How long should I leave my beer in Primary Fermentation?
Many people state that two weeks is enough time. In some cases, this is true, in other cases it is not. Yeast is crafty and not always predictable. The only true and reliable way to absolutely know that fermentation is complete is to take consecutive hydrometer readings. A rule of thumb that we like to go by is to take a hydrometer reading 7-10 days into fermentation (7-10 days after the yeast has been pitched) and record your reading. Wait another 2-3 days and take another reading with your hydrometer. If the initial reading matches this second reading, you know that the beer is done fermenting. It is now safe to rack the beer into your keg/secondary fermentor/bottling bucket.
Though it can be an easy way to check, airlock activity (bubbling) is not a reliable way to judge whether or not fermentation is complete. In some cases, there may be a crack or leak somewhere in the fermentation vessel where the CO2 might be escaping, thus not causing any activity in the airlock. Always use your hydrometer to judge whether or not fermentation is complete!
Do I need to do a Secondary Fermentation?
This is a widely debated topic in the world of home brewing. Utilizing a secondary fermentor has it’s benefits, but it also has it’s drawbacks.
Note: The quality of yeast that we home brewers have access to these days has greatly increased over the past few years, thus eliminating the necessity of transferring your beer into a secondary fermentor IN SOME INSTANCES. Whether or not you will need to rack your beer from the primary into the secondary all depends on what kind of beer you are brewing.
Benefits of a Secondary
- You will most likely end up with a clearer beer in the end. This is because you would be racking the beer off of the yeast cake and trub (goop at the bottom of your primary fermentor), thus giving you less unwanted material in the finished product when it comes time to rack the beer into your bottling bucket or keg.
- Bulk-aging high gravity beers. If you are brewing something with a high alcohol content, we recommend utilizing a secondary fermentor. High alcohol beers need more time to condition than low or average ABV beers. Leaving your beer in secondary for a month or so before bottling/kegging tends to result in a smoother, more enjoyable final product. Essentially, you are giving the flavors time to “marry” or mature in the secondary fermentor.
- If you plan on aging the beer on any kind of adjunct, such as fruit or oak, it is a good idea to do this in the secondary fermentor. There will be less yeast in suspension that may strip the flavors of those adjuncts.
Drawbacks of a Secondary
- Possible introduction of unwanted bacteria/wild yeast. When you rack your beer to secondary, you are adding another step in the process in which the beer is exposed to the elements. Always be extra careful/sanitary when you are racking your beer to a secondary vessel.
- Introduction of oxygen to the beer. This is pretty much unavoidable when racking your beer. Oxygen is one of beer’s worst enemies after the fermentation process has begun. Oxygen can be detrimental to the hop character of your beer. If you are brewing a hop-forward beer, we suggest that you do not rack that beer to a secondary.
Whether or not you do decide to utilize a secondary fermentor, it is always a good idea to start up another batch, that way you don’t have to wait so long in-between.
When will my delicious beer be ready to put in bottles and when can I drink it?
If you have racked the beer to a secondary, the beer should be ready to bottle within 1-2 weeks. From the time the beer is bottled and capped, the beer should typically be finished naturally carbonating within about 2 weeks. This rule of ‘2 weeks to carbonate’ also depends on the temperature that you are storing the carbonating beer. The ideal temperature range would be 68-72 degrees F. If you are storing the beer a little cooler, it may take a bit longer to carbonate. If you are storing the beer a bit warmer, it may carbonate a little quicker. We recommend trying to keep the beer between 68-72 degrees in a dark place for 2 weeks, for a nice, steady carbonation process.
After about 2 weeks, you should grab a couple bottles and throw them in the fridge. This will halt the carbonation process and allow the yeast to drop to the bottom of the bottle. After the bottles have been in the fridge for about 24 hours, crack one open to see how well-carbonated it is. If the beer is at your desired level of carbonation, feel free to throw the rest of the bottles in the fridge and enjoy the fruits of your labor once they have chilled for about 24 hrs.
If you are racking your beer from the primary straight to the bottling bucket, you will need to make sure that the beer is completely done fermenting. How do we do this?… With multiple hydrometer readings! In most cases, your beer should be done fermenting (at Terminal/Final Gravity) within the first 1-2 weeks from when the yeast was pitched. As stated before, this is not always the case. Yeast is very crafty and, oftentimes, very unpredictable. If your beer is not done fermenting, and you bottle the beer, there is a good chance you will end up with bottle bombs (ie. exploding bottles). Bottle bombs are very dangerous and can cause serious damage to anyone or anything in the vicinity of those bottles when they decide to explode. This is one of the most important reasons for you to learn to use your hydrometer.
