Home brewing entails both worlds: the Art of recipe creation and the Science of brewing. People choose to brew their own beer for a variety of reasons. Some homebrew to avoid a higher cost while others want the freedom to adjust recipes according to their own preferences and there are others who do it for fun and as a hobby. A lot of questions come in a brewer’s mind when they start their home brewing. A good number of them are linked to fermentation, especially about the kind of fermenter best suited to their needs.
Fermenter is one of the most important equipment for a home brewer. Right type of fermenter equipment and process is very important to excel in any hobby or culinary arts. We had earlier made a checklist to help home brewers choose the right equipment for them. Today we are going to compare and contrast the various options available. Based on the following parameters one can decide what would be the best choice for their budget, brewing frequency, and needs:
1. Glass Carboy
It costs 5,000-8,000 and comes in 20 and 25 liters variants. It is made of glass which makes it attractive as a interior decorative furniture as well.
- Glass is inert material. So it is ideal for long term aging.
- You can view the liquid. This makes it great for Instagram pictures. Also, allows us to make timely alterations.
- In wine making it is used primarily for secondary fermentation. It is hard to clean narrow mouth glass after a primary fermentation
- It is suitable for beer brewing too.
- Glass is fragile. If you drop it, it is going to be a mess. Therefore, prone to homebrewing accidents.
- It has a narrow mouth. This makes it difficult to clean.
- Glass Carboy does not have a long durability as glass is difficult to handle.
- It’s difficult to perform both primary and secondary fermentation because racking and movement becomes cumbersome.
- The Glass Carboy can not be used for dispensing.
- It has a narrow mouth. Therefore, it prevents adequate oxygen to come in for the kombucha SCOBY to grow adequately.
- It does help in beer brewing, but the racking has to be done. This is because there is no port to remove sediment from the bottom.
- The glass cannot be autoclaved and hence is not used in labs and for researches.
- Its storage and portability is also difficult.
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2. Brew Bucket/Pail
Beer Brewing in a Brew Bucket is one of the easiest, simplest, and cheapest form of practising the craft of beer brewing. It is inexpensive and costs hardly between Rs.700 to 900. This Brew Bucket holds a volume of 20 liters and is very light-weight.
- The Brew Bucket has a wide lid which allows enough oxygen to enter the tea. Hence, ideal for Kombucha Mother.
- It is suitable for Beer Brewing, but we need to be careful about the lid otherwise we may face oxidation. The beer bucket faces a moderate level of oxidation.
- It is ideal for primary fermentation. The wide lid makes it easy to remove the floating pulp. Hence, it is suitable for Wine making too.
- Owing to its bulkiness it can be used as a furniture too when not in active use
- The brew bucket can be easily stacked in a refrigerator and therefore, provides temperature control.
- It is light weight and can be easily used for storing supplies when not in active use.
- This Brew Bucket is made of plastic. It’s soft material is prone to scratches. Bacteria can hide in the scratches.
- It does not have a long durability, lasts hardly an year.
- Monitoring the brew is difficult and we need to draw samples for the same.
- It can not be used for research and professional recipe development. In some cases, however, can be used for one time only.
- It does not provide any pressure fermenting.
3. Flat Bottom Fermenter
The flat bottom fermenter is an inexpensive versatile vessel. It holds a volume of 30L. It is an excellent option for making beer, wine, kombucha, and other different kinds of beverages. Ideal mix having the merits of both the fermentation bucket and carboy.
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- It is lightweight and inexpensive. Lasts for about 3 years.
- The fermenter has a wide mouth and hence, is easier to clean.
- Provides a durability of 3 years.
- The level of oxidation is low and therefore, enables you to take measurements without introducing oxygen.
- The fermenter has easy temperature control and is not difficult to monitor as it is made of plastic. A transparent body makes it easy to make periodic observations for academic purposes.
- The wide mouth makes it ideal for both primary and secondary fermentation. Hence, perfectly suitable for wine making, beer brewing, and for kombucha making purposes.
- It does not have a vent at the base. Therefore, it becomes difficult to get rid of the sediments. One needs to rack frequently to get rid of the sediments.
- 30 Liters + 1kg vessel becomes heavy for frequent shifting.
