Conditioning the Beer

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The Beer Brewing Process
1. Preparing the Ingredients
2. Cleaning and Sanitation
3. Making the Wort
4. Boiling the Wort
5. Cooling, Racking, and Aerating
6. Pitching the Yeast
7. Primary Fermentation
8. Conditioning the Beer
9. Packaging and Carbonation
10. Dispensing and Serving

Once primary fermentation is complete there are a few optional steps that you may take to change your beer's character before priming and bottling. These include a simple secondary fermentation, an extended period of lagering or cold conditioning, or an advanced technique such as filtering, barrel aging or krausening.

Conditioning for the Beginning Homebrewer

Beginning brewers do not need to worry about conditioning. A one-stage fermentation, where the beer is bottled or kegged directly from the primary fermenter is all that is needed for most beer styles and new brewers typically do not brew lager styles or other beers that require specialized conditioning for their first few beers.

Secondary Fermentation

The term "secondary fermentation" is something of a misnomer as no fermentation is actually occurring during this stage; rather, the beer is conditioning, clearing, and bulk aging. In some cases dry hopping may also be done at this point in the process. This period allows solids and yeast to settle out (resulting in clearer beer) and for volatile compounds to mellow, while the flavors meld and evolve.

After primary fermentation is complete, the beer is transferred, or "racked", from the primary fermenter to a sanitized "secondary fermenter", typically a 5-gallon carboy with an airlock (a smaller carboy is used to reduce the headspace since less carbon dioxide is produced at this stage). Since many secondary fermenters are made of clear glass, it is important to place beer and fermenter in a dark location or to cover the fermenter in order to prevent sunlight from creating MBT in the beer and thereby giving it a skunky taste.

This clearing stage typically lasts 2 to 3 weeks for ales, although higher gravity beers may require longer time periods for conditioning. Lower temperatures (60 to 65 degrees F) are desirable during this period to aid in the clearing process. Lagers require a longer period of conditioning (a month or more) at near-freezing temperatures referred to as lagering. In certain cases, the addition of adjuncts such as oak cubes, herbs, spices or other flavorings, as well as the practice of dry-hopping, takes place in the secondary vessel.


Lagers are beers that are typically fermented at much lower temperatures than ales, and are then "cleared" for long periods of time at even lower temperatures.

{{ #if: | Main article: [[Fermenting Lagers|]] | Main article: Fermenting Lagers }}

Advanced Techniques


Filtering can take many forms, but it is something that is typically done in a commercial setting. Filtering can make bottle conditioning impossible by removing the yeast which are necessary for bottle conditioning.

Dry Hopping

Many brewers like a lot of hop aroma in their beers. Primary fermentation typically eliminates much of the hop aroma from the hops utilized in the boil, because this aroma is carried away with the carbon dioxide that is expelled from the primary fermenter. Once fermentation is done or nearly done, hops can be added to the beer and allowed to soak for a period of time. This will impart more hop flavor with no real addition of bitterness.

Secondary fermentation is also where other ingredients can be added for aroma or flavor. Honey, peppers, licorice, cinnamon bark, oak chips, fruit, bourbon, you name it, it has probably been tried by an ambitious home brewer at one time or another. As always, it is important to consider whether or not anything you add at any point has the potential to infect your beer. Secondary is a fairly safe place, there is a decent amount of alcohol, which is a natural antiseptic.


The most popular form of a blended beer today is the "Black and Tan". It is made by blending a pale ale with a dark beer such as a stout or porter. Occasionally a pale lager is used in the place of ale; this is more usually called a half-and-half.


{{ #if: | Main article: [[Krausening|]] | Main article: Krausening }}

One of the most traditional ways of carbonating beer is by adding a section of krausen from a fermenting batch of beer to the completed beer just before bottling. This is easier logistically for regular commercial or household brewers, but some home brewers krausen as well, either with another batch of fermenting beer or with some wort reserved from the original boil or created specifically for that purpose.

Wood aging

For centuries, beer has been aged and matured in wooden vessels; however, until recently, these vessels were always coated with brewer's pitch or otherwise treated so that the wood would not "contaminate" the beer. Unlike wine and whiskey, oak or wood character was not considered desirable in beer until very recently. The first modern intentionally "oaked" or Wood-Aged Beer was released in 2002, and since then craft brewers everywhere have been experimenting with wood aging.

For the home brewer, oak vessels are generally expensive and hard to work with, although small barrels are sometimes available. Wood cubes or chips are available from home wine making suppliers, and some home brewers have turned to homegrown solutions such as wooden chair legs to add a wood character as well.

Multiple Step Fermentation

White labs specifically endorses a procedure to ferment high alcohol or "BIG" beers. This involves brewing with only part of your fermentables and pitching the yeast as usual, then after a day or two of vigorous fermentation, additional wort, typically concentrated, is added. This can be repeated several times to "coax" the yeast to ferment to their full potential. Aeration is also recommended with the subsequent additions

What do I do next?

Once any necessary conditioning is finished, you are ready to move on to the final step in the beer brewing process: Packaging and Carbonation.