When Fermenting Beer Is It Better To Use Glass Or Plastic?

Buckets, Better Bottles, Plastic Water Bottles, Glass Carboys, or Cornelius Kegs… You can get with this or you can get with that…

Haha… I’ve got that song stuck in my head now…

Anyways, this is definitely a question I see come up often and honestly it is mostly a matter of preference… mine has been plastic buckets ever since I used the first one, and here’s why:

Home Brewing With Plastic Buckets:

First off, they are cheap and you can find them just about anywhere as long as they are food grade plastic. In fact, some people have gone out to bakeries and gotten a few buckets from them for free.

If you do get a plastic bucket from anywhere but a home brew supply store and it doesn’t have a hole for your airlock, it is pretty easy to modify it…

Unlike, carboys, plastic buckets don’t let light hit the beer which keeps it from skunking up on you… not that wrapping a towel around your carboy is hard work, but it’s one less thing to worry about.

The biggest reason why I like plastic though is that it’s light weight and it is much, much easier to clean and sanitize…

Ok, but what about the bad and the ugly?

The bad is that plastic scratches easily which allows bacteria to grow… honestly, I haven’t scratched my bucket yet. However, I do know that I will eventually have to replace my bucket.

Odor is another fear factor, but I found that if I clean my bucket right after each use and rinse it off with bleach, any odors pretty much disappear.

Last we’ve got the head space… there is both good and bad with this… the good is that the 6.5 plastic buckets have more headspace and therefore there is usually no need to use a blow off tube. That’s a pro for primary, but if you are dry hopping or adding fruit and need to secondary, that head space is actually bad… so I guess my point is that plastic buckets are usually not good for secondary fermentation if you have the 6.5 gallon ones.

Last we have the ugly… and there really isn’t other than it’s ugly looking and you can’t see krausen form… if anything a scary thing about buckets is that they may not seal properly which may keep any activity in the airlock… again, that’s not an ugly thing, but for new brewers it seems like the end of the world…

Home Brewing With Glass Carboys:

The good? It makes you look like a pro… and your friends who know nothing about home brew are more likely to taste beer brewed in glass than some cheap looking plastic…

When cleaning carboys, you can brush away without worrying about scratches and so long as you don’t break it, it will last forever… and then again, glass doesn’t absorb any odors the way plastic does.

Rubber and glass makes for a great seal which helps your airlock bubble away 9 times out of 10… and because it is transparent, you can also get a visual to check up on fermentation (i.e. be smitten by krausen forming)

But what about the bad and the ugly?

Well the bad is that out of all fermenters (except for conical) this will put a bigger dent in your bank account. The narrow opening makes it harder to clean, although not impossible with a good brush. It is much heavier than plastic which makes it harder to carry around… which leads to the ugly… if it breaks you could end up at the hospital… (rare, but could happen)

Now, these are the two most common fermenters, but there are a couple of options…

Home Brewing With Better Bottles:

Better bottles are basically plastic carboys. That means it can scratch just like plastic buckets do, but they are light weight and won’t break like glass, which is why more home brewers are turning to these bottles as an alternative to glass carboys.

Same goes for these fermenters when it comes to cleaning through a small opening although the mouth is wider than glass carboys. It does look better than a plain white plastic bucket, and because it has a little indentation at the bottom you can place a tennis ball or something similar to spin it and aerate your wort…

Most importantly, it costs about half of what a glass carboy costs…  you can also get these in 3, 5 or 6 gallon size so you can buy a 6 gallon one for fermenting and a 5 gallon one for dry hopping or secondary fermenting.

One thing I’ve hear people complain about is that liquid from the airlock may get sucked into the fermenter when moving it around since the plastic flexes and pushes air out making the fermenter suck air in as soon as it returns to normal shape… the solution? don’t move it around with an airlock in place…

Just like glass carboys, these are transparent which is cool to see Krausen, but not cool that it allows light to hit the beer and skunk it up… easily solved by wrapping a dark towel around it…

Home Brewing With Plastic Water Bottles:

Yet another alternative to glass carboys and better bottles is your plain run of the mill plastic water bottles. About the only thing I can tell you about these is that most aren’t made from food grade plastic which makes it unsuitable for brewing beer. The ones that are made with #1 or #2 plastic do have a higher oxygen permeability so you don’t really want to age beer in these…

That’s pretty much what I think and most fellow brewers I know of would agree with me… You can check out Billy Brew’s Glass vs Plastic to get a different point of view…

My setup?

I have two 6.5 plastic buckets (one for fermenting and one for bottling) and I have a 5 gallon glass carboy for secondary fermentations…

What do you use?

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