I’ve officially had my first failure as a home brewer. It only took my second try to taste the bitter beer of defeat. In all honesty, I shouldn’t have even bottled it as I had questioned its progress just days after I racked it into the secondary. Ah yes, the secondary. I am going to go ahead and blame the secondary.
I’ve heard a lot of different opinions on using a secondary. Some say you should always use one for clarity to allow sediment to settle. Others say the only time you should use one is when you’re dry hopping or including an additive after primary. I decided to try it since brewing beer is all about experimenting.
Shortly after a successful first batch of an extract American Pale Ale, I rushed out and bought another Brewer’s Best kit for a Summer Ale. With my first kit, I went the quick route — two weeks primary then straight to bottles for a quick two week conditioning. It was good, but I wanted to try a secondary as my first batch did have some sediment and “floaters” with the occasional sour beer. I regretted it almost immediately. Minutes after racking the beer into the secondary, the wort started to turn dark from the top of the secondary then slowly down. I am almost positive my secondary (a five gallon glass carboy) allowed for too much oxygen to come in contact with the wort, causing it to oxidize.
As the days passed, the wort got darker and darker. My fears were confirmed two weeks later when I racked it into my bottling bucket and sampled a bit; skunk-o-rama. I decided to bottle a case worth just in case and dumped the rest. More time passed and I cracked one open. Nope, still skunk. Perhaps I didn’t sanitize the secondary enough? Could be, but as a candidate for OCD and being an insanely methodical person, that didn’t seem to be the culprit, although possible. I am sticking with oxidation. Despite the turn out, I must say, that was some damn clear and sediment free beer.
It didn’t take long for me to get back on the brewing horse though. Days later, I purchased a Pumpkin Spice Porter from Brew Camp. I went with three weeks primary then into bottles which are now conditioning in my closet. I cracked one open this weekend to test and it’s pretty darn good. It might be a bit over carbonated which, at the early stages of my home brewing experience and with using extract kits, I’m not 100% sure how to regulate such a variable.
I think I’ll steer clear of secondary fermenters until I get a better idea of when, why and what type I should use. If I do decide to use one again, I may give the three gallon “Better Bottle” plastic carboy a try as I’ve read that you need a smaller vessel in order to avoid oxidation. Trial and error seems to be part of the game. At this point, I’ve got endless amounts to learn about home brewing and so far, it’s been very fun and rewarding figuring out what works, what doesn’t and listening to the advice of others.