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Brewing your own beer is a fun and exciting hobby that not only allows you to experiment with different flavors but also serves as an excellent way to impress your friends. When beginning your homebrewing quest, there are a lot of questions you will need to ask yourself.
The fermentation process is easily one of the most vital aspects of crafting the perfect beer, but what should you ferment your brew in? What types of fermenters are available to you? Are any of them better than the other, and how much does one cost?
A fermenter can range from an inexpensive plastic bucket to the stainless steel conical variety. Picking out the right one for your brewing needs and budget can be tricky, but this guide is here to make the process as simple as possible.
Selecting a Size
The first step to selecting the right fermenter for your home brewing needs is deciding how big of a batch you plan on making. Are you looking to make a few gallons, or do you want something on a more industrial scale?
Most beginners start out by making five-gallon batches at a time. Keep in mind that your fermenter will need to hold more than you intend to brew since the yeast will foam up. Starter sizes often come in three, five, six, and six and a half gallons.
If you plan on going larger, sizes vary from seven to fifty-two gallons for typical home brewing. There are, of course, even larger tubs that go up to 100 gallons. Unless you plan on opening up a microbrewery, it’s best to stick with something under ten.
Selecting a Type
There are multiple styles of fermenters to choose from, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. The type you want will depend on your budget as well as what you feel comfortable using.
A conical fermenter features a cone-shaped bottom with a valve attached for simple removal of buildup and yeast. The SS Brewtech is a popular model that utilizes this style.
While you can choose to purchase High-Density Polyethelyne versions, many prefer the stainless-steel variety since they are easier to clean. There’s also less worry about bacteria hiding in any crevices. All in all, these are highly fuss-free fermenters that make the process of brewing your own beer as simple as possible.
- Easy to clean
- Durable, long lasting
- Similar to brewery fermenters
- Parts are easily interchangeable
- Light and scratch resistant
- High cost
- Extras and parts add up fast
Variable Capacity Tanks
These models have the ability to adjust themselves to your batch size. A seven-gallon tank, for instance, could make anywhere from one to six gallons at a time. They feature a lid that fits inside of the container, which uses an inflatable gasket to create the necessary seal.
To adjust the batch size, all you have to do is position the lid at the appropriate height. Most variable capacity tanks are fitted with a dry-air lock, which allows gasses to escape during the fermenting process. A ball valve faucet also lets you transfer your beer to another container for bottling.
- Multiple batch sizes
- Stainless steel is simple to clean
- Durable construction
- Doubles as a storage unit
- Limited availability
- Shipping costs can be pricey
Carboys were once the staple of home fermenting systems and still stand as a viable option today. The largest sizes are usually six and a half gallons, making these excellent options for small batches. You might want to keep in mind that full-sized model filled with beer can weigh upwards of 65 pounds, though.
Their glass construction makes them easy to clean, while their bottleneck tops make creating a seal as simple as can be. You can find these from home brewing sites as well as water supply companies, making them one of the most readily available options on the market.
- Less likelihood of oxygen getting into your beer
- The glass is easy to clean
- Zero chance of chemicals leeching into your brew
- Heavyweight. These will shatter if dropped.
- Light exposure can change the taste of your beer
- Shipping costs aren’t cheap, even though the bottle is.
You can find plastic fermenters in conical shapes like the Brewtech as well as giant tubs. They come in all sizes and are crafted from food-grade polymers. The majority feature an airlock at the top, a faucet for bottling, and handles to help you carry them.
- Larger capacity than carboys
- Zero light exposure
- Airlock ensures a tight seal
- Weighs far less than glass
- Polymers can harbor bacteria
- Can change the taste of your beer
- Possibility for plastic chemicals to seep into your batch
The most economical option on the list, fermentation buckets has been around for decades. They feature resealable lids, a hole for an airlock or blow-off tube, and usually have a hole near the bottom for spigots.
You can find these industrial buckets in various sizes ranging from small two gallon models to large thirty-two gallons. They are always constructed from food-grade plastics and last a long time when you take care of them. Their lifespan typically lasts around twelve batches.
- Readily available
- Safer if accidentally dropped
- Difficult to keep clean
- Scratches easily, allowing bacteria to settle in
- Risk of chemical leeching over time
- The finished product won’t taste as good compared to glass or steel fermentation
Which Should I Chose?
Now that you know what options are available and what advantages they have, you can start narrowing down your list until you find something that fits your lifestyle. The first consideration is always your budget. Don’t put yourself into debt over a fermenter. You can always upgrade at a later date.
Next, consider how much space you have to brew in. You might find that larger conical models like the Brewtech take up too much space in your garage or basement. On the other hand, there’s no sense in buying a two-gallon fermenter when you have hundreds of square feet to yourself.
Afterward, think about which you would feel most comfortable using. You may not want to risk dropping a glass carboy, or maybe you would feel safer with a stainless-steel model. Think about cleaning, too. How much time do you want to put into scrubbing out the basing after your beer is bottled?
Finally, think about the little things. What attachments would you like to use with your fermenter to make the brewing process easier? Would you rather have your beer fermenting in something that blocks out the light? Maybe you would prefer the process was done in glass or stainless steel as opposed to plastic for a higher-quality taste?
There’s nothing worse than ending up with a fermenter that you don’t like. Take the time to weigh each pro and con before making a final decision.
50 Gallon-Plus Models
What if 50 gallons simply isn’t enough for your brewing needs? If you want to head into full production either for a home bar or to start your own brewery, then you’re going to need a heavy-duty fermenter to match. When you begin moving into the hundred and two hundred-gallon models, there are really only three options available.
The first are large plastic versions of the variable capacity tanks. While they do not share the same ability to brew both small and large batches, their air locking system is incredibly similar. The kind of look like the giant sports drink holders you might see football players drinking out of, but they are made from more durable and safer plastics to handle the fermenting process.
Then there are plastic and stainless steel conical models. These are often precisely the same as their smaller counterparts, just designs to handle the pressure of a larger batch. They contain the same pros and cons that both stainless steel and food grade plastics possess, making the choice one of personal preference.
Breweries tend to use stainless steel conical fermenters because they are more durable and easier to clean. You can rest assured that any amount of pressure caused by the fermentation process is easily managed, too. Combined, these pros give you a faster turnaround time on your next batch by leaving you with the less manual labor involved.
Choosing the Right Beer Fermenter
Every individual’s home brewing needs are different, making each style of fermenter a viable option depending on what you plan to do. Now that you know the ins and outs of the equipment involved, you can make the best decision based on your brewing dreams.