Are you in the market for a fermenter and do not know what kind of fermenter to get? Well, if you’re in that situation, keep watching. I’ll walk through a bunch of options for you.
In this article, I’m going to talk about fermenters, the different types and options, pros and cons of them all. Now, if you’ve been reading my blog for at least six months now, you’ve noticed that I’ve kind of been on a kick on fermenters, primarily the conicals. I’ve been working and talking with a number of conical suppliers or resellers who send me best conical fermenters for review, including the Catalyst, the Fermentasaurus. What else I got here? The FastFerment, and most recently the Spike Brewing stainless steel conical, the CF10.
This article is more low-level or actually, or maybe it’s more high-level. It’s more of a which type is right for you rather than the pros and cons of this versus that. For some of you who are beginners at this, that are just getting started looking to buy their first piece of equipment or maybe who have one of these existing pieces equipment and don’t feel like it’s serving your intent or your purposes right, and you want to know what else is out there, well, this is the right article for that.
For starters, we have buckets, carboys, kegs. If you didn’t know kegs were an option, they are, and I’ll talk about that here too. And of course, the conicals. There could be other options out there too, but these are the ones I’ve used and I’m most familiar with and I’ve had experience with all of this so far, and I think you if you want to know the pros and cons of each, keep on watching.
Bucket fermenter – best for newcomers
The first type of fermenter most newcomers to this hobby are going to find is a good old fashioned food grade plastic bucket like this one here. It’ll come with a lid, with a little hole and a grommet on top, or if not, you can actually buy your own buckets because they’re quite common. You can drill your hole, put your own grommet on it to fit your airlocks in. The pros of this include cost. It’s dirt cheap. This is probably the cheapest type of fermenter you can get your hands on, usually free if you repurpose something like I did this one here. This was a six-gallon wine kit I had got once upon a time and had wine juice in it and I’d make wines.
Another pro of these is that they come with a carrying handle. It helps to make… carrying them around, especially if you’re going up and down a flight of stairs like I have to do from my garage where I brew to my basement here where I actually ferment. That’s a big positive for that.
However, there are some cons. It’s plastic which is a con. There are a couple of things wrong with plastic. Oxygen and air will eventually creep into this and into your beer or your wine. This is not good over the long-term. But if you’re only making beer and you’ve only fermented for a couple of weeks, no big deal. But I’m talking about if you’re bulk aging like a scotch ale or a wine of some sort, this is not the right type of fermenter for you for that.
Also, that since it’s plastic it’s prone to scratching. These buckets will have to be replaced sort of regularly after so many uses. The reason why is that the more you use these buckets, and the more you clean them and the more you stir in them and everything, the more scuffs and scrapes the insides of these fermenters get which can cause little micro cracks and scratches where bacteria can hide, even hide from your sanitizing solutions even. So that’s not good. You want the trust in your fermenter to not taint your beer that you’ve worked all day to brew. I personally avoid plastic wherever possible at least for this purpose. But if you’re just getting started, it is a great way to get started and a very cheap way to get started.
Another con to this is the size, the capacity. Most of these food grade plastic buckets out there are five gallons which are if you’re doing a five gallon batch of beer is not enough. This one here is a six-gallon capacity which I think is the bare minimum you would want for a five gallon batch of beer. So if you’re using a five-gallon bucket, scale down your recipes so when the yeast and the Krauser and the foam come up, it won’t blow out your airlock and make a mess. This is a six-gallon bucket. I would recommend getting those instead and those give you an extra gallon of headspace or so. Personally, I prefer more than six gallons of headspace, but that’s my personal preference.
Another con is that you can’t see inside these things. They’re opaque. Now that’s a pro as well because you don’t want sunlight in your beer as it’s fermenting or your wine. But sometimes you want to just see what the progress is. So in order to see how things are coming along or to do a hydrometer sample, normally you have to open the lid and take a look inside, which exposes the air to your beer or your wine. But you could also add a bottling spigot to the bottom. See, I have a hole right here that I can put a plastic spigot in and drain from there as well. So you can either siphon out of these things or use a spigot, whichever you prefer.
Carboy fermenter – very robust and very practical
Next up is the carboy. Now I’m showing here a glass carboy, but there are also plastic ones out there. The plastic ones have many of the same problems and cons that the plastic bucket has in terms of scratching and having to replace them every so often. Now, I want to talk about the glass carboy because that’s my personal favorite right now. I’ve been using this for years, probably 15, 17 years or more. It’s got a lot of pros and some cons too. For example, pros, glass. Glass is hard, non-porous. It’s easy to clean. It doesn’t stain. It doesn’t transmit any off funky flavors from your last batches of beer to it because once you clean it, it’s clean. It’s very robust and it’s very practical.
Now one of the downsides to using glass as a material though is that it’s because it’s easy to break, and something this size when it shatters it can hurt you. I mean, I’ve seen pictures and heard stories online from others who’ve dropped these and have had to go to the hospital because of lacerations and cuts across their legs and feet and their arms, not to mention the big mess everywhere when all the liquid inside spills out everywhere. So that’s a downside. Now that can be mitigated with some add-ons, some accessories. Like I have this thing called the brew hauler strap that fits around this thing so I can carry this thing with two hands between my legs basically and not risk breaking it.
