Plastic or Glass Homebrew Fermentor

I have long been a fan of using plastic buckets for my primary fermentation.  They are easy to clean and they make it easy to get the beer in and out.  I generally ferment in primary for ten days before either racking to a keg or extended conditioning in secondary.   My beers are good and I have never had any issues with the quality of my beers that I can relate directly to the choice of my fermentor.

However, I was recently reviewing the recipes for each of the individual award winners from the latest NHC (National Homebrew Competition).  The recipes and their techniques are printed each year in the AHA magazine, Zymurgy.

After reviewing all the winners, I discovered something that I thought was interesting; none of those brewers had fermented in plastic.  Almost all the recipes list what they fermented in and it was always glass or steel (glass was used ~95% of the time).  I found this quite interesting.  If all these award winners were not using plastic, should I switch over to make better beer???

There are a couple other possibilities to explain this.  Plastic gets such a bad rap sometimes, that it’s possible people say they used glass to avoid the taboo.  But I doubt they would lie about something like that intentionally.  No one even mentioned using a “Better Bottle“.

It could be possible that glass is just a “step up” type of choice that many homebrewers serious about better beer brewing make.  The choice of glass may have little relevance to the quality of the brew and fermentation; but it could be an indicator of a brewers that are being extra careful about ALL parts of their process.
Surely, it would be interesting to know what would happen if all the same brewers with all the same recipes and ingredient just used buckets, would they have all come out on top still????

Perhaps a few side by side comparisons are necessary to figure it out. I have no delusions that glass doesn’t have some better qualities than plastic, but I still really like the price and the easy cleaning of plastic buckets.

So I was wondering how many readers here use glass exclusively (or stainless) for fermentation?  Maybe its time to make the switch BACK to glass.
Thoughts?

Comments

  1. I love Better Bottles. I switched from the beer bucket to glass, like most people, on my 2nd or 3rd batch and used glass carboys for about five years. This year I got sick of large, heavy, breakable, hard to clean glass carboys and am using Better Bottles exclusively for primary. I’m still doing secondary in glass but that’s just because I need to buy a few more Better Bottles. Those things kick A$$ so hard — easy to clean, they weigh virtually nothing, unbreakable. The only bummers are you can’t put liquid over 140′ in them, and they tend to flex so when I carry one downstairs it ‘burps’ air up through the airlock. Pretty small drawbacks.

    They are easy to clean too. I just racked some bock that had a three week primary and there was some pretty crusty krauzen stuck to the neck. A 30 minute soak of PBW and cold water and it was completly gone.

  2. For me, it depends on what is empty. I have 2 in glass and 1 in plastic right now. I always use glass as a secondary. Smaller opening means less chance of contamination.

    I like glass for its scratch-resistance. I’ve never noticed a big difference in taste, but I’ve never done a side by side. That may be worth the effort.

  3. I used the glass carboy that came with my original kit of beer making equipment a few times. I always found it to be too small (it was always fermenting up into the airlock) and too hard to clean (the yeasty gunk clings to the walls where it’s hard to reach).

    Now I use plastic all the time, and I am happy that way. If I were to make something like a Lambic that I’d intend to age for a long time, I’d use the glass for oxygen permeability issues, but most of my beers are bottled after a few weeks.

  4. I love the Better Bottle too Aaron.
    It is realitve easy to clean, mainly because its easier to pick up and shake with a half gallon of warm PBW in it. I usually do a little shake and twist dance with it in my hands and alot of the krausen gunk comes off pretty easy.

    Definately need to invest in a couple more better bottles in the long run.

  5. I always use glass carboys for all fermenting and secondary and bottling. I like to see what the beer is doing. I can determine by the beer activity and clearing when it’s time to go into secondary or take a reading for SG. I guess I’ve relied on visual occurances more than just taking gravity readings but it’s pretty accurate doing it that way. I also have taken close up videos of the beer fermenting and posted it on a web site for people to see. Though glass is heavy, it’s more sanitary. No problem with scratches, and it’s not hard to clean, not for me anyway. A good scrubb with the carboy brush and rinse and it’s usually clean enough. then just a quick soak in iodophor for good measure. I have 4 carboys. No plastic buckets. I tried plastic when I first started brewing but after trying glass once I was hooked on seeing what was going on.

    DC

  6. I use plastic buckets and 5 gallon plastic water jugs as primaries. I have also used a new plastic trash can as a fermenter. For secondary, I do use glass to lessen the possibility of oxidation.

  7. There has been a lot of attention to the possible health effects of plastics recently. Long overdue. Glass is always good. But if you use plastic, be careful. Most food-grade plastic fermenting buckets are recycle code #2 (polyethylene) which is OK. Polyethylene has not been implicated in releasing hazardous chemicals. But watch out for #3 or #7!. PVC (recycle code #3) is recognized as the “poison plastic” because of its ability to leach vinyl compounds and pthalates into liquids contained in them; these chemicals are carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting. Polycarbonate (recycle code #7) has recently been found to leach bis-phenyl A (BPA) into liquids; this chemical is an endocrine disrupter. “Better Bottles: and the 5-gallon water bottles provided by water delivery services are polycarbonate, as are “Nalgene” and other sports bottles. The risk factor for room temperature solutions for a week or so is probably small, but who wants even a little bit of BPA in your IPA? Avoid #7 and #3 plastics. For more information on these and other plastics, and how to use them and recycle responsibly, see http://www.sustainableplastics.org/files/IATP_Plastics_Guide.pdf Happy brewing but be safe.

  8. Recognizing the different plastic types are important, and to correct the previous post, Better Bottles are polyethylene tetraphthalate (not PVC) and are BPA-free (see the better bottle website). Also, the recycle code #7 is a waste-management code and while it often refers to polycarbonate, it is a catch-all category for plastics that don’t fall under the other recycling codes, including bioplastics which are BPA-free.

  9. Would a 5 gallon water bottle made for a local water company, that doesn’t have a recycling label on it, be usable as a fermenter?

  10. Not sure, but if the plastic is food grade…it might work.

  11. Better Bottles are NOT made of polycarbonate. They are made of PET and are perfectly safe. In face, ‘Better Bottle’ even manufactures a primary fermentation vessel with a spigot built in so that you do not have to siphon into secondary fermentation.

    I recently purchased a ‘Better Bottle’ to use on my water crock. I used to use a polycarbonate bottle. I notice that the ‘Better Bottle’ water tastes much cleaner. The only downside is that these bottles, while still very strong, are not as rigid as polycarbonate. They tend to flex a lot. However, last night at the liquor barn I found the new ‘Better Bottle’ handles which are sort of like a carboy handle but made of thick plastic. I think that moving them around will be much easier with this handle.

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