AcknowledgementsEquipmentGlossary

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Chapter 8 - Fermentation

8.2.3 Conditioning Phase

The reactions that take place during the conditioning phase are primarily a function of the yeast. The vigorous attenuation stage is over, the majority of the wort sugars have been converted to alcohol, and a lot of the yeast cells are going dormant - but most are still active.

The Conditioning Phase allows for the slow reduction of the remaining fermentables. The yeast have eaten most all of the easily fermentable sugars and now start to turn their attention elsewhere. The yeast start to work on the heavier sugars like maltotriose. Also, the yeast clean up some of the byproducts they produced during the fast-paced primary phase. But this stage has its dark side too.

Under some conditions, the dormant yeast on the bottom of the fermentor begin dying and excreting more amino and fatty acids. Leaving the post-primary beer on the trub and yeast cake for too long (more than about six weeks) will tend to result in soapy and/or meaty (ham-like) flavors becoming evident. This autolysis of the yeast used to be more common when homebrewing 20 years ago, but rarely happens nowadays due to better yeast handling practices at home brewing supply shops and better yeast quality overall.

Leaving an ale beer in the primary fermentor for a total of 2-3 weeks versus one when using single stage fermentation (i.e. not using a secondary fermentor) will provide time for the conditioning reactions and improve the finished beer. The extra time will also let more sediment settle out before bottling, resulting in a clearer beer and easier pouring.

As a general rule, do not rack the beer to a secondary fermenter unless you are conducting a secondary fermentation with new fermentables, such as fruit or are souring a beer by adding a bacterial culture. The risk of oxidation and staling of the beer is greater than the risk of autolysis from the beer sitting on the yeast until it is time to bottle or keg it.

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