Glass Carboy Or Plastic Bucket For Fermentation: Which One Should You Use?​

One of the things that I like about homebrewing, is hearing the opinions from other fellow brewers on why you should or shouldn’t use a particular item or why you should or shouldn’t do something a certain way.

When it comes to the brewing of beer, there are a couple of main talking points that continue to be a huge topic of discussion.  One is whether “secondary fermentation” is a good idea or a bad idea. And the other is if you should use a plastic bucket or a carboy for fermentation.

Both plastic and glass do have certain advantages and disadvantages over each other, but both can definitely have a place in every home brewery.

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Glass Carboy Or Plastic Bucket For Fermentation

In this article we will discuss a few of the pros and cons of using different fermenting vessels, and whether a glass carboy or plastic fermenter bucket is the right choice for your brewing needs.

When it comes down to the fermentation equipment, you really do have many options to choose from, ranging from glass or plastic carboys, plastic buckets, or even a conical fermenter.

But for this article, we will focus on differences between using glass vs plastic for fermentation.

Glass Carboy

Many homebrewers prefer to use a glass carboy for fermentation and has some noticeable advantages other than looking cool.

Two of the main reasons that a glass carboy is preferred by many brewers is because it is impermeable to oxygen, which is a bad thing during fermentation.

The another advantage is you can actually see inside and monitor what is happening during the fermentation. Any time you can avoid opening a lid to see the activity taking place is always a good thing.

5 gallon glass carboy

While is is great to be able to see what is going on inside of the carboy, you must protect the beer from light.  Protecting the beer from harmful UV light is necessary to avoid off-flavors and a skunky beer.  Try to keep the carboy in a dark area of the house or keep it covered with a blanket to avoid exposure to the light.

While a glass carboy can be used for primary fermentation, it is also the preferred choice for many home brewers to be used as a second fermentation vessel if the recipe or style of beer calls for it.

This is where the continuous debate about the need for secondary fermentation comes into play.

On the downside, these glass carboys are heavy and awkward and can be difficult to lift and move around. And of course, they are made of glass which can crack or shatter completely. Not only will you make a mess, there is a good chance that you can seriously hurt yourself in the process.

Pros

  • Doesn’t scratch like plastic
  • Easy to sanitize
  • Can see fermentation taking place
  • Not-impermeable to oxygen

Cons

  • Can break and cause serious injury
  • More expensive than plastic
  • Much heavier than plastic and can be awkward to move

Plastic Fermentation Bucket

If you bought a complete beer making kit, or compiling your own beer equipment kit piece by piece, you most likely will have two different plastic fermentation buckets. One bucket is used for primary fermentation, and the second bucket will be used as a “bottling” bucket.

To keep the cost down, the basic and inexpensive beer equipment kits include a food-grade plastic fermenting bucket which is completely fine and will do the job.

While there are definitely some strong points for using a plastic bucket for fermentation, there are also some drawbacks that come along with it too.

plastic ale pail for fermentaion

First off, plastic buckets are very cost-effective compared to other styles and can be used primary, secondary, and bottling.  Besides the prices, one of the best reasons to use plastic is because they just don’t break like some other materials.  In addition, having a large opening makes it easy to stir or add fruit to the beer.

Even though plastic won’t break, it can be scratched rather easily which then can harbor bacteria that can lead to an infection and a bad batch of beer.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to transfer wort
  • Lightweight – Easy to carry and store
  • Will not break or shatter like glass

Pros

  • Can scratch and give bacteria a place to hide
  • Cannot see what is happening inside
  • Oxygen can enter through the plastic and ruin the beer

Final Say

Nobody can say that one or the other is better. No matter what you decide, both glass and plastic can and will work just fine for any homebrewer.

It all comes down to personal preference and what you are comfortable with.

Not all brewers are the same, just like not all equipment is the same.  Beer brewing is about experimenting with new recipes, techniques, and equipment.

The only way to know what is better for you, is to test and see what works best for you.

Happy Brewing!

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Todd
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