Don't Transfer Your
Beer to Secondary (Unless you need/want to*)
For most beers, you really don't need to transfer to a
secondary fermenter. I just leave my beers in primary
for a few (3-5) weeks until I've got a few to keg and then I
take care of them all at once. Since I keg, a little
bit of sediment really isn't an issue if I happen to
transfer some yeast and/or trub over. I could see a
somewhat valid argument for people who are bottling, but
even then, they're already transferring into a bottling
bucket (typically), so that will reduce the amount of trub
transferred. I'm too lazy to add an additional step
that I don't find necessary for the majority of my beers.
I even dry-hop in the primary by just popping the top,
sprinkling on the dry hops, and putting the lid back on.
* About the only time I transfer a beer into
secondary is if I'm planning on aging the beer for a longer
amount of time, oaking, or
adding fruit and/or spices. This allows me to rack the
beer on top of whatever I'm flavoring with to get everything
well integrated. Other than that, all my beer goes
straight from primary to keg.
I really never wanted to use glass fermenters. They're
heavy, easily breakable, and a general pain in the ass.
You never read about someone severing tendons in the
hands/arms or requiring stitches when they break a plastic
bucket. I have several plastic buckets that I've been
using for years without any issues. When the bucket
starts getting stained or a little old, I'll either start
using it for my sour ales or repurpose it for grain or other
things. The old argument was that plastic was
oxygen-permeable whereas glass was not. I've never
experienced oxidation in any of my beers, even ones that
have been in primary for over 3 months. It's just not
that big of an issue. And if you're worried about it,
go with better bottles or big mouth bubblers. On the rare occasion that I
transfer a beer to a secondary fermenter, I use a 5 gallon
better bottle. They have roughly the same properties
of glass, but won't break as easily. Here are a few
options that should fit your needs:
**UPDATE 2/27/2017 - The overall quality and variety of dry
yeast continues to improve. Since I brew mostly American
ales, I typically use Fermentis US-05, but I have
experimented with their different specialty strains, along
with dried varieties from Lallemand & Mangrove Jack with
great results. That being said, liquid yeast strains still
have an edge over dried versions for the sheer number of
different variety available.**
Don't get me wrong, I've used my fair share of dry yeast
over the years. In fact, I still use US-05 a ton for
my American-style ales and some higher-gravity beers when
I'm too lazy to make a starter. But if you're looking
to make an authentic beer like a German weizen or Belgian
Dark Strong for example, liquid yeast is the best way to go
to get the proper flavor profiles. Dry yeast has come
a long way over the years, and by far my favorites are the
Fermentis products, but they've only been able to get a few
different yeast strains to survive the freeze-drying
process. With liquid yeast, you have a huge variety of
strains to choose from (See Jamil's list for what yeast
strain came from what brewery
The only downside to using liquid yeast is that you should
make a starter if you're brewing anything over a starting
gravity of 1.040 or so. I suppose the cost would be
another downside, but that's why I
Save & Reuse my yeast.
Temperature Control is one of the most important aspects of
brewing. A lot of people don't pay close enough
attention to what temperature they're fermenting at which
can cause some pretty major off-flavors in the finished
beer. First off, get one of those temperature stickers
for each one of your fermenters. This will give you a
rough estimate of what temperature your beer's fermenting
at. Second, remember that fermentation generates heat,
so if the room you have your beer in is at 68 degrees, your
beer will probably climb into the lower to mid 70's at the
peak of fermentation. This is where a temperature
Fermentation Fridge or Freezer comes in handy, especially in the summer.
I set my temperature-controlled freezer to around 60 for all my standard ales
which allows me to ferment around 65-68 degrees. This
produces very low esters and fruity flavors. If I'm
doing a Belgian or other more yeast-driven beers, I may
increase the temp by a few degrees to get into the low 70's.
It just depends on the beers. Here are a few links to
temperature controllers that will make this process much
The major thing I want to stress here is removing any
chlorine and/or chloramine from your water before you brew.
This can be done with whole-house filters, but requires you
to filter cold and slow to get the desired results. I
prefer to take a simpler approach. Since I like
starting with hot water when I brew, I just treat my water
with campden tablets that you can pick up from any homebrew
store. One tablet will treat up to 20 gallons of
water, so for my typical all-grain batch, I will use 1/4 a
tablet in my mash water and 1/4 in my sparge water.
Just cut the tablet in half and then half again and crush it
up. This is supposed to clean up both chlorine and
chloramine from your water.
The only other way I treat my water is when I'm brewing
darker beers like stouts and porters. My water is
fairly soft, and without treating the water for darker
beers, I've found there to be some sharp acrid notes due to
what I'm guessing are PH issues. Everyone's water is
different, but for my water, I'll usually add about 1 tsp of
both chalk and baking soda to my mash in order to harden up
the water a bit. If this is something you'd like to
play with, I would suggest contacting the water lab for your
area and see if you can get the necessary information from
them. Or, you could send a sample of your water in to
Ward Labs or the various other water testing places listed
in the average homebrew magazine. They will give you
the numbers that are important to brewing, and then you can
plug that into brewing software like Beersmith or Pro Mash.
Like I mentioned, everyone's water is different, so don't
just start adding stuff to your water randomly.
Clear Beer with Gelatin
If you want really clear beer without too much effort, then
gelatin is the method for you. I still use Irish moss
during the boil in my beers, but fining with gelatin is an
extra step if you really want brilliantly clear beer.
Think beer competition or just showing off to your friends.
I have only tried this method with kegged beer, but I would
guess you could try something similar with your beer while
it's in the primary or secondary before you bottle.
I've tried to include a few guesses below of how the process
would work for bottling.
ferment your beer as normal.
a keg and store in either your kegerator or a
fridge/freezer that is set to around 32-34 degrees.
Wait a day
or two for your beer to chill to serving temperature.
cup water in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring cup.
Add 1 tsp
of food-grade gelatin to the boiling liquid and whisk to
gelatin mixture (hot is fine) to the keg, re-pressurize,
and shake thoroughly to combine.
carbonate and get ready for brilliantly clear beer -
NOTE: your first pour may be a little "gunky" from the
material that the gelatin dropped out of solution.