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This is my own personal review of Spike Brewing’s CF5 Conical Fermenter.
Spike reached out and offered to send me this unit on loan for a honest and unbiased review on our website. Spike did not request that I say or do anything in particular, so everything written here is from my own brewing experience. When I was finished with my review, I did have the option to send it back to them, or I could buy it and keep it.
With that said, I’m a homebrewer who tries to improve on each and every batch of beer I brew, and make it better than the last. Sometimes that means making adjustments with a previously brewed beer recipe, or by testing new brewing equipment like this conical fermenter.
There are many choices when it comes to conical fermenters, so I’ve taken an in-depth look at this CF5 conical unitank to help you determine if this piece of brewing equipment is something you might want to add to your home brewery.
This post will give a detailed and up-close look at this conical fermenter as I use it for the very first time.
- 1 Spike Conical Unitank Overview
- 2 General Features at a Glance
- 3 Shipping and Unboxing
- 4 Parts and Assembly
- 5 Optional Accessories Added
- 6 Brew Day and Cleaning
- 7 Not Deal Breakers, But Something To Think About
- 8 Spike CF5 Customer Reviews
- 9 Final Say
Spike Conical Unitank Overview
Spike Brewing is a Milwaukee, WI manufacturer of quality brewing equipment like fermenters, kettles, and electric brewing systems. They cater to every type of brewer, from a complete beginner, to professional and commercial brewers as well.
Spike makes 4 different stainless-steel conical unitanks to handle just about every homebrewers needs.
- CF5 Conical Unitank
- CF10 Conical Unitank
- CF15 Conical Unitank
- CF30 Conical Unitank
But this review is all about the CF5, which is Spike’s smallest conical unitank they make. If you are a small-batch brewer, or like to use 5-gallon extract kits, this is the size you would want.
For those who like to brew in a bag or other traditional all-grain methods, you should check out one of Spikes other larger options.
General Features at a Glance
Listed below are a few of the standard features and capabilities of the CF5 unitank.
- 304 grade polished stainless steel
- All sanitary welded modular ports
- 7-gallon capacity for brewing 2.5 to 6 gallons
- Etched internal markers
- Pressure fermentation
- Pressure transfers
- Carbonate in the tank
- Cold crash
- Fully removable lid
- Numerous accessories available
Shipping and Unboxing
The shipping time was really fast. My order was shipped out from Spike on a Monday and was delivered by Wednesday, and came in two boxes.
You can tell by the photos below that the folks who packed the shipment took care into making sure everything was protected and wrapped with paper, plastic, foam, and bubble wrap.
Parts and Assembly
The first thing I did was to start unwrapping and counting all the parts to make sure I had everything I needed.
Right out of the box, I was impressed with not only the professional looks of this fermenter, but the quality of the manufacturing too. It looked very robust, but it wasn’t very heavy. Out of curiosity, I looked for any signs of manufacturing defects with the unitank and the welds, but couldn’t find any.
As you can see, there are quite a few parts included which looked a little confusing, but it actually wasn’t at all.
Like the instructions recommend, I cleaned the tank, lid, and all the accessories with dish soap to remove any oils that came from manufacturing. Once everything was clean and dry, I assembled the unit, which took me less than 45 minutes.
304 Stainless Unitank with all Sanitary Welded Ports
The unitank is made from 18 gauge, 304-grade, fully polished stainless steel. Unlike other fermenters and carboys I’ve used in the past, stainless steel is more durable and won’t scratch like plastic, won’t break like glass, much easier to clean, and it doesn’t give a place for bacteria to hide.
There are only sanitary welded ports on the tank and lid, so there are no weld-less fittings at all. If you look inside the tank, you will see that there are no places where bacteria could hide, even after cleaning.
The inside of the tank is etched with large and easy to read volume markings in both gallons and liters. There are also welded coated handles on the tank to make it easy to carry around, but you are not supposed to lift it when it’s full.
Fully Removable Lid with Stainless Band Clamp
The lid is held securely in place with the adjustable band clamp and gasket.
The lid has (3) dedicated 1-1/2″ TC ports and a 4″ modular TC port. The three 1-1/2″ ports can be used for a blow-off tube or bung and airlock, and a CO2 gas manifold.
The center port can be used for the optional temperature control system, or just making it easier to add fruit or other ingredients while the beer is fermenting. It comes with a 4″ cap, or it can be upgraded to a clear cap for viewing during fermentation.
