Saturday, March 5, 2011

amber ipa - secondary fermentation

about two weeks out from starting the ale, the airlock has stopped bubbling and its time to transfer my beer to a secondary fermenter to mature for another month. i start by sanitizing my secondary fermenter. i use the plastic 5 gallon bucket for primary fermentation and move to the 5 gallon glass carboy for secondary fermentation. usually i use an oxidizing powder to sanitize since you don't have to rinse before adding your beer. because i ran out, i am just using household bleach. i pour about a cup into the carboy and fill the rest with water, then get the siphon running to clear any contaminants.

 i rinse several times before i start transferring the beer. i probably over-rinse but i'm always concerned i will kill my yeast. in all reality, the amount of bleach left after even one rinse would be diluted to practically nothing in 5 gallons of beer, but i still don't take any chances.

opening the primary fermenter is one of my favorite steps. the immediate aroma of the immature beer with all of the hops that have been stewing together for the first two weeks is extremely refreshing.

the newly sanitized, and obsessively rinsed siphon is then gently dipped into my primary fermenter. i usually only put it in to a depth of 6-7 cm. this avoids any floating hops as well as all of the sludge on the bottom of the bucket, which i will talk about later.

 i place the primary fermentation (in the bucket) on the counter before i start sanitizing to allow time for everything to settle to the bottom. once the glass carboy is sanitized and rinsed, i place it on the floor below. with a couple quick pumps of the siphon in the primary fermenter the vacuum has been started and gravity does the rest.

i carefully continue to lower the siphon into my beer in the primary fermenter as the level falls.

the reason for the gradual approach is that two weeks of fermentation have left a sludge of hops, specialty grain or barleycorn pieces, proteins, and mostly dead yeast cells at the bottom the fermenter (most of the living ones are still floating in the beer. in fact, ales, which ferment around room temperature, ferment towards the top as opposed to lagers, which ferment at cold temperatures and ferment towards the bottom). this sludge is what i would use if i wanted to propagate my yeast (though i have read it is better to start propagating yeast from the end of the secondary fermentation since it wont contain the hops or other particulate matter) but i have not started doing this yet.

it is important to stop siphoning before you start to suck all of this into the secondary fermenter if you want a cleaner product. at the same time, i don't worry if some gets transferred since there is always the last transfer to a bottling bucket that allows yet another chance to purify before the final product.

next i add the sanitized airlock and place the ale in a dark place (since light adversely affects taste)

in the last step i taste some of the remnant beer remaining on top of the sludge in the bucket. sure it is flat, but you know right away if you made a mistake. hasn't happened yet. it tastes crisp, very hoppy and immaturely bitter, pungently alcoholic (this will end around 9%), and has a caramel finish. the other flavors will come with time, but i can tell it is going to be a good one. my wife agrees.

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