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|One of the most important vessels can also be the simplest, or the most expensive. Does a $800 stainless conical fermenter make better beer than a $12 plastic bucket? No, not really in most cases. The issue is not really the quality of the beer that comes from a cetain fermenter, but rather the options that the vessel gives the brewer. Buckets are cheap, but they are succeptable to damage from cleaning, cannot be easily pressurized for closed-system racking, and are not really good for longer term fermentations, secondary, and conditioning.
On this page I hope to cover the basic fermenter options that are proper for homebrewing, and note those that should not be used.
Probably the cheapest and most widely used for the hobby.
Glass can be the best thing to use for general homebrewing as it is not oxygen permeable, and is suitable for long-term conditioning. It is clear, and must be shielded from many light sources to prevent the "skunking" of the beer. It is also very fragile, and dropping one can result in serious injury. Always buy a "Brew Hauler" if you are going to be moving full glass carboys!
|Vittles Vault with Gamma Seal Lid system;
This container is sold under many different names, and the lid system is made to snap on most paint buckets to give a screw-down lid. Good idea, but not really practical for homebrewing.
The Vittles-Vault containers use the Gamma-Seal Lid system, which has a rubber gasket between the lid mount and the bucket which is not visible, and another seal between the actual screw-on lid and the mounting rim. To make sure this hidden area gets clean when you use this lid system for fermenting, you should remove the lid mount. This was not a thought of the people who designed the system, so I simply made the holes like you'd find on regular bucket lids with a drill, being careful not to drill through anything but the outer rim. Then with a utility knife I made cuts downward. This allows the edges of the lid to flex and be able to release from the bucket. After breaking the first lid after repeated and difficult removals, this was a good fix!
|The Gamma-Seal lid systems are great for dry storage in buckets and such, but are clearly not the best for fermenters and liquid storage. I would advise against using them ,or the Vittles Vault containers for fermenting in unless you really have to use a single container. Just buy two regular fermenting buckets or carboys and be happy.|
Made from plastic that won't affect your brewing, these are not the common water jug you see in the grocery store.
Do Not use the blue plastic water bottles as they do not offer the proper type of plastic for fermentation or aging of beer. They are fine for water.
Corny kegs have been used for decades to store soda syrup, milk, and many other liquids for serving, and they offer all the hardware to be excellent fermenters. They are all stainless steel, are made to be pressurized for liquid transfer, and all parts can be easily replaced. They virtually never wear out! They are probably the next best thing to a pressure-capable conical fermenter, and they are a lot cheaper. Any size will work, but keep in mind that you need to have some headroom to allow for the krausen that forms during fermentation, and even then you may still get blowoff. Pictured are my 15 gallon cornies for 10 gallon batches. We also have used 15.5 gallon Sankey kegs, 10 gallon corny kegs, and 5 gallon corny kegs. All work well as long as you size the batch accordingly to give some headroom.
The fermenters pictured are using two blowoff hoses into a single blowoff jar. No reason to use a standard airlock when you have a blowoff tube, and the blowoff tubes are much easier to deal with.
|Here is the Vittles Vault container with a blowoff tube.|
|Airlocks are fine for fermentations where you are sure you will not be dealing with blowoff and krausen coming up to the top of the vessel.
They are also good for "secondary" fermentations where you have added additional sugars that will cause CO2 to be generated.
For "conditioning" stages you should not need an airlock.
|Sankey Keg Fermenters;
The typical beer keg can also make an excellent fermenter. The thing to keep in mind is that they are very heavy, especially when filled with liquid. This can be an issue if you need to lift them at any time for your process. There are some people that have modified these kegs to make them into fermenters, and there are some companies such as St.Patricks of Texas that make gadgets that can be used to allow the use of these kegs as fermenters. The pics below show various configurations, and it all depends on what you need. I'd suggest keeping it simple if you go this route, and avoiding any welding unless you already know a great welder.
|The first two pictures show where someone had a stainless flange welded to the top of a keg that was cut open to allow easy cleaning and inspection. Great idea, but it might be very hard to get a welder to create a sanitary weld for this setup. I tried this with a flange supplied by the guy who made the one in the picture, and had a professional welder screw it all up and ruin my keg and the flange as well. After that I gave up and bought the big corny kegs|
|This guy just made a plexiglass top held down very simply with a bar and a bolt. Looks like any brew kettle with a nice round hole in the top would work for this idea. I never tried this as it wasn't as durable as I needed.|
|Here is the Holy Grail of keg fermenters, from Sabco. 4" hole in top, and sanitary fittings including a thermowell and a racking arm. Sweet! Yours for about $500 directly from Sabco. They do make a very nice product, but at the price they are asking you could get a conical.|
|Here is a "wine barrel topping keg" from St Patricks of Texas. 4" top hole, diptube, pressure port, and sanitary fittings. A bargain for $300 and is ready for fermenting immediately. You'd just have to get a cap for the "beer out" diptube, and then attach a blowoff tube to the CO2 port, and you've got a fermenter that is awesome. I might just buy one to have it.|
Well, I'm not much for gimmicks, and I'm surprised you don't see Billy Mays yelling at you to buy one on TV. While it is a novel idea for a fermenter that hangs on the wall and gives the benefit of a conical, I just can't see anyone serious using this thing.
|Fermentation temperature control
No matter what fermenter you use, you need to be able to control the fermentation temps. If you are lucky enough to live where your basement is 65F all year, good for you, but for those of us in the rest of the world, we need to have some equipment. Best thing is a fridge or freezer with a temp controller. You can also use water baths, frozen water bottles in water baths, boxes with airflow from a fridge, and anything you can imagine. There is no limit to the creativity of folks on this subject, and I hope to write more as I get time. I use the upright freezer you will see in many pictures, and a Ranco ETC111-000 temp controller.
|Email me at Dean_Palmer@jabil.com if you find errors, bullshit, or have questions.|