Sunday, November 29, 2009

Choosing a fermenter - Part Two

Conical fermentersThis is part two in a 2-part series on choosing a fermenter for your homebrewing. In this article we will examine some of the more advanced models of fermenters that are available to homebrewers.

In Part One, we examined some of the basic forms of fermenters including plastic buckets, Better Bottle carboys and glass carboys.

For those of you who have been homebrewing for a while and are ready to step up to something a bit more advanced, we'll examine some of the more expensive and larger capacity fermentation vessels that are available on the market. These models range from 7.5 gallon models all the way up to sizes that exceed a barrel in size.

We've seen from the previous article that fermenters can be quite affordable and can be made from a wide variety of materials like food grade plastics, P.E.T. plastics as well as glass. If you are looking to make home brew in batches larger than 5 gallons at a time and want to keep your entire batch in one receptacle, then the following types of fermenters may be just what you're looking for.

This article will examine some of the bigger, more expensive models including: high impact polymer containers, high density polyethylene (HDPE) fermenters, some converted kegs as well as some larger capacity stainless steel models.

Here is where the sky becomes the limit. How much homebrew you plan on making and the size of your budget will help determine which larger scale fermenter is right for you. For those who expect the best in their homebrew, these models may be of some interest.

Please note: prices can change at any time. Please check with suppliers for the latest and most current prices on fermenters. Prices listed here were based on 2009 values and may be higher or lower than listed here.

Tuff Tank Vessels

Tuff TankTuff Tank vessels have been around for several years and are available in a few larger scale sizes for fermentation. These tanks are sold through and offer a larger capacity along with a more affordable model. Tuff Tanks are made of food-grade high impact polymers.

The Tuff Tank Vessel provides an easy, convenient way to handle any type of fermentation. It comes with an air-lock and can be sealed up air-tight. This makes it effective as both a primary or secondary fermenter. Tuff-Tank vessels also have a handy faucet that can be used for both racking or bottling your beer. The faucet has been strategically elevated away from the very bottom so that you can easily transfer your beer without transferring the sediment.

Tuff Tank Vessels come in 3 different sizes: 9 gallon, 14 gallon and 22 gallon. There are also discounts available for ordering more than one at a time.

Cost: 9 gallon - $48, 14 gallon - $62, and $92 for the 22 gallon size. Shipping is free in some cases.

Advantages: Larger capacity than typical carboys. Air-tight. No light will get to your fermenting beer. Lighter weight than metal or glass fermenters. Comes with an air-lock and a spigot as standard.

Disadvantages: Polymers, like any other plastic, can scratch and could harbor bacteria. Not intended for small batches. May not have the same trust for taste as glass and stainless steel fermenters do.

Price a Tuff Tank Vessel:
E. C. Krause

MiniBrew Conical Fermenters

Minibrew fermentersAnother step up the ladder in fermenters comes with the MiniBrew Conical Fermenters from Hobby Beverage Equipment Co. These fermentation vessels slope down to a point to help collect sediment at the bottom that can easily be removed by the use of well placed valves. MiniBrew fermenters are made with High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and come with nickel plated valves for racking and yeast removal.

All popular cleaning and/or sterilizing agents can be used on these plastic (HDPE) fermenters. They will not harm the inert plastic material. Water at 180 degrees can be an excellent sterilizing agent; pour it down the sides of the fermenter. The heat will sink into the plastic and all the parts, killing bacteria. This procedure works with stainless also. The large top makes it easy to get inside and scrub dried trub with a Teflon scouring pad.

MiniBrew Conical Fermenters come in a wide variety of sizes to fit most any brewing needs: 6 gallon, 8 gallon, 15 gallon, 25 gallon, 40 gallon and 100 gallon sizes. These fermenters range in weight from 13 lbs all the way up to 150 lbs.

Cost: Here is where you start noticing a bit of an increase in price: 6 gal = $198, 8 gal = $289, 15 gal = $347, 25 gal = $510, 40 gal = $755 and the 100 gal = $1625. This does not include shipping. The larger models must be delivered by truck due to their size.

Advantages: Available in a wide variety of sizes. Lighter weight than glass or stainless steel models. Conical shape offers ease of sediment removal and transfer. Large opening makes loading and cleaning easier. Tanks are elevated as a standard. Can eliminate the need for transferring to a secondary.

Disadvantages: Again, plastic but that is a choice. These models start to get expensive for the larger containers. Larger containers require more space to store.

Price a MiniBrew Conical Fermenter:
High Gravity Homebrew, Hobby Beverage.

