Because I had these fermenters on hand and because my work table, for once, was clean enough to photograph, here is a quick rundown of the fermentation containers currently in rotation at McPhillips Brewing. There seems to be a wide range of opinions regarding which fermenter is the “best” one to use. I have no idea, but I do have a few thoughts on the ones I am using.
6 Gallon Better Bottle
This is actually the second fermenter I purchased when I started brewing. I call it the Better Than Nothing Bottle. Actually, it is fine, just not my favorite. The Better Bottles are lighter than glass carboys, won’t break like glass, and are hydrophobic, so they are allegedly easier to clean. Visit the Better Bottle website for their full details. You can also get ported Better Bottles with racking assemblies, airlocks, and other accessories.
The Better Bottle turned out to be my least favorite of the fermenters I am currently using. I find them kind of awkward to carry when full, and a pain to clean. Even after a hot water and Oxiclean soak I usually have some crud left inside. A carboy cleaner would probably make a big difference, but I have never gotten around to buying one. Also, I find the six gallon size that I have too small for five gallon batches; they are always blowing out on me. That said, I do use the Better Bottle any time I secondary beer, which is only occasionally.
6.5 Gallon Ale Pail
The Ale Pail was part of my first starter kit that I picked up at a garage sale several years ago. Many homebrew equipment kits include the Ale Pail or a similar bucket style fermenter and for good reason. They are cheap, simple, and effective. They may not have the bling factor of a stainless steel conical fermenter, but there is no reason you cannot make great beer with a humble bucket fermenter. I find the bucket to be easier to clean than the Better Bottle and easier to carry when full. At 6.5 gallons, it is also a little too small for higher gravity brews without a blow off tube, but the extra half-gallon compared to the Better Bottle does help in that regard.
30 Liter Speidel Tanks
Now we’re talking. The Speidel tanks are my personal favorites. The 30 liter size (a liter being a made up measurement that Europeans insist is real; what they mean is eight gallons) is plenty large enough that for five gallon batches. Blowouts are not an issue, even with high gravity beers. They have a couple of rugged handles to make moving full tanks easier, and a comically large airlock.
The lid opening is large enough to allow you to get your whole arm inside, which makes cleaning much easier than the Better Bottle. After an Oxiclean soak, any stubborn stains or deposits are easy to wipe away with a sponge or scrubbie.
My favorite feature is the built-in spout. Unlike the spout on a bottling bucket, the threads of the Speidel spout are actually molded into the body of the tank and I have never had a problem with leakage. The advantage of the spout is that it allows you to draw samples for gravity readings without removing the top (and letting oxygen in) or using a thief or turkey baster to pull the sample, reducing the chance of contamination. And if you keg your beer, the spout is a minor miracle. I usually do a 3 week primary fermentation, followed by cold crashing for a few days and then just drain the fermented beer into a keg for carbonation. The spout is just high enough that yeast and trub is left behind without being disturbed. It literally takes 5 minutes. Did I mention how much I like these tanks?
The downside is the Speidels are a little pricey ($59.99 for the 30 liter.) For a while they were notoriously hard to find in stock, but MoreBeer.com seems to have gotten a better handle on demand now as they seem to be in stock most of the time now. I have my eye on the 60 liter version for ten gallon batches which brings us to…
CurTec 13 gallon Wide Neck Drum
If you brew ten gallon batches, the CurTec wide neck drum is possibly the best value around. They can often be found on eBay for $16-$20 plus shipping. The seller I bought mine from offered to combine shipping on 2 tanks, so mine ended up being $30-$35 each shipped. Mine were listed as having been used once for bagged ibuprofen tablets and came to me very clean and odor free.
These high quality tanks have a huge lid opening which makes cleaning easy and a gasketed lid that seals very nicely. Like the Speidel, it has carry handles, and has a huge 13 gallon capacity.
You will have to drill a hole in the plastic lid for an airlock. I used a step bit and drilled mine out to use the same stopper and airlock as the Speidel tank. I don’t brew ten gallon batches very often, but when I do, the CurTech tank works very well. They also make great grain storage containers.
That’s my lineup for now. I’m sure other fermenters will be added eventually. Of course, I’m always happy to provide unbiased reviews of stainless steel conicals. I’m looking at you Brewhemoth, Blichmann, and Stout Tanks.