Fermenters: What You Should Know

Home brewing is an amazing hobby, with deep ties to the ancient past. It’s also a lot of fun to make your own beer at home. Once you have purchased your equipment (or starter kit), it’s tempting to leap right in and keep going. However, it’s a good idea to know what your options are for equipment. While most equipment you will need is pretty basic (like your brew pot and spoon), some is a bit different. Fermenters can be a bit confusing, and you will need to make sure you have the right option.

Plastic Buckets: The simplest possible fermenter is a plastic 5-gallon bucket. This should have a lid with an airlock, but that’s about it. Some people prefer buckets with spigots attached near the bottom so they can more easily move the finished beer to a secondary fermenter or into a bottling bucket. 

Glass Carboy: Glass carboys would be the next step from plastic buckets but they allow you to get a good first-hand look at the brewing process. They are a bit more expensive than plastic, but not as expensive as larger fermenters (steel conical for example). 

Plastic vs. Glass

Most new brewers are not going to opt for a stainless steel fermenter, as they’re a bit expensive for those new to the hobby. Instead, chances are good that you are going to go the plastic or glass route. Which is better, though? Both materials have their proponents and detractors.

Plastic buckets are easy to clean and durable. You don’t have to worry about shattering them, the way glass carboys can. However, it is not as easy to sanitize as glass. Small imperfections and scratches in the plastic surface can house bacteria that will ruin your brewing batch if you are not careful. It’s also only suitable for storing beer for a short time. 

Glass is not quite as durable as plastic, at least in the sense of taking abuse. Glass carboys are also harder to clean than plastic buckets. However, glass is easier to sanitize and they’re totally impermeable to air, as well. Glass carboys are also more expensive than plastic buckets.

In the end, it really comes down to you and your brewing as to which method to use. If you’re just starting out, a plastic bucket fermenter is probably the best option. Move up to glass once you have decided that you want to keep brewing. As you progress, you will likely leave out the carboy, as well, and move up to stainless steel.