Let’s brew: racking to the secondary

one more angle

It has been a couple weeks since we brewed our all-grain red rye, and it’s about time we transfer (aka ‘rack’) the brew from the primary fermentor to the secondary. Compared to the mashing and boiling we did last article, this should be a breeze.

If you want to, check out the all grain brewing demo to catch up on how we got to this point.

This is by no means a required step in the brewing process. It will help to clear the beer by leaving behind as much spent yeast as possible, but it won’t really make or break the beer. If you don’t have the means for a secondary, then just sit back and relax. However, if you do want to give the secondary a go, here is what you will need:


1. A secondary fermentor.

This can be a bucket, a glass carboy, or any other vessel suitable for fermentation. You will also need an airlock just like the primary fermentor (use the same one if you want to). I am partial to the carboy for my secondary action.

2. Siphoning Equipment.

Generally a racking cane (hard plastic tube usually equipped with a filter cap on one end) and a tube. Auto siphons are popular as well, and are essentially a fancy racking cane.

racking cane:
this is a racking cane

auto siphon:
this is an auto siphon

That’s about it for the equipment. We are going to be dry hopping this red ale, so we’ll secure some more Aramillo hops as well.

A brief run down of what we will be doing: cleaning, sanitizing, siphoning, dry-hopping, cleaning. Easy, right? Let’s go:

Cleaning and Sanitizing

Like last time, this is not the most fun or interesting part of our job, but its crucial.

1. Getting things sanitized

I scrubbed out my carboy with some hot water and then let it soak in a Idphor solution for a few minutes:

sanitizing the carboy and siphoning gear toss in the siphoning gear too, just make sure can get it back out!

suck some solution throughout the hose to and hold it for a minute to maske sure its sanitized:
sanitizing the siphoning hose

As you drain the solution from your freshly sanitized fermentor, save a little in a large bowl to sanitize your airlock.

pouring sanitizer, part one pouring sanitizer, part two

If you are using a bucket or other wide mouthed container for your secondary, you could just toss them in while you are sanitizing the fermentor. I don’t recommend stuffing them into your carboy though.

2. Drying

Now it’s time to let things dry. Usually an hour or so if you can spare it. I hang the siphoning gear from the shower curtain rod to drip dry

drip, drip, drip


After our gear is more or less dry, we can start the siphoning.

1 Background on siphoning

Siphoning is moving a body of liquid from one container to another by leveraging its ‘desire’ to find an equal level of pressure. Basically, it’s taking container full of liquid, placing it higher above a destination container, and using a tube to start the flow of liquid from the higher container to the lower one. Once the flow is started, it will continue until both container’s liquid share the same level. If we make sure to raise the higher container above the top of the lower one then all the liquid from the higher container with theoretically be transferred to the lower.

I say theoretically because we are going to be dealing with a bunch of sediment from the primary fermentation process that can clog our siphon, and will retain some of the liquid. That’s ok, if our siphon gets stuck, we just start it again. And there is no need to suck the sediment dry… remember our goal is to leave as much sediment behind.

2. Prepare your fermentors

So let’s get ready by putting the primary on a table (or chair or anything taller than the secondary fermentor), and the secondary on the ground (or anywhere under the bottom of the primary. Just make sure your racking cane/hose combination is long enough to go from the bottom of the primary to the bottom-ish of your secondary.

You can go ahead and pop off the air lock from your primary just before we get our siphon ready.

2. Start the Siphon

For this example, I am going to use a regular old racking cane and tube, not an auto-siphon. After trying many ‘sanitary’ means of starting my siphon (read: not using my mouth), I have determined that using my mouth is a) muuuuuuch easier, b) free (no auto siphon needed) and c) not going to contaminate my beer.

If you are skeptical about sanitation, feel free to come up with your own way of starting your siphon. All you really need is to fill you racking cane and tube with water. Even if you decide to use you mouth, you can wipe off the part you sucked on with a light sanitizer solution after you are finished.

I like to take a glass of water, put it on the ground (or a low table), sick the end of the racking cane into it, suck on the other end of the hose until both the cane and the hose are filled with water and cap of the end I suck on with my thumb.

see the glass on the table?

Sucking the water and taking pictures at the same time is tricky!
this was a tricky shot

Now with you thumb on the end of the hose, stick the end of the racking cane into the bed of sediment in the primary. Take that glass of water we used to start the siphon and place it at an appropriate siphoning height (under the primary), hold the hose over the glass and let your thumb off. We will drain into the cup until we get a clean flow of beer (no water, and little to no sediment)

get ready to start the siphon

let the water drain out

dump the sediment we pulled up into the cup

alright, flowing clear

When the beer starts coming out clear, stop the flow with your thumb.

stop the flow with your thumb

Now take the hose over the the secondary and release your thumb, and get the hose into the secondary without making a mess. Now pause for admiration.
ooohhhhhh, aaaaaahhhhh


one more angle

At some point, be sure to pull a sample to taste. You deserve it!
sample of the ale... yum

Dry-Hopping (again)

You might remember that on brew day we dry-hopped after adding the yeast in the primary to give us a nice citrusy hop aroma. Why not add even more hops now? No complaints? Good, let’s add another ounce of Amarillos

dry hopping, part duex

dry hopping stage 2, complete

Cleaning… Cleaning…. CLEANING

Getting tired of cleaning? You’ll just have to get used to it if you want to keep on making beer. It’s really not that bad… looks a lot worse than it is.

side by side

close up on the dirty primary fermentor

I bet it’ll only take about 10 mins to get that primary looking like new again.

Congrats again, you are one more step closer to beautiful, clear, hand crafted beer.

I might check back in with a kegging demo in a few weeks when secondary fermentation is complete.

6 Responses to 'Let’s brew: racking to the secondary'

  1. Hot damn! I can’t wait to see the kegging! I thought you were only bottling…

  2. Colleen says:

    I’m impressed. Great summary, and awesome pics, too!

  3. jeff c says:

    great job on mashing demo>
    loved ur homemade sparging kit

    really informative

  4. Jeff S says:

    Nice pics. Nice content.

  5. Bob F. says:

    Super work! Your writing is great, including all the little tips and comments. I can’t wait to try all-grain. I’m thirsty;)

  6. Mark C says:

    Great pics of getting the siphon flowing without having to get a mouthfull of beer and sediment.

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