Beer — the Second Movement

15 Oct

Just last week I began the process of brewing a batch of White House Honey Porter.  In writing about that project, I promised that it would ultimately comprise a movement in three parts.  The first movement, the brewing itself, was probably the most exciting of the three.  Once that step was completed, I largely became a passive spectator.  It was up to the yeast to do the heavy lifting from then on.

And it took to that task with gusto.

Over the course of the past week, my airlock bubbled furiously as the yeast began to consume all of the sugars contained in the wort.  By this weekend though, it had stopped, meaning it was time for movement number two: transferring the beer to the secondary fermenter. (If you’re keeping track, it was a busy weekend.  I also grilled up some delicious Honey Ginger Pork Tenderloin.)

Siphoning into the secondary fermenter.

I have found that a secondary fermentation is a crucial step to obtaining a high quality finished product.  Sure, you can skip this step and still end up with a fine tasting beverage in the end.  But the extra rest in the secondary fermenter helps to take your beer to another level.

Both the final appearance and the taste will benefit from the extended rest.  You’ll find that the visual clarity of your beer is greater.  The flavor of the beer will also be clearer; it will be free from some of the muddying flavors common to some homebrews.  Rightly or wrongly, I attribute these characteristics of my beers to their secondary fermentation.

I use a glass carboy, which is not permeable in the way that plastic is.  So there’s less chance for flavors to pass in and out of the beer.  Additionally, you separate your beer from the cold-break that’s left in the bottom of your primary.  Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I can’t help but believe that beer’s better when it hasn’t spent a bunch of time sitting on a big pile of mud-like sludge.

The carboy is sealed and ready to sit for a lengthy secondary fermentation.

Once your beer is in the secondary, I counsel patience.  There’s no real rush at this point—and with a glass carboy, the long sit won’t do the beer any harm.  It’s probably just coincidence, but the best beers I’ve ever made have been the ones that have sat in the carboy the longest.

Which, I suppose is a roundabout way of saying that while these two beer-brewing movements have piled quickly one right after another, the third is still a long way off.


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