Also, unlike some conical fermenters on the market, the lid is completely removable, which made it extremely easy to clean after I was finished brewing.
The basic setup for the lid comes with (3) 1-1/2″ TC’s, gaskets, (3) gaskets, (1) 4″ TC, gasket and cap, and (1) 5/8″ 90° barb for a blow-off tube.
1-1/2" TC Thermometer
For the yeast to do its job effectively, it needs to work in the most optimal temperature possible. There is a dedicated port for monitoring the temp of your beer as it is fermenting.
The analog thermometer is included in the standard package, but you can buy a thermowell and then use it to attach a probe from a digital thermometer instead.
Also, the port is positioned low enough on the body of the tank so it will even read the temperature of a 2.5 and 3-gallon batch.
1-1/2" Sample Port
Although not ground-breaking technology, having a dedicated port for taking gravity readings or just a taste test comes in really handy for taking gravity readings or having a quick taste throughout fermentation.
I’ve read complaints that the valve was “all or nothing”, meaning it took forever for the beer to start coming out but then once it did, it ended up all over the floor. Yes it took quite a few SLOW turns before I was able to get a sample, but I able to fill up my test tube and close the valve with no problem and no loss of my valuable beer.
The other complaint I heard was that the grooves on the knob were too deep and made it difficult to turn with their bare hands. I don’t know if that was a problem on previous versions or not, but I didn’t have an issue with that at all.
REMINDER: If you have an airlock filled with sanitizer or a blow-off tube that is submerged in container of sanitizer, make sure you remove the blow-off tube or airlock from the lid before getting a sample… Which I forgot to do! If you don’t, it will create a vacuum and end up with sanitizer in your beer.
2" Bottom Dump Port with Butterfly Valve
There are many reasons why I want to brew with a conical fermenter, and being able remove much of the dead yeast and sediment when fermentation has finished is one of them. Not having the beer sitting on top of the trub will help prevent off-flavors and make the finished beer more clear.
Having a 2″ valve to prevent clogs is a step-up from some other similar products that only have a 1-1/2″ valve. The 1-1/2″ valve would be fine for most dumps especially if the tank had a little pressure built up, but for those who are not adding CO2 to the tank, a larger 2″ valve almost ensures a valve that won’t clog.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a good photo, but after opening the butterfly a tiny bit, the trub began to flow and then stopped. I then opened the valve a little too much which made some of the dead yeast shoot out and end up on the floor.
For future yeast dumps and knowing what I know now, I will definitely add another TC with a barb, so I can attach a drain hose or tube to avoid making a mess next time.
Optional Accessories Added
Depending on your budget and what and where you are brewing, there are quite a few options you might want to consider adding when you place your order.
I didn’t go crazy with all the available options, but there are a few things that I wanted to include in my order.
Racking Arm and Transfer Barb
When I ordered the unit, I did just assume that the racking arm would be included in the base package, but it was not.
I wanted to use the rotatable racking arm to avoid transferring as much trub as possible when it was time to keg. When it came time to transfer the beer from the tank, I realized that I could have easily done it without the racking arm all together.
The racking arm has an external welded position indicator that lets you know where the arm is positioned inside of the tank. Having the racking arm was a nice addition, but it really wasn’t needed for this particular beer.
After assembly, I also noticed there was just a 1-1/2″ butterfly valve for the transfer port, and no way to connect a transfer hose, so I called Spike’s customer support and said it was missing. It wasn’t missing, it just wasn’t included in the standard package because every home-brewers setup is different and there are many ways to get the beer from the conical to the keg, bottling bucket, etc.
They quickly sent me out an additional gasket, clamp, and hose barb which could now be used for either a pressurized transfer or a gravity transfer. So unless you just want to use the included butterfly valve to transfer the beer, you will need to get your desired type of connection when you order.
Leg Extensions - Bracing Shelf - Casters
I wanted to raise the height of the fermenter and be able to easily move it if I wanted to, so I also added the leg extensions, bracing shelf, and the 3″ locking roller caster wheels.
Increasing the total height would make it easier if I just want to do a simple gravity transfer instead of the pressure transfer. The two leg extensions were 9″ or 18″. I chose the longer legs and the additional 18″ in height was more than enough to fit a 5-gallon corny keg or bottling bucket under the transfer port.
The longer leg extensions was what I was looking for, and the wheels made it easy to move around. Since the tank was empty, it was definitely top-heavy and didn’t feel real stable. Maybe because it was on carpet?
