7 Different Style Fermenters For Homebrewing

There’s are a wide array of fermenting vessels available to homebrewers today. From plastic buckets to commercial-grade unitanks at the homebrew scale. One of my favorite ‘homebrewisms’ is Brewers make wortyeast makes beer. Fermentation is ultimately the most critical part of the brewing process, but it’s often overlooked by beginners. So my advice to you is to choose your fermentation vessel and practices wisely.

Below are the most common style fermenters along with their benefits, pros, and cons. I’ve used everything other than a plastic conical up until this point.

Plastic Bucket Fermenter with Spigot

Everyone usually starts their homebrew journey fermenting in a plastic bucket. They’re economical, easy to use and clean, and sometimes have a spigot for easy transferring. Buckets are small and can be easily stored in fridges for cold crashing or temp control. That being said, they come with a lot of limitations in terms of complex fermenting practices and are prone to scratching, which can open the door for places for bacteria to hide.

Budget: $10-$20

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use and clean

Cons

  • Can scratch easily with cleaning
  • Trub collects on flat bottom
  • Limited temp control options
  • Cannot be pressurized
Plastic Bucket Fermenter

Carboy (Plastic or Glass)

A carboy is another popular choice for fermenting. Carboys come in both glass and plastic options, each with their own set of tradeoffs. Glass carboys won’t scratch and overall seem like a more sanitary option to plastic. I used to love using carboys because you could observe active fermentation stages and verify clarity before transferring. That being said, you’re also opening your beer up to light exposure, which can be harmful to your beer.

Carboys can be difficult to clean due to the very small opening at the top. The only way to get wort in or out is via funnel or autosiphon. If you’re looking to dry hop in mesh bags, you’ll quickly realize how much of a nuisance it is getting a saturated hop bag is out of a 2-inch opening. Some plastic carboys like the FerMonster address these issues and have larger screw-top lids.

Carboys can also be difficult to handle and move when full, especially when wet. I’ve heard one too many horror stories of badly cut hands from breaking or dropping glass carboys.

Budget: $30-$50

Pros

  • Affordable, just not as cheap as plastic buckets
  • Simple fermentation chamber
  • No oxygen ingress or scratching (if glass)
  • Basic automated heating and cooling accessories available

Cons

  • Can be difficult to clean
  • Trub collects on flat bottom
  • No spigot on glass versions
  • Cannot be pressurized
Glass Carboy

Stainless Steel Bucket Fermenter

Stainless bucket fermenters have recently become a very popular hybrid option between plastic buckets and basic conicals. A stainless bucket has every advantage of a plastic bucket with several added benefits. Stainless steel is the preferred material of pro brewers because it’s easy to clean, sanitize, and very durable. They keep light out and maintain a tight seal on the lid. The biggest feature enhancement is the coned bottom that helps separate the trub from your beer. This makes leaving hops and sediment behind an easier task.

Stainless buckets have a small handful of more advanced accessories for pressure transfers and heating and cooling. Just note the pressure rating on most bucket fermenters is really only 1-2 PSI, so pressure fermenting is not an option. Most come equipped with a bottom spigot which makes for easy gravity readings and sampling.

Ss Brewtech Stainless Bucket Fermenter

Stainless fermenters are a pricier option in comparison to plastic buckets or carboys but are much more affordable than conicals or unitanks. Look at the Ss Brewtech Stainless Brew Bucket and the Anvil Brew Bucket. Both great options for upgrading to a stainless fermenter. A hybrid, yet more expensive and feature-rich option is the Spike FLEX+, which offers a small cone along with pressure rated capabilities and more features that can be upgraded.

Budget: $200-$300

Pros

  • Easy to use and clean, stainless is the gold standard in brewing
  • No oxygen ingress and keeps light out
  • A wide array of heating and cooling accessories
  • Slight cone at the bottom for better trub collection
  • Set up fo low-pressure transfers/zero oxygen transfers

Cons

  • Pricier option
  • Cannot be pressurized above 1-2 PSI
  • Not a true conical fermenter
  • No yeast dumping

Corny Keg

Believe it or not, you can actually ferment right in a corny keg with a few minor modifications. If you already have a kegging system, then you can reap some of the benefits of a pressure-rated conical at a fraction of the cost. Keg fermenting is great for a few reasons. They’re easy to use and clean, they’re pressure rated higher than most true conicals/unitanks, and you can also naturally carbonate while fermenting (like commercial breweries).

Fermenting under pressure is valuable to some beer styles because it decreases ester production and allows you to ferment at higher temps without the off-flavors that accompany it. Corny kegs are equipped with gas and liquid ports for easy purging and zero oxygen pressure transfers from keg to keg. The liquid out tube must be either bent or cut so it sits further off the bottom so you don’t suck up any trub during transfers.

Ball Lock Keg Fermenter

You will also need to rig up an airlock system or attach a spunding valve to release pressure build-up during fermentation. You can cold crash right in your kegerator thanks to their tall slim design and you also don’t need to worry about oxygen suck back when crashing, since it’s a sealed vessel.

