About Homebrewing Fermentors

Fermentors should be at the top of your shopping list if you’re just getting into homebrewing and you should really plan on purchasing two (a primary and a secondary). Fermentors are liquid containers, or vessels, that provide a home for your wort on its path of becoming beer. It’s where your beer is made. There are three common types of fermentors in homebrewing, but they all serve the same purpose… making beer.

Plastic Buckets

The most basic version is a food-grade, 6-gallon plastic bucket. The bucket will have an air-tight lid with a hole at the top for an air-lock to be attached. We’ll get into air locks in another post, but they basically allow air out of your fermentor, but not in. The plastic bucket is cheap, durable, light-weight, and provides a semi-dark environment for your wort to ferment in. It’s also convenient to clean, since you can get your whole hand on the inside and scrub it good and clean. You’ll hear some people claim they cause off-flavors in the beer. I believe their biggest flaw is that they’re made of plastic. Plastic scratches easily and the more you scrub and clean the inside, the more scratches you’re going to get. Scratches are hard to clean and sanitize and that’s one of the most important things, if not the most important, about homebrewing… sanitation.

Better-Bottles

A better-bottle (or plastic carboy) is a plastic version of a glass carboy. They are transparent, shatter-proof, and light weight. They look a lot better than a plastic bucket, but you’re still running into the same issues with the plastic material as the plain bucket. Better-bottles are what those plastic water coolers are made out of, found in most office environments. I personally think they’re just better looking than a bucket, but much harder to clean after a messy fermentation. Is it worth it?

Glass Carboys

Carboys! I’m a fan of glass carboys. Why? They’re made of glass. Glass carboys are typically made to hold 6 or 5 gallons, and normally the bigger one is your primary fermentor. Glass carboys are scratch proof, transparent, and will last forever. You can chemically clean them or use a carboy brush (or both). If you take care of your equipment, you shouldn’t have to worry about scratching anything and can rest assure that your wort is fermenting in the most suitable environment. These will be the most expensive out of the 3 options, but it’s well worth it in my opinion.

Some things to consider…

You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each type. Maybe this will help you make an informed decision.

Plastic Bucket Better-Bottle Glass Carboy
Light-weight
Shatter-resistant
Darker environment
Easy scrubbing
Scratch resistent
Non-flexible
Durable
Transparent

I made my first few batches with a plastic bucket and then upgraded to glass carboys when I purchased my homebrewing starter kit. I don’t mind the heavy weight of the glass. My biggest issue is cleaning them. Ultimately, I’ll be purchasing the carboy cleaner to cut down on the clean up time and give them a more thorough cleaning. I would advise keeping them in a dark environment during fermentation, or at lease cover them up with blankets to keep the wort as dark as possible.

6 thoughts on “About Homebrewing Fermentors

    1. Good tip Johnny Mo! I haven’t tried anything like that yet because mine have been in a dark environment at the perfect temperature. Working on my brew room at the house and I might need to consider using these. Might make my own too – I’m an innovation addict.

  1. I have been brewing in PET carboys for awhile now. I did it because of space and weight issues, but I do have a sneaky suspicion they are producing something I can’t quite put my finger on in my beers. I am just about to invest in a couple of class carboys because I want to age some big beers for several months and am nervous about aging in plastic. I would totally recommend to anybody starting out to start with glass, it will just save time and money in the future because they last forever (barring dropping them). Cool article I really liked the pro and con list.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Alex! The glass carboys have served me well, providing a sanitary environment for my wort to ferment. I’ve also been researching some barley wine recipes and I wouldn’t even consider it without the glass carboys. That was a good point you had.

  2. I have a few tips to share on fermenters:

    1) Glass carboys fit perfectly within a milk crate which makes it easier to carry & handle. Much cheaper than the carboy carrier strap deal they sell.

    2) Tape your temperature probe right to the outside of the glass carboy. Why? Because unlike plastic, the glass holds practically the same temperature as the center of the beer during fermentation. With Plastic, you will either have to ad a thermowell to the bucket or PET carboy, or rely on the ambient temperature of your fermentation chamber which is inconsistent.

    3) Buckets are a better option for open fermentation.

    1. Thanks for the comment Travis! You raise some good points and now you got me searching for a local supply of milk crates. I don’t trust the carboy handles that you can slip on the neck for a makeshift handle, so I usually don’t use anything. A milk crate would sure make things a whole lot easier.

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