Fermentation equipment is pretty simple for the homebrewer. You have a few basic choices.
First is the food grade 6 gallon fermentation bucket with lid.
These are available from most homebrew shops. Some of the advantages of this type of fermentation equipment include
Some disadvantages include:
For the beginner, these are fine and most homebrewers begin with one of these as their fermentation equipment and keep several around.
PET Better Bottle
A new item in homebrew shops is called "Better Bottle". It is made of rugged PET (polyethylene terephthalate copolymer) plastic.
It is non-permeable so you don't have to worry about oxidation, you can see through it like glass, you can add spigots to transfer from the bottom of the bottle, and best of all, it won't break if you drop it. I don't have any experience with these since I had so many glass carboys from my winemaking days, but I have heard a lot of good things online about them.
Another good option in fermentation equipment is the classic glass carboy. They are widely available from your local homebrew shop or online. Glass Carboys are non-permeable, and allow you to see what's going on inside.
The obvious drawbacks are they weigh a lot and if you drop them, you lose your beer plus have a huge mess to clean up. Plus, breaking one may get you a trip to the emergency room. They have always been the most widely used fermenter by the advanced homebrewer.
Most use glass carboys as secondary fermenters, but you can use them as your primary fermenter with either a stopper and airlock or 1" clear blow-off tube. The blow-off tube allows the foam and everything it brings to the surface (hops, cold and hot break proteins, yeast) to escape into a jug or container of water or sanitizer.
Some people feel that the foam at high krausen should not be allowed to fall back into the beer. They feel that it causes bitterness and off flavors. During a vigorous ale fermentation at high krausen (the most active phase of fermentation) so much foam and residue is formed that it will blow the stopper and airlock right out of a carboy, making a huge mess.
Eventually this foam and sediment will "fall" back into the beer and either settle on the bottom, or get incorporated into the beer. With a blow-off tube in place instead of an airlock, this foam "blows" out the tube and into a receptacle with water or sanitizer in it. The other end of the hose is usually under the fluid so you can still monitor the CO2 bubbles during fermentation.
Fermenting in a Corny Keg
Many homebrewers are fermenting in a corny keg these days. With the price of glass carboys almost as high as a used corny keg, and the dangers associated with picking up glass carboys full of beer, it might make sense for you too. To learn about fermenting in a keg, click here.
A somewhat recent addition to the fermentation equipment available to homebrewers is the stainless fermenter. If you don't want to, or can't afford to purchase a conical, then these are probably your best option. They are easy to clean, don't harbor bacteria, are virtually indestructible, they have pressed volume markings (delineated in gallons), the 14 gallon fermenter (pictured) will easily handle 10 gallon batches, and they really look cool. Chapman Brewing Company makes one of the most affordable Stainless Fermenters on the market today. You should give them a try.
With some special, or adapted equipment, you can also ferment in a commerical keg. Here is a gadget that will allow you to ferment in 15 gallon commercial Sanke kegs.
The ultimate fermenter is the stainless steel conical fermenter. An all-stainless steel conical fermenters eliminates the need to transfer beer or wine from a primary to a secondary. You can dump trub and yeast sediment without transferring the beer, easily sample the wort, harvest yeast, and, unlike simple conicals, the rotating racking arm lets you siphon out completely sediment free beer. The only drawback for the average homebrewer is the cost. You have to be pretty serious about your hobby to purchase one of these. But, it makes things simpler, and there is less of a chance of contamination from transferring to the secondary.
An even more advanced fermentation system is the glycol-cooled conical fermenter with digital temperature control.
Ferment 10 gallon batches of beer in these beautiful conical fermenters, and control the temperature of your fermenting beer to within 1 degree, any time of the year! The included Dual-Stage Controller will simultaneously control both the cooling unit and the 40-Watt heater.
The cooling unit mounts to the outside of the cone with no internal contact with the beer. The cooling is extremely gentle on your yeast, changing wort temperatures at about a degree an hour. It can get to and hold your ale fermentation temperatures of 65-72° Fahrenheit even in ambient temps of 100° Fahrenheit. In addition, it can get to and hold lager fermentation temperatures of 48-52° Fahrenheit all the way up to ambient temperatures of 80° Fahrenheit.
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