4. Corny Keg
This stainless steel Corny Keg or Cornelius Keg costs in between Rs. 4,500 to 6,000. It comes in 9.5 to 19 liters variants. It is compact enough to make a keezer. Must have if you plan to lager at home or make Champagne or sparkling cider.
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- It is made of stainless steel and can withstand very high pressure (equivalent to 120psi)
- The corny keg is easy to clean. Unlike the carboy, it has a wide lid for the hand to go in.
- It has a high durability, almost 10 years.
- The instance of oxidation is negligible and therefore, allows you to take measurements easily.
- It can be used for both primary and secondary fermentation, but we need to rack to remove sedimentation.
- Keg is multipurpose and hence, can be used for dispensing too.
- It has easy storage and portability owing to the compact cylinder design that can be stashed easily.
- 7-10 kegs can be stacked together in a single ice-cream refrigerator.
- It’s ability to precisely maintain temperatures & smaller compact design makes it easy to run multiple tests simultaneously. Hence, it is suitable for research and professional recipe development.
- Owing to its wide mouth, both primary and secondary fermentation becomes easy. This makes the keg suitable for winemaking.
- It is best suited for beer brewing due to it’s ability to precisely control temperatures.
- It can hold up to 120 PSI. This makes the keg ideal for kombucha brewers. Most commercial brewers use a Hop Tube for infusing flavors in secondary fermentation and Carbonation Keg Lid to infuse oxygen to reduce alcohol residue to FSSAI limits.
- One needs to invest in a keg refrigerator to get the best from kegs.
- Also, the stainless steel makes periodic observation difficult. We need to draw samples frequently.
5. Conical Fermenter
The Beer Conical Fermenter is the ultimate fermenter in the sense that it is closest to a professional microbrewery set up that one can get on a small scale. It can cost anywhere between Rs.13000 to 18000 and comes in different volumes from 27 to 55 liters.
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- It is very easy to clean. It is the closest to a microbrewery that one can get.
- The fermenter has a durability of fermenter of approximately 3 years.
- It has a fermenting pressure equivalent to 30psi. (that is the pressure in your car tyre). Which can be used as a Uni-tank pressure vessel.
- The oxidation level is negligible. It has very tight lid with multiple ports that allows to take measurements without introducing oxygen.
- The dump valve in the bottom ensures that the same vessel can be used for primary and secondary without need to transfer and santize.
- It can be used for both primary and secondary fermentation. We just need to remove the sediment.
- This fermenter can be used for for dispensing too as it has pressure ports like a professional microbrewery.
- It is made of transparent plastic and therefore can be easily monitored.
- The fermenter has a light weight but occupies space. Hence, it is recommended for professional brewers only.
- The conical design and ports to draw samples from top and bottom makes it ideal for scientist.
- It is being designed like a microbrewery, and hence, it is ideal for pilot beer brews and recipe development.
- The fermenter is suitable for winemakers too as it has a wide mouth which makes it easy to use for both primary and secondary fermentation.
- It is ideal for Kombucha Brewers and continuous brew setup. It is used for preserving the main mother SCOBY. Every week the brewer would drain the sediment from the bottom and top it up with a fresh batch of tea. This way the mother is not exposed to the stress from transfer from one container when a fresh batch is brewed.
- The fermenter needs professional expertise to get the best out of it.
- Also, it occupies a comparatively larger space.
6. Ceramic Jar: barni (ഭരണി)
Ceramic Jars are quintessential kitchen storage products. In Malayalam these pickle jars are called Barni ഭരണി. You get these common yet necessary jars for as cheap as 1000 bucks. They come in a size of 5 liters.
- It can be of use to the winemakers for primary fermentation.
- Ceramic Jars are traditional vessels for Kombucha brewers.
- It can also be used for pickle and kitchen item storage.
- As a Mason Jar, these can be used for Saerkraut and a variety of probiotic ferments.
- Ceramic Jars generally have a wide mouth. This results in higher oxidation. Therefore, these are not ideal for Beer Brewing as the wort gets oxidized.
- They come in 3-5 Liters sizes only. Kombucha brewers find it extremely hard to get a large vessel. As a result they are not able to scale up their business. We recommend them to use the conical fermenter.
- Also, the inner part of the ceramic jars are difficult to clean.