Similar to the plastic buckets another big advantage is cost. These things are more expensive than these. For example, these might cost you two to three bucks. These might cost you $20 to $30. Now that’s 10 times the cost, so you can buy a lot of buckets for the cost of one of these, yeah. But these have to be replaced. These do not. I have a lot of glass carboys. They’re all different sizes all the way down from like a half gallon, one gallon, three gallons, five gallons, six, six and a half gallons carboys for different needs and purposes for my beer and wine. And I haven’t had one break on me in all these years, cross my fingers. But there is a downside, risk of injury.
These are also somewhat common too. I mean these don’t exist at every single store you go to or hardware store, of course, mainly water suppliers or homebrew shops usually have these. So these are not as easy to find. But they’re pretty still somewhat common. And since these are clear glass, you can actually monitor the progress of what’s going on in here. So you can actually visually inspect the fermentation. You can actually watch it. If you don’t or never seen a fermentation take place, a very vigorous one, it’s actually pretty cool to watch. It’s kind of mesmerizing watching all the yeast and bubbles, everything swirling around in there.
Now that’s also a downside because you don’t want the yeast exposed to light because it can skunk your beer or your wine and the yeast don’t like that. There’s a real simple solution. I just wrap this thing in a beach towel.
One pro that actually I have never personally done but I’ve seen many other people out there doing it is that you can do pressure transfers from a carboy at very low pressures. These things are not rated for pressure so that’s also a con. You risk blowing apart this thing and shattering glass everywhere if you don’t do this right. But it is possible to do a pressure transfer from a carboy using one of these carboy caps, a racking cane, a bottle of CO2 and a way to input the CO2 in here so you can actually put pressure in here to push the beer out of here and into another vessel like your keg or another carboy for example.
One of the downsides of which I don’t see it as a con personally because I have a workaround for it is you are required to siphon your beer out of here. Now, you have to siphon the beer out of here because there’s no way to add a port or a valve under here. It’s kind of silly to do. But there’s a really simple workaround. I mean just give it a little pump, pumps it, starts to siphon it and off you go. Never a problem using an auto siphon. It’s actually a combination of a glass carboy and an auto siphon is to be the optimal combination of price versus usefulness out there.
Cornelius fermenter – best budget stainless steel fermenter
Next up is the Cornelius style keg here. Yes, it is a keg. It is meant for capping into a kegerator and drinking beer out of. But did you also know, I guess I assume that you now know if you haven’t already that these could also be used to ferment in? I’ve seen people who say that they want stainless steel fermenters, so they instantly jump to the bigger conical stainless steels which cost a lot more money, or they want to do a pressure transfer much like the Fermentasaurus here and also that the stainless steel here one can do as well.
Well, did you know the kegs are stainless steel and can also do pressure transfers too? All for a lot less money. You can buy these used. Cornelius kegs at homebrew shops or online supply stores for probably anywhere from $30 to $40, which is again not much more than a glass carboy. That’s a little bit more expensive, but not a whole lot more and it can serve dual purposes. You can use a keg as both a keg and as a fermenter and save on overall equipment costs. The huge pro here folks, huge pro, huge cost savings. This is one of the … I mean, with these gas ports on here, you can do a pressure transfer in or out of a keg. You can have multiples of these. So if you do primary and secondary, which I don’t do secondary. I’ve done a video on that. If you haven’t seen that yet, go check that out too. But if you do, you can pressure transfer rack into a second one, all without exposing the beer to any oxygen whatsoever, which is a huge bonus of closed system transfers.
Being stainless steel these things are easy to clean. They take abuse. They last forever. They’re not prone to breaking like glass, not prone to scratching like plastic. It’s a really good all-around material and all good price. Now, if you buy them brand new though, get ready to pay for $100 or more for one. But you can find these things used all over the place.
And because these things are rated for pressure, you can do pressure fermentation in these, much like you can on the Fermentasaurus or on the Spike Brewing CF10 for example. You can actually put a spunding valve on here. I’ve done a video on how to make a spunding valve. Go out there and check that out. But you can actually ferment in here, put a spunding valve on here to control the max pressure and this thing will ferment to your desired pressure. So it will be pressurized and fermented and ready to drink or transfer to another keg and then drink, all ready to go. That’s another advantage.
If you don’t plan on doing pressure transfers, you can make up your own or buy attachments that open up the gas port that will attach a normal airlock to it or catch a blow-off hose to it into a bucket down below. There are different ways to configure this for fermenting. It also keeps out the light which is good for the fermentation process. But again, you can’t see what’s going on. That’s a minor con with this kind of system.
However, it’s also easy to carry. It’s got built-in carry handles now. So moving one of these around your house from room to room or up a flight or down a flight of stairs is actually really quite easy. That’s one of the strengths I think of using kegs, that they’re stainless steel, the used ones are dirt cheap, got carrying handles, you can do pressure fermentations. All of this for a lot less money than the price of say a Fermentasaurus. In fact, you could buy several of these for the cost of one of those.
