Throughout the course of your homebrewing career, you may find that you pass through several phases of brewing process, complexity, and equipment. Homebrewers generally begin with small 1-2 gallon batches brewed with malt extract in a stock pot on a kitchen stove and fermented in 1-gallon glass jugs. After a few brews, it is common to begin increasing batch sizes to 5 gallons, or to switch to all-grain brewing. As batch sizes and brewing process complexity increases, brewers need to purchase a larger fermenter. When that happens, the first decision you have to make is whether you want a glass vs plastic vs stainless steel homebrewing fermenter.
When choosing a fermenter, there are almost infinite choices ranging a huge spectrum of price and features, including plastic buckets, glass carboys, and plastic or stainless steel conical fermenters. Fermenters that can be used to make excellent homebrew can range from under $13 for a plastic bucket fermenter through thousands of dollars for stainless steel conical fermenters. Each type of fermenter has its own pros and cons that should be considered when deciding which is the right fermenter for you. Need some help deciding? Here is an overview of the pros and cons of glass vs plastic vs stainless steel homebrewing fermenters!
Pros and Cons of Glass Homebrewing Fermenters
Pros of Glass Homebrewing Fermenters
- Glass carboys have a narrow neck that reduces the amount of oxygen exposure.
- Glass carboys provide complete protection from oxygen because air cannot pass through glass.
- Because glass carboys provide the most oxygen protection, they are the best option for long-term aging.
- Glass is scratch resistant, which makes cleaning easier because you can use a brush with harder bristles to scrub them.
- Because glass is scratch resistant, it reduces the risk of infection from bacteria hiding in surface scratches compared to plastic.
- Glass carboys are usually clear, which lets you watch fermentation.
Cons of Glass Homebrewing Fermenters
- Glass fermenters break easily, and are dangerous when they do. This alone makes glass carboys not worth the risk in my opinion.
- Glass carboys are heavy, difficult to move around, and fragile, so extreme care must be taken to avoid breaking them.
- Clear carboys leave beer susceptible to skunking due to light exposure, so they must be kept in a dark place or covered.
- Glass carboys have a narrow neck that makes cleaning, dry hopping, and transferring harder.
Pros and Cons of Plastic Homebrewing Fermenters
- Plastic fermenters are generally the cheapest option. You can get a food grade bucket fermenter for under $13, and even feature-packed plastic conical fermenters are relatively inexpensive.
- Interested in a plastic conical fermenter? Check out our guide to the best conical fermenters under $400 for homebrewing!
- Plastic fermenters are lightweight, which makes them easy to move around, even when full of beer.
- Plastic fermenters generally have large openings which make them easier to use when doing fermentation additions like dry hopping.
- The large opening in plastic fermenters make them easier to clean than narrow-mouthed glass carboys.
- Unlike glass fermenters, plastic fermenters do not pose a risk of injury if dropped.
- Plastic is the easiest fermenter material to add ports, valves, thermowells, and other add-ons to. Drilling holes in glass or stainless steel is more difficult than drilling plastic and requires special tools.
- Some plastic conical fermenters can be pressurized for fermentation or pressurized transfers.
- The plastic that plastic fermenters are made from is generally slightly permeable to oxygen, which poses a risk of oxygenation when beer is stored in plastic for longer than a couple of weeks of fermentation.
- Plastic fermenters scratch easily, and scratches can harbor bacteria that causes infections and lost batches.
- Because plastic fermenters scratch easily, you cannot use brushes with hard bristles to scrub them without risking damage to the fermenter.
- Because they scratch easily, plastic fermenters do not generally last as long as glass or stainless steel fermenters.
Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Homebrewing Fermenters
- Stainless steel fermenters are strong and resistant to damage, making them the longest lasting option.
- Stainless steel is very easy to clean, and is resistant to scratches that harbor bacteria.
- Because stainless steel is impermeable to oxygen, stainless steel fermenters are a good choice for longer-term aging in the fermenter.
- Stainless steel fermenters offer complete protection from light exposure, which effectively prevents skunking.
- Stainless steel fermenters are (at least in my opinion) the easiest and safest choice for using temperature-controlled fermentation.
- The only true con of stainless steel fermenters is that they are generally the most expensive option.
- Even though they are more expensive, there are some options that are more affordable than you might expect! Check out our guide to the best conical fermenters under $400 for homebrewing!
- Stainless steel fermenters do not allow you to observe fermentation in progress.
Is there a difference in the quality of a beer fermented in glass vs plastic vs stainless steel homebrewing fermenters?
No! We have done a few experiments comparing the same beer fermented in glass vs plastic vs stainless steel fermenters, and tasters have not been able to consistently identify any differences in final gravity, color, clarity, aroma, or flavor. You can make great beer in a $13 plastic bucket just like you can make great beer in a $400 stainless steel conical fermenter. The differences between glass vs plastic vs stainless steel homebrewing fermenters are about features and conveniences that make you enjoy brewing more, rather than directly affecting the overall quality of your homebrew.
Which is the best choice between glass vs plastic vs stainless steel homebrewing fermenters?
If you can afford it, I recommend fermenting in stainless steel fermenters. The ease of cleaning, protection from light, reduced risk of infection, and no risk of injury due to broken glass makes stainless steel the best overall option. I do not recommend glass fermenters, even though I used them successfully for years. While slightly better than plastic for fermentation due to the lower risk of infection or oxygenation, the risk of injury or lost beer is not worth the benefits. If you’re interested in investing in a new fermenter, there are some great stainless steel and plastic conical fermenters available, and some are at very reasonable prices. Check out our guide to the best conical fermenters under $400 for homebrewing!
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