- The ceramic glaze is often laced with lead. Therefore, a cracked glaze can introduce contamination from the porous base material.
- Monitoring during homebrewing becomes difficult with ceramic jars. We need to draw samples frequently.
- Ceramics are poor conductors and hence, even temperature control becomes a problem.
- In general, ceramic jars are fragile so they do not have a long durability.
7. French Oak Barrel
French Oak Barrels are made from white oak trees from France. These are most frequently used for aging the wines. Owing to its elegance and special qualities, it costs a whopping Rs 30,000. Even it’s size is huge. It holds a volume of 190 liters or larger than that. Most of your sour beers can be produced using simpler kettle souring itself.
- French Oak Barrel is one of a kind. The only substitute to this barrel is Oak Chips when it comes to European style red wine making.
- It has a good durability of three years or more.
- It is used for secondary fermentation.
- The Barrel has a high usability in wine making. It is used for secondary fermentation and aging. Moreover, it introduces cask or barrel flavors.
- We can also use the barrel in cask aged beer ales.
- We can use it for dispensing too.
- It allows a moderate level of oxidation.
- The barrel has a huge price tag.
- Also cleaning & sanitizing the barrel wood with Campden is tedious.
- Avoid second-hand barrels from Whiskey and coffee industry. These barrels have already been leached of their tannins through repeated use and are nothing buy decorative furniture (no aging benefit for your beverage)
- The frequent temperature changes in India means that every change of season one needs to repair barrels with beeswax and Stainless Steel nails to get rid of any leaks. This in itself is a huge task.
- Its cleaning and sanitization requires professional setup. You need Sulphur candle, Beeswax, and stainless steel nails to constantly maintain these barrels.
- It is generally used for secondary fermentation only. Removing sediments and debris from wood is a tedious task.
- The barrel can be used for dispensing but its size makes it cumbersome for most parties.
- Monitoring the brew is difficult, we need to draw samples each time.
- It has storage and portability issues too. A full-size barrel is difficult to store. Whereas, the miniaturized barrels have higher wood to beverage ratio which causes rapid aging.
- It can not be used for research purposes as porous wood can harbor infection.
- In the case of beer brewing, it is only used for cask-aged beer ales.
- It is not used in Kombucha brewing. The wood deteriorates very fast in the highly acidic kombucha tea.
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9. Water Can: Plastic Carboy
It is the most common fermenter in India for home brew wine and beer. Plastic Carboy is inexpensive, just 100-150 bucks, and is available in the local provisions store. It is a lightweight, multipurpose water vessel that is easy to use and hide. Below are some FAQs about this iconic Indian style Juggad Fermenter.
Being an eCommerce store, it is difficult for us to ship the fragile glass bottles to you. What we can instead offer is a host of fermenters that are more durable for your homebrew kits needs. Alternatively, you can attach an airlock and cork/ grommet to your airtight glass jars and DIY a carboy yourself.
One of the biggest advantage of a transparent plastic carboy fermenter is that is allows for a very accurate beer and wine quantity reading.
Fermzilla comes with a water level sticker as well. The sticker will have a read marking for the seam level. All you need to do is to align the two and stick it.
If you are using a fermenter without this water level sticker, then you will have to calibrate it the old school way.
- Step 1: Take the empty fermenter weight and tare it to zero.
- Step 2: Add 1 kg or 1 Liter of water.
- Step 3: Mark that level as 1 Liter
- Step 4: Add another kg to get the 2 liter marking.
- Step 5: Repeat till the fermenter is filled.
It is very important to have right water level marking in a home brew fermenter. Most recipes will call for a specific ratio of wine and beer additives. If you don’t know how much liquid is there, chances are that you will add too much or too little of spices. This will lead to imbalance of flavors, colors and aromas. Also good record keeping is the key to be able to successfully scale from a small home brewing to pilot recipe research to running your own microbrewery.
Carboy is a Persian word qarābah (قرابه) pronounced Karāvah. In Arabic, it is also called qarrāba, meaning “big jug.” In a way, they are similar to roman amphora, Indian Terracotta Surahi (सुराही), and Fermentation Vats used for storing and transporting precious liquids.
Demijohn on the other hand originally referred to the wicker basket case that was used to pack the glass bottles (carboy). It is believed the word originated in 17th Century France and was originally Dame Jane.