Now there are two downsides to this though. One is that it’s got a limited capacity again. It’s about a five and half gallon max. So if you’re doing a five gallon batch of the recipe, you’re going to have to use a blow-up hose or scale down your recipe, or figure out a way to get some headspace in there so you can use two kegs actually. If you have a five-gallon recipe and you want to put two and a half gallons into the kegs, whatever, that’s fine too. It’s still cheaper than one Fermentasaurus or one Catalyst or one FastFerment for example.
Another downside is that because you’re going to do your fermentation in here, all the trub and yeast is going to settle down to the bottom. Now there’s a very long dip tube in here that goes all the way down, down to the bottom, very bottom to pick up the beer for when it’s used as a keg. Well, you may want to clip that up a couple of inches to get it above the height of the trub, so when you do rack off it later, you won’t pick up the trub and all that yeast. In that case, if you repurpose this as a keg, then you’re going to leave a couple of inches of beer in the bottom of your keg unless you have a second spare dip tube which you can get as well. So just keep that in mind.
Conical fermenter – specially designed to ferment beer
The final type of fermenter is the conical fermenter as you can see here. I’ve got four examples behind me here, three plastic, one stainless steel. I’ve done individual review article of each of these on my website already in the past six months or so.
But as a whole, as a category or style of the fermenter, the advantage of these is that they’re designed as fermenters. The conical shapes help funnel the trub and the yeast down a chute that can be then purged to remove that trub from the vessel to have a cleaner fermentation. It eliminates the need to rack to a secondary fermenter if that’s what you do personally. If you’ve seen me talk about this in the past, I don’t do secondary fermenters. I think they’re a waste of time personally and I have reasons for that. But if you are the type that still wants to do that, this eliminates that by allowing you to purge that and also allows you to harvest your yeast for pitching it into a second batch which will save some amount of money over time.
Those are all pros. And because they’re specifically designed to ferment beer, a number of these have add-ons or specialty functionality that makes them even more useful. For example, you can do closed pressure transfers in some of these. The Fermentasaurus can be a closed pressure fermentation and transfers. The Spike CF10 can do closed fermentations and open transfers or even closed if you bring up your own hoses the right way. There are some extra bonuses and some of them will have even more special features than that, including sample ports. Let’s see. This one’s got a sample port too. Can’t show it here. It’s kind of caught up in here, but it’s a sample port for example. Now not all of them have them. It’s not a standardized thing or anything.
They do have some advantages. However, they have disadvantages too. Number one that comes to mind is cost. I already walked you through your $2 plastic bucket, your $20 carboy, your $40 used keg. These are, all cost a lot more money. A couple of hundred bucks here, maybe 130 bucks here, another 100 bucks plus accessories which can add up closer to $200, and the stainless steel ones are hundreds of dollars even upwards of a thousand for the larger size ones. That’s a huge cost concern for those getting in the brewing. And even those who currently brew, it does make you pause and think do you really need a conical fermenter.
In my opinion, unless you plan on to harvest yeast, no, you don’t need a conical fermenter at all. They are nice. They are cool. Some of them look really nice, nice and shiny, and it makes me feel more like an actual real brewer. But the truth is it doesn’t do much extra for your beer really. I mean, all the beers that came out of all of these fermenters here taste the same as the beers that came out of my glass carboy. There’s really been no difference in taste.
So you have to ask yourself the question: Why am I spending $100, $200, $600 or more for a fermenter to do the same thing that you can do with a $2 bucket and a $10 auto siphon or a $20 carboy and a $10 auto siphon? You could buy several carboys for the cost of any one of these and have lots of beer on tap or under different stages of fermentation, or wines bulk aging in any of these other containers. That’s a huge con.
Another con is that although many of them cost a lot more money than a plastic bucket, they’re still plastic, except for the stainless steel ones, but they’re plastic. They’ll have to be replaced over time as well. They’ll get scratched. They’ll get dinged. It’s just how it is. So you spend $100 or $200 for a plastic conical, you may end up in a few years having to rebuy it again. The price just adds up. So you have to ask yourself personally what advantage do you get or do I get out of a plastic conical fermenter or a stainless steel one too versus what I get out of a much cheaper fermentation vessel.
Some of the cons are similar to some of the cons as the other cheaper options. I mean, some are plastic again. Some are transparent that you can see through. Some of them you can cover. Some have accessories that cover them from light. That’s all fine in the end. There are always workarounds, but those still cost extra money too, unless you just wrap everything in a towel, which I’ve done in the past too. I mean, it’s just things to consider.
Cleaning it’s not any easier with conicals. I found out the hard way. It’s like I actually after having cleaned all four of these behind me here, I still think the easiest vessel to clean is my carboy.
I hope you found this helpful in describing the different types of fermenters out there. I hope it helps you make a better and more informed purchasing decision when it comes to buying a fermenter. I hope it answers a lot of the questions I’ve been getting about fermenters over the past several months. I hope you learned something. I hope it helps you out. Good luck with shopping.