Although it seemed like there was more stability after moving it to a hard floor and filling it with 5-gallons of wort, I was still a little concerned that it could be accidentally knocked over.
Gas Manifold for Pressure Fermentation and/or Pressure Transfers
Being able to ferment under pressure and/or open or closed pressurized transfers is another reason why I wanted to use this conical fermenter. Also since it’s classified as a unitank, you can also use it as a brite tank and carbonate your beer while in the tank, and then keg, can, or bottle directly from the fermenter.
I wasn’t going to pressure ferment this time, but after cleaning and assembling the entire unit, I wanted to check for any liquid or gas leaks before I started brewing.
I filled the tank with 5-gallons of water and checked for signs of water leaks from any of the clamps and fittings. Once I knew there were no leaks from any of the fittings, I did a pressure tests with about 10psi of CO2, and left it to sit overnight.
With 11 connection points on my setup, I figured there would be at least a small gas leak somewhere from a loose clamp or gasket. But the next day, the pressure gauge was reading exactly the same, so I knew that all connections were tight and ready to go.
Time to brew!
Brew Day and Cleaning
For this brew, I usually brew-in-a bag (BIAB), but this time, I wanted to make a Blueberry Honey Ale using a Brewer’s Best extract kit.
This isn’t a “how to brew” review, but just like following any beer recipe on brew day, I cooled the wort after the boil and poured it into the fermenter. Removing the lid completely made it super easy without any mess.
I pitched the yeast, gave it a stir to introduce some oxygen, attached the lid tightly with the band clamp, connected the blow-off tube, and waited for fermentation to start.
Within 24 hours I started seeing action from the blow-off tube which was a good thing. After 3 days I took a gravity reading to see the
progress, but needed a few more days before it reached my final gravity target.
I did a yeast dump (see above) and then just gave it another day to settle and rest, then it’s time to package.
After connecting the silicon tubing the the transfer barb and removing the hose from the blow-off, I slowly opened the butterfly valve to start the flow of beer. I new it probably would be pretty hazy at first, so I drained it into a bucket until it started running clear, then racked the rest to the keg like any other packaging day.
My first batch of beer with the Spike conical fermenter was done!
Now, the not so fun part…cleaning! There are two ways to clean the fermenter when you are finished. You can use an optional CIP (clean in place) ball, pump, brewery wash, and water to cut down on a little manual labor, or you can use some manual labor.
But I chose to clean it the old fashioned way and used just a little elbow grease which wasn’t bad at all. I rolled the whole fermenter into the bathroom, put it in the bath tub (wife wasn’t too happy) and used the shower head to clean the tank, valves, clamps, and gaskets with the alkaline brewery wash that was also included in the box.
Just waited for everything to dry, re-assembled it, and it’s ready to go again for next time.
And that’s it.
Not Deal Breakers, But Something To Think About
I can’t speak about other available options that I didn’t try, but I was more than satisfied with the the equipment and optional accessories that I did use.
Like I mentioned above, the main concern I had was the instability after installing the 18″ extension legs, so I just parked it in the corner of the room, locked the wheels, and didn’t move it again until it was empty.
Also, if you usually stack and store your plastic fermentation buckets in a small area, your new unitank will take up a bit more storage space, and depending on what size you get, it might not fit in your fermentation chamber if you are using one.
An the last thing to think about is the price. Buckets and carboys are very cheap when comparing them to almost any conical fermenter, but if you are serious about upping your home brewing game, the investment is more than worth it.
Other than that, I wish they would add a couple of extra gaskets upon shipping, just in case they get lost or break, or at least mention it when ordering.
Spike CF5 Customer Reviews
So after completing my first brew using Spike’s Conical Unitank, I can honestly say it was one of the smoothest brewing sessions that I’ve had in a long time, and decided to purchase it and not send it back to Spike Brewing.
There are so many cool features that you can do with the CF product line, and being able to pressurize the tank for fermentation and closed transfers is why I wanted to brew with this conical unitank. Plus, completing the brewing process from start to finish in just one vessel without the risk of infection is a huge factor too.
Yes there are other similar models on the market, but if you are looking for a high quality, well-built piece of homebrewing equipment, I would highly recommend you give the Spike Conical Unitank a try.
Unless you decide to upgrade to a larger size in the future, this just might be the last stainless-steel conical fermenter you ever own.