If your beer is in fact at it’s final gravity, the beer is technically safe to bottle. However, we recommend giving the beer an additional week or so in the fermentor. This will allow the yeast to clean up any off-flavors that may have been produced during the vigorous primary fermentation. This would also be the time for you to add any dry hop additions that your recipe might call for. After that additional week in the primary, follow the directions for bottling as discussed earlier in this section.
How much Priming Sugar should I use?
This chart is a guideline based on style from Drew Beechum’s book “The Everything Homebrewing Book”. It illustrates the amount of priming sugar you will need in order to carbonate your beer to the correct/desired level of Co2. Different styles of beer require different levels of carbonation. I.E. – Stouts and porters are typically less carbonated than something like an IPA or saison. This means that different styles will require varying amounts of priming sugar. The chart below is based on 5 gallons (most common batch size for home brewers) of beer to be bottled. So, for example, if we’re bottling 5 gallons of stout, we would need about 3 oz of priming sugar (right around 2.0 volume of Co2). If we’re bottling 5 gallons of IPA, we would need about 4 oz of priming sugar (right around 2.5 volume of Co2).
The most effective way to prime your beer for bottling is to add your priming solution to the bottling bucket prior to racking the beer into it. Here’s a step-by-step process to follow when bottling day comes:
- Add 2 cups of water to a small, clean stock pot.
- Measure out your desired amount of dextrose (priming sugar) and mix it into the 2 cups of water.
- Bring the solution to a boil and let it boil for about a minute. This will sterilize the solution. Be sure that the sugar is well mixed into the water in order to avoid scorching of the sugar.
- While your solution cools down, start preparing your bottles, auto siphon, bottling bucket etc. I always like to have a fresh bucket of sanitizer handy on bottling day. Make sure that anything that will come into contact with your beer is clean and free of any debris.
- Sanitize EVERYTHING that will touch the beer: auto siphon, tubing, bottling bucket, the bottles themselves, bottle caps, bottling spigot, bottle filler… EVERYTHING.
- Make sure the spigot on your bottling bucket is CLOSED.
- Gently pour your priming solution into the bottling bucket.
- Rack your beer into the bottling bucket so that it mixes with the priming solution. If you can, try to get the end of the racking tube (outlet) to be submerged under the priming solution in order to avoid any splashing. This will decrease the amount of oxygen in the beer, and result in a better finished product.
- Now that the priming solution is evenly mixed into your beer, you can start to fill your bottles. Using your bottle filler, fill the bottles as close to the top as you can get without spilling over. When you remove the full bottle from the bottle filler, you should have a perfectly filled bottle of beer (beer line about 2 inches from the top of the bottle).
- Cap the bottle using your wing capper/bench capper (using a sanitized cap, of course). If you cannot twist the cap with your hand, then you know it is properly secured and the beer will carbonate. Repeat until all of your beer is bottled.
- Clean all of your equipment once you are done filling the bottles. It’s always best to clean equipment after use, and then sanitize before use.
How do I care for my ingredients before I use them and what is the shelf life?
When you take your ingredients home and are not going to brew right away, proper storage is very important. Hops go in the freezer and your yeast should go into the refrigerator. Grains should be kept in a cool dark place like an airtight bag or bucket.
What does OG and FG stand for and why do I care?
OG stands for Original Gravity (specific gravity measured before pitching/adding the yeast) and FG stands for Final Gravity (Terminal Gravity measured once fermentation is complete) and are measured with your hydrometer. These two measurements are important to know only if you are concerned with knowing the amount of alcohol, efficiency of your system, or when it is time to transfer your beer into secondary fermentation or your bottling bucket. In a nutshell, it measures the amount of sugar in the wort. For All Grain brewers it is also a way to measure the efficiency of your system (amount of actual sugar extracted from the grain). It may also be the first question we ask when trouble shooting a problem with a batch. The Final Gravity (FG) is a target measurement to see how efficient your yeast converted the sugar to alcohol. If you hit or come close to the FG by reading your hydrometer you then know that it is time to move your beer into secondary fermentation (or your bottling bucket, if you choose to skip the secondary) and that your yeast did their job. Well done.
Do you refill Co2 tanks?
Yes! We refill Co2!