 2 weeks.

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There are a variety of techniques to clarify beer. Filtering is the quickest method but will strip out the yeast you need for natural carbonation, and potentially also some flavor compounds. Finings (gelatin, isinglass, others) will help large particles drop out; I'd recommend reading posts here about finings and/or talking to your LHBS about techniques with finings.

Settling over time is the easiest, as it requires no additional equipment. Chilling the finished beer can help, but make sure to do so slowly and not to freeze the beer, in order to protect the remaining yeast in suspension from death and stress.

You may transfer to secondary to help with settling, I have done this in the past for longer clarifying (two weeks) of low-flocculating strains. Mind that the act of transferring is going to stir up sediment, and is not truly necessary.

The best method is to leave your beer in the primary fermenter for a couple of weeks until it is clear, and then gently siphon from the top to a bottling bucket or keg, doing your best not to disturb the sediment as you go.

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Racking to secondary most definitely helps with clarity, if you are unwilling (or unable) to rack to a secondary another great option is using gelatin to clear up the brew.

  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp gelatin

Heat the two ingredients together in a microwave (most recommend 15 sec increments) shoot for about 150F and then stir to dissolve the gelatin into the water.

Once its fully dissolved you can dump it into your fermenter, gently stir and wait for nice clear beer.

Gelatin works best in a cold environment and you could clear it up nice within two days or so. If you cant store cold, you may need to wait a week for the gelatin to do its thing.

Cheers!

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Racking to secondary and letting it sit for a few more days or a week can improve clarity slightly but is by no means necessary. It will however make things easier to bottle without stirring up sediment in the process. If you're careful you can bottle straight from primary with about the same results.

I'm guessing since this is your first brew that you will be carbonating naturally in the bottles? In this case, even if your beer is extremely clear when you bottle, the yeast still have to eat and multiply quite a few times before carbonation is complete, so you're going to have sediment either way. The only way around that is to force-carb which requires a bit more equipment (keg, CO2 tank, beer gun) but affords you the ability to filter your beer and have it ready to drink immediately, and avoids bottle bombs or undercarbonation.

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