With all the benefits of keg fermenting, at the end of the day, a keg is a keg and does not have some of the advanced features of a true conical such as trub dumping or temp control systems. Temp control is limited to ambient temp or using a fridge to keep the vessel cool. Lastly, you’ll have to scale your batches back to about 4.5 gallons to accommodate the size and necessary headspace needed for fermentation

Budget: $75-$150

Pros

  • Easy to use and clean, stainless is the gold standard in brewing
  • No oxygen ingress and keeps light out
  • Easy pressure transfers/zero oxygen transfers
  • Ferment/dry hop under pressure

Cons

  • Will most likely need kegging setup with CO2
  • Limited to 4.5 gallon batches
  • Limited cooling options
  • No trub dumping or cone
  • Diptube and ports can clog easily with hop debris during transfer

Plastic Conical Fermenter

Plastic conicals offer a lot of the benefits of true conicals but at a fraction of a cost. The biggest benefit of a plastic conical such as the FermZilla,
Fermentasaurus and FastFerment is trub dumping/yeast harvesting. The trub can very easily be separated from the beer without racking, moving, or disturbing the beer. This eliminates any form of secondary fermentation.

Easy access to yeast will allow you to recycle, clean, and reuse yeast across multiples batches, which of course saves money and can actually improve the quality of your beer. The FermZilla is pressure rated up to 35 PSI, allowing you to ferment/dry hop under pressure, carbonate, and transfer your beer very easily with pressure. It also has an upgradable cooling coil for glycol chilling.

FermZilla Plastic Conical Fermenter

Plastic conicals are certainly an awesome option for those who want the benefit of a stainless conical without the hefty price tag. The only downside is the fact that they’re clear plastic and can still be scratched if improperly cleaned. A CO2 system will help you get the full benefits of units like the Fermzilla.

Budget: $100-$200

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Easy pressure transfers/zero oxygen transfers
  • Some options allow fermenting/dry hopping under pressure
  • Some options offer carbonation
  • Trub dumping and yeast harvesting

Cons

  • Plastic can scratch if not careful
  • Clear/UV exposure
  • Not as durable as stainless

Stainless Conical Fermenter

A stainless conical is a premium fermentation vessel with a sharp cone and lots of advanced features. Stainless conicals are basically designed after professional brewery equipment but scaled down for homebrewers. There are a handful of different options out there but a few of the most popular are Ss Brewtech and Spike brands. There are also some new players to the market like BrewBuilt and Brewtools. Some of these conicals are pressure-rated while others are not. The true benefit of a conical is the deep cone and dump valve. This acts just like a plastic conical and allows for trub removal and yeast harvesting.

The main advantage of a conical is tremendous control and configurable features and addons that give homebrewers the ability to mimic pro brewer processes. With all these features, conicals certainly require a bit of a learning curve, additional cleaning, and are among the most expensive options. Conicals are best suited for glycol cooling system for temp control, which cost about as much as the fermenter itself, if not more. A great option if you have the money to spend on them.

If I were to purchase a conical I would likely get one that was pressure rated so I could at least experiment with pressurized fermentation.

Budget: $500-$1500+ (depending on size)

Pros

  • Pro brewer control over fermentation
  • lots of features and accessories
  • Easy pressure transfers/zero oxygen transfers
  • Some options allow fermenting/dry hopping under pressure
  • Some options offer carbonation
  • Trub dumping and yeast harvesting

Cons

  • Learning curve
  • Very expensive
  • Lots of components and valves to clean

Unitank

A unitank is another professional-grade fermenting vessel that doubles as a carbonation vessel. Unitanks are very similar to conicals in terms of features and capabilities but offer built-in tools specific to carbonation. That’s not to say you can’t carbonate in some conicals as well. It’s just a matter of the vessel pressure rating.

Unitanks are packed with some advanced features but come with a very hefty price tag. Like conicals, these units are best suited for a glycol cooling system for temp control due to their size. Unitanks are for the serious homebrewer looking for advanced fermentation practices. These units are probably only worth it if trying to brew very particular or delicate styles of beer.

With so many valves and tubing, there is obviously a lot of cleaning and care that needs to go into maintaining such a vessel. Look for the Ss Brewtech unitank or the BrewBuilt Series.

Budget: $1000+ (depending on size)

Pros

  • Pro brewer control over fermentation
  • lots of features and accessories
  • Easy pressure transfers/zero oxygen transfers
  • Fermenting/dry hopping under pressure
  • Carbonation and ferment in the same vessel
  • No racking/transferring needed until ready to package
  • Trub dumping and yeast harvesting

Cons

  • Learning curve
  • Very expensive
  • Lots of components and valves to clean

One thought on “7 Different Style Fermenters For Homebrewing

  1. Norcal solutions sells a piece of hardware that converts any sanke keg into a fermenter with co2 blow off, trube or yeast harvesting, and pressurized transfers or carbonation. And very affordable.

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