My last post discussed plastic primary fermenter options and their advantages and disadvantages. Plastic Ale Pails are cheap, easy to carry (handle), and they do a good job of shielding your brew from the sun. The next step up from a plastic Ale Pail would be a Glass Carboy.
Glass Garboy Advantages:
- Visibility (watch the fermentation process and know when it is complete)
- Smaller Diameter Opening (Easier to get a tight seal)
- Easy to sanitize (reduced risk of scratching).
- No leaching
You can use a glass carboy as your primary fermenter and/or your secondary fermenter as well. A really common set-up for a good home brewing kit would have a plastic ale pail as the primary and a glass carboy as the secondary fermenter. One of the drawbacks that I mentioned with plastic is that it can scratch, which could make sanitation more difficult and ultimately contaminate your brew. Glass wont scratch with any normal cleaning brush (they make special carboy brushes, and sanitation is much easier / effective.
Another problem that plastic fermenters have is the diameter of the opening at the top. This is great for access and cleaning, however it makes it difficult to seal for storage. If the rubber seal on the inside of the lid doesn’t contact the pail around its circumference at any certain point it will cause oxygen to seep in. This will cause your beer to oxidize and could potentially contaminate your beer as the environment is no longer sterile. Glass Carboys have a small aperture (about 2″ diameter) which makes it extremely easy to seal with a rubber stopper.
Glass Carboy Disadvantages (and Solutions)
There are a couple disadvantages to Glass Carboys that you need to be careful of (don’t worry I’ve got solutions!). The glass carboy is considerably heavier than it’s plastic equivalent on its own, and when you add in you brew it can get really tough to maneuver. Worst case scenario would be that the glass carboy gets dropped and you loose all your hard work when it breaks (not fun). Carboy straps add handles – much easier to carry – a really cheap/worthwhile investment. Finally when you store your brew in a glass carboy, make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight. Put it in the closet, cover it in blankets – anything to keep the sunlight from reaching your beer.
When buying a glass carboy I would recommend getting one that holds 5 gallons or more. The majority of extract recipes out there are for 5 gallon batches. You do have the option of doing smaller batches with the larger fermenters without any problems if you happen to come across a 3 gallon recipe you want to try. Here is a home brewing kit that comes with a glass carboy if your new to brewing, or you can check out these other home brewing kits for beginners.