Monday, January 19, 2009

Homebrew batch transferred to secondary

Secondary FermenterIt's been 9 days since I created Batch 001 of my homebrew beer and put it into the fermenter. Today was the day I decided to rack my beer into a secondary fermenter for final conditioning before bottling day.

The beer, a modified robust porter recipe, had been in a sealed 7 gallon fermenting bucket with an airlock for nine days now. It's been about 4 days since I've seen any activity in the airlock. When opened, I found a light layer of "crust" just above the top of the beer as expected. The brew seemed to be a bit darker than I recall yet still appears to be slightly lighter in color than a typical porter.

I spent a good hour cleaning and sanitizing my equipment before the transfer. I had an auto-siphon and hose, a thief for taking a sample, and a 5-gallon Better Bottle and airlock to prepare for the transfer.

Once I was satisfied I had everything sanitized, I opened the fermenter, inserted the auto-siphon and got the flow working into the secondary (Better Bottle). The entire transfer process took about 5-7 minutes. I was careful not to disturb the yeast bed at the bottom of the fermenter.

Hopefully, the transfer process didn't get too much oxygen onto the beer, but I know the layer of CO2 that once covered it is now gone. The secondary was nearly full and minimizing head space in your secondary is a good thing.

Once the Better Bottle was full, I dropped in the "thief" to take a sample for measuring the gravity of the beer. The reading I got was 1.020 at 66 degrees F. Comparing that measurement and calculating the ABV of the beer using a calculator web site, I calculated the ABV of this beer to be about 6.3% ABV. It's about 0.4% lower than I expected but still, 6.3% was actually a bit higher than the recipe's estimate of 5.9% ABV. This may be the result of the substitution of dry malt extract for cane sugar in the recipe.

The yeast seem to have done it's job. I put a new sanitized airlock on top of the Better Bottle and put the beer back into the dark basement bathroom where it fermented. I'll wrap the bottle with a dark towel to keep the light off the beer. That basement room stays a constant 65 degrees. I'll let the brew settle out for several days before priming it for bottling. I'll target next weekend for bottling day.

These days, racking to secondary may be considered "too 1990's" to expert homebrewers. You run the risk of oxygenating the beer and introducing infection. In general, if you're looking to clear your beer before bottling, you might want to consider it, particularly in pilsners and other clearer beers. It's less important for darker beers. I did it primarily because my recipe called for it and I wanted practice in doing this step. You might also want to do this is you got a LOT of trub and hops from your boil kettle into your fermenter and don't wish to set the beer sit on that for too long. Generally, it's OK to let your beer sit in your fermenter for up to a month or so without issue.

While I didn't taste the beer at this point, I could get a good whiff of it's aroma. It had a nice sweet malty aroma. It was difficult to pick up the hops, but then again, I only had a small amount of aroma hops added at 5 minutes left in the boil. The brew is a shade lighters than standard porters and that is due to using a lighter base malt than called for.

I haven't named the brew yet. I think I will wait until I sample the first bottle before naming it. I want to be sure it tastes OK before giving it a name. It's still about 3+ weeks away from the first tasting. I can hardly wait.

Continue reading: The trials and tribulations of bottling beer.

Related articles:
- Pitching the yeast into your homebrew.
- Brewing the first batch of the year.
- Creating a yeast starter.
- Choosing a fermenter for your homebrew.

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