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I am still rather beginner (so far a couple of batches), but for the last batch I have taken a brave (irresponsible) step and went for a barley wine-braggot beer. For batch of 22 l In have used +- 6 kg of pale extract, 1 kg of specialty grains (crystal + a bit of chocolate malt) and after 3 days added 2 kg of pasteurized honey into the primary. Fermented with Magrove's Jack Newcastle yeast, keeping it at 19-20 degrees. rack it into secondary for another month and then bottle - but it was based partly on reading, partly on guess. As I am reading into it, I am staring to hesitate. The thing is, I have only a plastic secondary (a large thin-walled plastic bottle you can buy water in for a water cooler) and I am not sure, is it better to rack into thin plastic secondary, or go for bottle conditioning? Also, how long is usually necessary in secondary? I know the longer the better, but when can I more or less expect for the edges to smooth a bit?

Thx for your experience...

Cheers

  • It can take a long time to smooth out the taste of a big beer. Sometimes a month in secondary and even longer in bottles. Your water jug is an appropriate vessel. – BoilerBrad Oct 23 '15 at 11:43
  • I'm not answering this question because I think answers below are better, but I'd add: if you don't do secondary, minimum time in primary is is when gravity stops dropping. If you don't want to take measurements, I say give it at least two weeks in primary. I think there are really two conditions when you ever strictly need a secondary: [1] lagering and [2] dry hopping or adding adjuncts to the secondary for flavor. I never did barleywine before, but I believe the style is notable for emphasis bottle aging, so that's probably what I'd do (preferably with big bottles). – Bolwerk Oct 23 '15 at 17:28
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I usually keep in primary 1-2 weeks, depending on the strength, then even if using a plastic secondary will usually rack it in for a couple of weeks just help it clear out a bit more, then bottle. The time in the bottle being potentially months, will do far more for mellowing out and blending flavours, than a couple of weeks here or there in the secondary.

If I am planning to keep it in the secondary for more than 4 weeks I will tend to use my glass carboy, just so that when I am lazy and leave it there a month too long it is still ok.

Saying that, I have left brews in the plastic secondary for up to 6 weeks before and they were still drinkable, I went on holiday and forgot to bottle before. I bottled when I got back and it was not adversely affected by having sat there for a couple of months over winter.

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Some home brewers swear by secondary fermentations. Some home brewers swear by only primary fermentation. Personally, I always rack my brews into a secondary vessel after the initial vigorous fermentation is done. At that point, most of the yeast and proteins have coagulated and sunken to the bottom of the carboy. Sometimes there is a nice layer of krausen scuzz remaining on the top of the beer and lining the sides of the fermenter. I've had beers ruined before by sitting in this mess for too long - especially big beers with high alcohol. The trub in the fermenter is basically dead/dormant/weakened yeast cells, fatty acids, and protein. The beer can pick up a soapy taste by being in contact with it for too long.

Is there a magic number of days or hours that dictates when to rack to secondary? - No. After the bubbles in your airlock slow to a crawl (1 per minute or so) is an accurate enough measurement for most people. At that point most alcohol producing fermentation activity is over. You can confirm with a gravity reading if you like.

Racking the beer to the secondary (leaving behind as much sludge as possible) will allow the yeast suspended in your beer to clean up after the massive party it just had in the primary. Be sure to not disturb the trub or splash the beer around too much. The amount of time in secondary is best determined by the taste and to some point, the clarity you desire. Although, if your beer tastes the way you want and it is not yet clear enough, there are ways to speed that along like cold-crashing.

Another advantage of secondary fermentation is that it frees up your primary for another beer :) Who couldn't use more beer in their life?

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For a big beer like that, I usually do a month in primary and at least a month in secondary. I haven't had any trouble using those plastic water bottles for extended secondary fermentations. My biggest concern with those bottles is that they might allow oxygen in, but I almost always bottle condition my big beers for a few months, and the yeast in the bottles will scavenge any oxygen.

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    This is good basic advice, but keep in mind that the beer dictates the schedule...the calendar doesn't. Take gravity readings and taste the sample afterwards. That's the only way to know for certain. – Denny Conn Jul 24 '15 at 20:00
  • Good point. I said how long it usually takes, but neglected to say how to know when the beer is ready to go to the next phase. – Josh Davis Jul 24 '15 at 22:58
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It's not about time

It's about what's happening. For secondary, some claim it's not needed at all. If you think you need it, wait until the foam disappears, and rate of OG drop will slow down significantly, under 1°Blg every two days, I'd say. For starting gravity around 20°Blg I would guess it will be about 3 to 5 weeks.

When to finish secondary? Or fermentation at all if you don't do secondary? Well, for me it's when OG does not change for few days. With high gravity beer - when it does not change for a week

Consider Fast Fermentation Test - take a sample of your wort, add a lot of pressed baking yeast, keep in warm place. See the final gravity after a day or two. It will be around the gravity you should want expect from your beer. if it's higher, but does not continue to fall down, you might have stalled fermentation and bottling might be dangerous.

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