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Initial and Secondary Fermentation

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Initial and Secondary Fermentation

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About 24 hours after you pitched your yeast, maybe less, maybe more, you'll see signs of your yeast working as the cells multiply, and foam will appear and 'crust' on top of your wort. Some brewers, myself included, skim this stuff off the top of the wort with a sterilised spoon, but many brewers don't bother and simply let this crud sink back into the wort. It's not crucial to skim so it's really up to you as to whether you do it; I just feel sterile conditions are vital and this crust can't be all that sterile as it's been sitting out of the liquid for some hours getting brown with age, so I feel better for getting rid of it. Although if you decide to skim with a spoon that isn't sterile, you'll end up introducing much more harmful bacteria than you get rid of.

If you like messing with a hydrometer, initial fermentation has ended when the reading bottoms out and remains constant, say at 1010 or 1012. If like me you can't be bothered with all that, simply leave the wort alone for one week and you can safely assume initial fermentation has ended. So apart from a skim or two, or none, depending on how you feel, absolutely no work was needed from you during the initial fermentation.

Time to move on to the secondary fermentation...

transferring from initial to secondary where the beer will sit in a sterilised fermentation bin for 2 weeks.

 

Take a sterilised fermentation bin and syphon off the wort into it, taking care not to get any of the crud in the new bin - the crud which has settled at the bottom of the bin in a layer about an inch thick (yet more stuff for your compost heap). (Some brewers use some of this crud to harvest yeast from, but this is an advanced step so forget it for now.)

make sure you leave the sludge behind when transferring into secondary.

 

 

 

 

 

Not much fermentation takes place during what is called the secondary fermentation; this is really a stage in which the beer is conditioned, simply by leaving it alone so yet more crud drops out of the solution. Although I've seen many recipes (mainly American) which call for a secondary fermentation of very long and very precise periods (e.g. 49 days, 56 days, 61 days) I personally have never felt the need for the secondary fermentation to last more than two weeks, unless very strong 'Barley Wine' type beers are being brewed. I have asked around fellow brewers as to why some American brewers insist on such a long (and such a defined) period of secondary fermentation, but no one was able to come up with an answer. "Perhaps the recipes have been written by people who don't know what they're doing", was one suggestion I received; I couldn't possibly comment.

We're on the last lap now; the beer has undergone the initial fermentation and been conditioned for two weeks in the secondary. What happens next depends on how you like your beer - bottled or kegged (in something called a Cornelius Keg). First of all let's take a detailed look at how we bottle beers...

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