The debate rages on I suppose.
I have been using a combination of glass and plastic fermentors off and for the last 11 years. In fact, I still ferment in my original bucket fermentor that came with my first equipment kit. Because of that I really do not subscribe to the fear factor some people have regarding scratches. Plastic can get scratched which is why you should never “scrub” a plastic fermentor with something abrasive like steel wool, or even one of those green pads from scotch bright.
However, some would have you believe that even rubbing your hand across the surface of your bucket can create “micro” scratches that harbor bacteria. NO. I don’t buy that for one bit. My evidence is the fact that I’ve never had a batch go bad because of bacteria or an infected batch that I could trace to the fermentor.
To get long term use from a plastic bucket though, you do need to be cautious. If I have some stuck on yeast, beerstone, or trub; I tend to soak the bucket overnight with PBW, from Five Star Chemicals. Then a good strong rinse with a hose and out it all comes. I think the biggest thing I have done to protect the inside of my buckets is that I have never nested the together. I have three buckets and they always sit separately. I brew in a garage, and the exterior base of my buckets are pretty roughed up from getting slide across the concrete floor. I also don’t do a great job cleaning the exterior of my equipment. So there is often a lot of grit and stuff stuck there as well. If I were to nest the buckets for storage, I am sure my buckets wouldn’t have lasted as long as they have.
Well with that all said, I have been slowly moving towards using only glass during fermentation. My buckets are getting tired and worn. Furthermore, I am staring to use them for other things like storing tubing and racking canes. I also occasionally use them for holding crushed grain for a big batch as I am milling. I also use them for measuring water. I collect wort in them from the mash tun, preboil. So when my buckets are full of fermenting beers, my brewing process sort of comes to a halt.
And glass does offer several advantages over plastic, namely visibility and oxygen transfer. My most recent new brew was the Berliner Weiss. That beer uses an intentional pitch of lactic acid bacteria. Being able to see inside the fermentor has been a plus so I can learn better what has been happening in the fermentor. I don’t always feel the need to watch my ferment. However, as I start to pay more and more attention to the subtle details of making beer; knowing when a certain yeast strain really starts to drop out, or come to krausen is a good benefit of the clear glass.
Glass is impermeable to oxygen. So that is one less factor in trying to get fine control over the brewing process. Each year Zymurgy magazine publishes the recipes from all the NHC winners. Last year, they also deonoted in each recipe whether the beer was done in glass, steel or plastic. Almost everyone was in glass, a few in steel and no one was in plastic (at least maybe no one wanted to admit to that?).
Regardless, of my respect for plastics I am switching over entirely to glass as things progress in my brewery. I don’t think I’ll be replacing my plastics for more plastics. Yes, yes call be a brewing snob, but that’s just the way I feel about now. Ask me a couple more years from now, and I am sure I’ll be switching back to plastic complaining of narrow openings and breakablity of glass. Or maybe by then I’ll be in stainless steel.
(Oh, and I have given up on Better Bottles. See this post and gleen my primary reason for that.)