Friday, June 13, 2008

How long can Home Brew sit before bottling?

Boy, this is a good question and it's a question I get asked a lot. For starters, it all depends on the style of beer that you are making. I'll give you a general guideline for both ale and lager home brew. Let's start with the Ale home brew.


This is such a broad category so I'll try to break it down into some general areas. If you are fermenting a beer with an average original gravity of 1.045-1.060 then you can typically leave it sit in the primary fermenter for one month max. I don't recommend leaving it for that long, actually, I don't recommend leaving it for more than three weeks, but if you forgot about your home brew and it has been sitting for one month in primary fermentation then it's most likely still fine and drinkable. If there is any hesitation then you can use your senses and smell it and taste it. NEVER dump home brew unless you absolutely know it is contaminated! I'll come and confiscate your equipment if you do! :) Seriously, use your senses and go from there. In many cases you'd want to do a primary fermentation with an ale for 7-10 days and then a secondary for a week or two. This works great for pale ales or india pale ales because you can dry hop in secondary. There are many styles that you can bottle or keg after the 10 day mark, just make sure you take hydrometer readings to ensure that fermentation is complete before bottling (Never rely on airlock activity!). Some styles include: IPA, Pale ale, Wheat beers, Ordinary bitters or anything that is low in gravity ( i.e. 1.040-1.055).

Now, if you are doing an Ale that has a gravity higher than 1.060 then you can let it age a bit longer. People who home brew Belgian Tripels or higher gravity beers like Russian Imperial Stouts or even Imperial India Pale Ales will let them primary ferment for 2-3 weeks and then secondary ferment them for another 3-6 weeks. You really should take hydrometer readings and keep records of when fermentation is done. If fermenation is done after two weeks and it's cleared up, then you can go to bottling or kegging if you wish. Or, you can rack to secondary and let it sit for two weeks. Doing higher gravity "big" beers, some people will actually bulk age them in the carboy from 1 month up to a year or more. If you do this, make sure everything is santized well and topped up to the top of the neck of the carboy.


Lagers are a lot different from Ales. For one, you have to ferment them at lower temperatures. But I'm not going to get into all of that. Right now I'm focused on how long you can primary and secondary ferment them. Since they ferment at a lower temperature it takes them longer for primary fermentation. Typically, you want to let them primary for 3 weeks. And for a secondary, that's when you can "lager" them (hold at 33 degrees for one or two months) for 1-6 months or even longer. Again, you want to make sure you are taking hydrometer readings (DO NOT RELY ON AIR LOCK ACTIVITY!) to make sure fermentation is complete. After primary fermentation is complete with the lager you want to pull it out and bring it to room temperature for 2-5 days for a diacytl rest to clean up any kind of byproducts from primary fermentation. Once that is done it's recommended to lower the temperature by 1-2 degrees each day until you hit 33 degrees and then you can lager it for as long as you wish.

And there you have it, Homebrew Junkie's general guide to primary and secondary fermentation.


Visual Pollution said...

Good article. My friends and I recently brewed a porter and moved from primary to carboy on the 6th day, and that may have been a bit early. That was our first beer, though, and our second beer (a pale ale) we are waiting until late in day 7 before making the move to carboy.

Rusty said...

I am a first time home brewer and well i put the wort in an air tight bucket and 2 days later realized i forgot to add the yeast. i opened the bucket and added the yeast. Will this be ok or will this first batch be a waste.

Thanks for your help


Homebrew Junkie said...


As long as you didn't see any kind of fermentation going on then you should be fine, however, it's hard to say because bacteria love wort. As long as your fermentation kicks off relatively soon, you'll probably be fine. If you get any kind of funky stuff growing on it that looks like mold and it smells bad, then it may be infected. You can search the blog for infected beer to see one of my beers that got infected.

All this being said, I think you'll be fine provided everything was properly sanitized.

Rusty said...

thanks for your help and time, i hope it turns out ok ill let you know

Daloo said...

I'm making a bock beer (non-lagering) and will be traveling for 3 weeks in 2 weeks.