Stainless Steel Variable Capacity Tanks

Stainless Variable Capacity FermentersVariable capacity tanks have the ability to adjust themselves down to the exact size of the batch you wish to make. A 13 gallon model, for example, can accommodate batch sizes from 1 to 12 gallons. The lid fits inside the stainless steel tank and seals itself with the aid of an inflatable gasket.

Think of it as a food-grade, bicycle inner-tube places around the outer edge of the lid. Just position the lid to the appropriate height for your batch and then inflate the tube with the provided hand pump. You can place the lid as close or as far away from the liquid's surface as you like.

The Variable Capacity Tank can be used for both primary and secondary fermentations. Its lid is fitted with a dry air-lock that allows gases to escape while keeping the tank sealed air-tight. It comes equipped with a heavy-duty, ball-valve faucet for easily transferring your beer to a second container or for bottling. The faucet can be fitted with a 3/8" Vinyl Siphon Hose.

Models come in 13 gallon, 26 gallon, 39 gallon, 52 gallon, 66 gallon and also can be special ordered all the way up to 265 gallon!

Cost: Comparable to the HDPE conical models. 13 gal = $399, 26 gal = $530, 39 gal = $575, 52 gal = $665, 66 gal = $745. Price may include shipping on smaller models.

Advantages: Can brew any size batch you wish with just one model while minimizing head space. Stainless steel durability and ease of cleaning. Can be used for bulk, long term storage.

Disadvantages: Availability is limited. Shipping larger models may get cost prohibitive.

Price a Stainless Steel Variable Capacity Tank:
E.C. Kraus.

Blichmann Conical Stainless Steel Fermenters

Blichmann Conical FermentersConsidered to be one of the top of the line home fermenter models, the Blichmann Conical Stainless Steel "Fermenator" is known for quality, craftsmanship and durability.

Blichmann Fermenator offers commercial brewery functionality at a consumer good price. Unlike their plastic cousins, these models are made with quality stainless steel from top to bottom and offer a weld free interior. No stress about bacteria hiding in weld cracks or porosity found in all welds.

The bottom slopes down to angle to help collect sediment in a way that can be easily removed. These models are guaranteed not to leak. The Fermenator will even hold up to pressure to allow CO2 pumping from vessel to vessel.

The Blichmann Fermenator comes in 4 different sizes and can match almost all homebrew batch size needs: 7.0 gallon, 14.5 gallon, 27 gallon and 42 gallon. They are widely available from most quality homebrew stores and are drop shipped directly to you from the manufacturer. Blichmann now also makes modular extensions to increase the capacity of several of their models.

Cost: Here is where you need a budget. 7 gal = $479 to $786, 14.5 gal = $599 to $829, 27 gal = $799 to $1045, 42 gal = $1239 to $1530. Cost differences are due to extras like tri-clamp valve, extender legs, caster wheels, extensions and blow-off fittings. Check stores for all options.

Advantages: No weld construction, easy to clean, long lasting, superior quality stainless steel. Closest thing to a brewery fermenter only for the home. Parts are readily available from many stores. Keeps light out of your fermenting beer. Scratch resistant.

Disadvantages: Cost. Extras can add up.

Price a Blichmann Fermenator:
High Gravity Homebrew, Williams Brewing, Northern Brewer.

Converted Kegs as Fermenters

Converted Keg FermenterThe last type of fermenter I'll discuss are for those who wish to improvise and save a bit of money and who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. One viable option is to make your own fermentation tank out of a converted keg.

In order to pull this off, you'll either need some welding skills or need to know someone who is. You can easily get the regular caps off an old keg but you might need a bit of ingenuity to create a sealable hole to place an air-lock and/or a drain spigot.

Homebrewers have been using old kegs for a variety of purposes, including brew kettles and mash tuns. With a bit of elbow grease you can probably create one for less than $100 including all of the parts. Just be sure the keg you obtain doesn't belong to a brewery and it is free from damage and is relatively spotless on the inside.

Cost: Depends on where you can find parts and who does the labor.

Advantages: Can be much less expensive than other stainless steel fermenters. Durable. Cleans well. Keeps light out of fermenting beer.

Disadvantages: Time to build, welds can harbor bacteria. May introduce leaks if not built well. Harder to insure an air-tight seal.

For ideas about more common and inexpensive fermenters, read Part One - Basic Fermenters.

Related articles:
- Choosing a brew kettle.
- Putting together the home brewery.
- Creating a yeast starter for homebrewing.
- The trials and tribulations of bottling beer.

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