Glass Fermenters are notorious when it comes to brewing accidents. During aging we often store wine and beer in carboy for extended periods. If the airlock is blocked, there is a chance that the pressure gets build up. The problem with glass is that when it burst, its produces a lot of sharp shards which can cause accidents.
Safety tips for Glass Carboy
- Always check the airlock for blockage. The yeast or krausen can often overflow. When it does it will block the airlock.
- Keep a foam cushion or a yoga mat as a base for your glass bottles. If the glass bottle is placed on the floor improperly, it will crack.
- Never hold your filled glass carboy with the neck. Glass has a better compression strength then tensile strength. Support your bottle by keeping a hand at the bottom of the fermenter.
- an LPG cylinder weighs about 20-25 kg but your glass carboy will weigh ~30kg (10kg for the glass and 20kg for 5 gallons of beer or wine). So don’t be shy in asking for help when transporting or shifting your fragile bottles.
Wet glass can be very slippery. Hence we recommend taking special care for them.
- You can use the carboy washer. It sprays a let which allows you to quickly clean the carboy. Also, the brass pipe is very small. So it allows the water to drain out once it has cleaned the carboy.
- If you still see and stubborn stains in your glass (like the ring at the bottom of the teacup) then I would recommend using a strong acid or lye. Glass is inert so you can use strong chemicals to clean it.
- If there are deposits that need scrubbing then make a mixture of dry rice and detergent. One liter of this mixture can be poured in the carboy and you can give it a nice shake. The rice acts as an abrasive which attacks the deposits.
- Finally use a rinse-free brewing sanitizer to disinfect all surfaces.
Carboy can be used to store, transport and dispense any liquid. Plastic carboy are very commonly used as a water in India. You can also ferment wine and beer in them. Kombucha brewers often face a problem as the SCOBY is not able to access enough oxygen.
Please read about how a plastic carboy can be converted into a wine and beer fermenter.
For beer carboy can be used for primary as well as secondary fermentation. However for wine we prefer using a wider mouth vessel. This makes cleaning of skin and sediment easier.
There are multiple ways to attach a airlock.
- You can drill a small hole using a hot nail or soldering iron on the blue cap of the water can carboy.
- Then you can use either a grommet or cork with a hole to attach the airlock.
- If you are planning to brew in winters or cold crashing or expecting drastic temperature changes then use a 3 piece airlock. Otherwise, you will need a contraption like the video below to prevent suck back in your carboy.
This writeup has a detailed pros and cons of different fermenter designs.
The bucket has a very wide lid. It makes it easier to clean. Remove the sediment and sanitize. It is easier to attach a spigot into the bucket as your hand can reach to the base and screw the tap on to your fermenter. Buckets are very easy to stack. I have kept 25 buckets one inside each other to make a pillar reaching the roof of my apartment. Carboy would have taken a whole sleeping bed-sized space for the same number.
A wine maker loves bucket for the primary fermentation. For the first 3-4 days it is so much easier to work in a bucket. The seeds skin and the sediment are so easy to remove.
Beer makers love to attach a spigot or tap to their buckets. This makes bottling so much easier. Just attach a beer gun and gravity will finish the job.
However, the large lid of the bucket takes its toll. It is very difficult to seal the bucket and it invariably leaks. Also large lid means more head room. This headspace is the oxygen or air between the liquid and your lid/airlock. Either your beer/wine will get oxidized in the bucket or the headspace will be too little and the krausen (floating yeast) will spill over.
Carboy on the other hand are great for secondary fermentation. Its narrow mouth is easy to seal. So no leakage and oxidation loss. It is preferred for any aging experiments. Plastic carboys are also inexpensive and easily available in the corner store. Just ask for a bisleri water can and you can bring home a fermenter.
- Glass fermenters are fragile
- There is no way to put a tap of airlock through the narrow mouth.
- It is very hard to clean as the mouth is too narrow.
- Improper sanitization means that carboy are prone to infection.
30 Liters Flat bottom fermenter by Arishtam. It has a wide enough mouth to be used as primary. Yet the seal is tight enough that it can be used for prolonged aging. The lid is wide enough for a hand to go inside and clean/sanitize the whole equipment so no infection.