I plan to move to a secondary fermenter in the typical 5-6 days, and then leave it in secondary until I return, 4 weeks later. This is driven by logistics more than anything else, I'm a newbie and don't know much about brewing. I'd appreciate any insight about what will help it come out best.

Homebrew Junkie said...


You'll be fine. Just bottle it up when you come back and "lager" it after two weeks (once it's carbonated) for a few more weeks and then enjoy.

Lone Wolf said...

I am brewing a Maibock with an ale yeat so I don't have to cold ferment. I racked it after 1 week and all fermentation has stopped. After being racked into secondary for 6 hours the fermentation started again and became foamy on top again. The bubbling has continued for a week now. Is this normal?

Apophatically Speaking said...

Lone Wolf,

Strictly speaking, you won't end up with a Maibock (without lager yeast and traditional lagering method).

The foaming should be normal, it may also be an indication of excessive oxygenization while racking.

Well, either way, by now you should have tried the finished product. How is it??

Anonymous said...

I think I bottled my beer to early I have a little yeast at the bottom of the bottle is still ok to drink? I have only had the beer bottled for two days can I fix this or should I start over?

Apophatically Speaking said...


There's absolutely nothing wrong with yeast at the bottom of the bottle. This is normal for all bottle conditioned brews. Remember, you are not filtering the beer (unlike most commerical brews) so yeast is freely present in your beer, and settles during the last stage of the brewing process, which occurs in the bottle. I would be worried if no yeast would be at the bottom of the bottle!

So, don't worry and try a brew tomorrow, and let me know how it came out!!

Anonymous said...

So I added the yeast to the wort and then left it in the basement at optimal temperatures for like 4 months. I left for my first year of college and just completely forgot about it. Is it still drinkable??

Brostradamus said...

Just got my Coopers Microbrew Kit and brewed up my first batch of Lager (the ingredient kit it comes with). I have it stored in my basement at 60-65 degrees. Here's my question, the kit says to wait 6days, bottle it and then mature for 20 days.

In your opinion, does this sound like a good time period? Also, is 60-65 degrees a good temp to store at?

Love the site!

Brostradamus said...

I love the site! Quick question.

I just got a Coopers Microbrew kit and brewed my first lager kit. It's stored in my basement at around 60-65 degrees.

The kit says to age for 6 days, then bottle and age for 20 days.

In your opinion, do these time periods sound good? Also, is 60-65 degrees a good temp to store at?

Thanks for your help!

Apophatically Speaking said...

Hi fellow brewer,

If this is your first brew, I would suggest you stick to the instructions (temps, aging, etc) as closely as possible. To deviate would require some advanced skills to know what you are doing and for it to come out right.

Strictly speaking it won't really be a lager, or at the very least it is not following a lagering brewing process. But who cares? What matters is you end up with a good brewski!

To follow more traditional brewing techniques (and likely to end up with better tasting beer) I suggest for your next batch to pick up a copy of Charlie Papazian "Joy of Home Brewing" (Amazon or bookstore) which contains instructions and recipes for beginners and advanced brewers alike.

And let me know how your Cooper lager turns out!

I am brewing a California Pale Ale which I am calling the Paschal Ale (it will be ready in time for Easter), and I have a batch of raspberry hibiscus honey Meade in the making as well.


- Robert

Steven Hughes said...

I have done secondary stage in the barrel by priming the barrel, will my lager brew still keep its bubbles if I bottle it and store it in fridge too get it chilled ???

Anonymous said...

Depends on how much priming sugar is left, so it depends on how far the secondary stage has come along.

If all or most of the sugars are converted into alcohol and CO2, then by bottling it, you will lose all the CO2, and no more CO2 will be generated in the bottle = no bubbles in the bottle.

dswany said...

Hi...i was experimenting with a sour beer...i have had my beer in a glass car boy for a little over a year hoping it would sour (added a yeast/souring agent to it before fermentation). I then put a bunch of cherries on top. I question if its still good but would think cherries floating on top would be moldy if air is getting through. Any thoughts?