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Fementation and the vessel that you use is at the center of beer brewing and one of the most important parts in the process. When it comes to choosing the right glass or plastic carboy, getting one that is the right size and style is just as important as choosing one made of quality materials.
You don’t want to choose a carboy that is too small for the batch size and risk making a huge mess and wasting a large amount of beer. But you also don’t want to use a carboy that is too big for the batch size, which can have too much head space and run a risk of oxidation.
Whether you are interested in a carboy that is made of glass or plastic, a small 1-gallon or a large 6.5-gallon, or something in between, we have a list of our top 7 glass and plastic carboys for the DIY homebrewer.
Table of Contents
What Is A Carboy, And What Is It Used For?
Carboys are jugs or other rigid containers which are made of glass or plastic. These jugs are basically like water cooler bottles that are used by brewers to make beer, wine, hard cider & mead. Carboys are also known as, jimmijohns or demijohn and generally have a capacity as small as a gallon or as large as 16 gallons.
Many new homebrewers often buy a beer making kit to start their beer brewing hobby, and use a plastic food-grade bucket for primary fermentation that is part of the complete beer kit. Traditionally, the plastic bucket has been the standard for primary and the carboy is used when a secondary fermentation is needed or wanted.
However, nowadays a carboy, whether it is glass or plastic can be used for both primary and secondary.
A Look At Our Top 7 Carboys For HomeBrewing
In this post we are going to have a look at 7 of the most popular glass and plastic carboys for homebrewing.
If you don’t have time to look and just want to jump to best carboys, here are the ones we recommend.
What To Look For In A Carboy
After reading all this you may choose to not use a carboy at all and just stick with your plastic fermenting bucket instead. However, the buckets are not see through and with the lid on top sealed tightly you have few ways of knowing how far you are along in the process. So, for the sake of argument, let’s say you will go with the carboy. When shopping for one, either plastic or glass, you need to keep the following in mind:
- Is it clear? Tinted glass or frosted plastic mean you will not be able to see what is going on clearly inside.
- Is it glass or plastic? Glass is much heavier than plastic and can shatter if dropped. But glass won’t scratch like plastic which can lead to bacteria and contamination.
- Can you lift it move it if necessary? Glass ones are much heavier than plastic, especially when filled, so pick one up and see if it is manageable for you.
- Pick the right size and make sure all your liquid fit. Will you have enough room for all your beer, or will you have too much headspace? You need the right size carboy so it can do its job properly, and you also need the space to store it when you are finished. If your brewing and storage space is limited, size definitely matters.
Northern Brewer Glass Carboy (Multiple Sizes)
This heavy duty glass fermenter from Northern Brewer is one of the highest rated and most popular glass carboys on the market. Whether you are looking to make beer, wine, mead, kombucha, or cider, the large 6.5-gallon capacity of this vessel can get the job done.
The glass is non-porous and products your liquid from oxygen which is a must when brewing, doesn’t hold odors, and won’t scratch like plastic when cleaning. It also uses a standard rubber stopper or bung that must be purchase separately.
One drawback of buying and being shipped something made of glass and this heavy, is the chance that it could arrive cracked or shattered. When you buy from Northern Brewer, they guarantee that the glass carboy will arrive un-damaged and in one piece.
Northern Brewer Glass Carboy Pros
Northern Brewer Glass Carboy Cons
Beverage Factory 6-Gallon Glass Carboy
This 6-gallon durable glass fermenter is another quality carboy, that comes in just a shade smaller than the Northern Brewer model above. With the 6-gallon volume size, you can ferment a 5 or 6-gallon batch of beer, wine, mead, kombucha, or cider.
This carboy is made from strong, lead-free glass & has a smooth interior that makes cleaning easy, and is also non-permeable to oxygen. Though this glass container can last many years if care is taken when handling, it is not shock-proof, just like all glass carboys, and can break or shatter if dropped or pressurized.
Since these vessels can be very heavy and awkward to move around once they are filled, when you buy this carboy, it includes a nylon carrying strap.
Beverage Factory Carboy Pros
Beverage Factory Glass Carboy Cons
Geo Sports Bottles 3-Gallon Glass Carboy
This 3-gallon carboy is made from a thick and high-quality glass that is not-permeable to oxygen and will not scratch when cleaned.
This particular size is specifically designed to age smaller batches of beer, wine, or mead, or used as a secondary fermenter. Although it does not come with a rubber stopper, it will fit a standard #6.5 stopper will fit this model.
Because of the size, many people have also used this vessel as a water dispenser, and it also available in other colors besides the standard clear.
Geo 3-Gallon Glass Carboy Pros
Geo 3-Gallon Glass Carboy Cons
Home Brew Ohio 1-Gallon Glass Carboy
If you are new to homebrewing or an experienced brewer who just wants to make a small batch of beer or wine, this 1-gallon carboy from Home Brew Ohio will fit the bill.
Not only is this a great piece of equipment to make smaller batches, it can also be used to split a larger batch in half to experiment with different yeast or ingredients. Aside from primary fermentation duties, it can also be used to catch the overflow from your blow-off tube.
This lightweight vessel only weighs about 3 pounds carboy comes with a rubber stopper and a twin bubble airlock. Also, unlike many of the bigger glass carboys, a carboy brush is not needed to get the inside clean if rinse immediately after transferring.
Home Brew Ohio 1-Gallon Glass Carboy Pros
Home Brew Ohio 1-Gallon Glass Carboy Cons
Northern Brewer 6.5-Gallon Plastic Big Mouth Bubbler
If you are looking for an alternative to a glass carboy, this 6.5-gallon fermentation vessel from Northern Brewer is what you are looking for.
This PET food-grade plastic fermenter has a wide mouth opening on the top that allows easy access for transferring your wort from your brew kettle, and makes it super simple to clean. Unlike their glass cousins, this item is make with 3″ thick anti-flex ribs and is practically unbreakable.
It also has an drilled lid that accepts a standard 6.5 rubber stopper, and a spigot that allows you to do a closed transfer to another fermenter, or to your bottles or keg. The one drawback of this product is the push-on lid that can become loose during fermentation.
Northern Brewer Big Mouth Bubbler Pros
Northern Brewer Big Mouth Bubbler Cons
Vintage Shop 6-Gallon Plastic Carboy
If you are needing a 6-gallon carboy for your next brewing day, but want something that is durable and lightweight, this plastic carboy from Vintage Shop is a good choice.
This PET food-grade plastic is an alternative to a standard plastic fermenting bucket, but allows you to see what is happening during fermentation. Just like the traditional plastic bucket, this carboy won’t break, stain-resistant, is impermeable to oxygen, and will not leave any unwanted flavors or odors in your beer.
Even though this carboy weighs about 15 lbs less than a similar size glass carboy, it is still recommended to use a carboy carrier or carrying strap when moving from one area to another. This plastic carboy also comes in a smaller 3 or 5-gallon size too. Just remember to get a #10 stopper for this model if you don’t already have one.
Vintage Shop 6-Gallon Plastic Carboy Pros
Vintage Shop 6-Gallon Plastic Carboy Cons
Kego 5.5-Gallon Wide Mouth Glass Carboy
If you are looking for a glass wide-mouth fermenter, this 5.5-gallon wide-mouth glass carboy might be what you are looking for.
It has a large opening which eliminates the need to use a carboy brush to get the inside clean. In addition to easier cleaning and sanitation, it is much easier to add liquids or other ingredients to the vessel.
A traditional airlock can be purchased separately, but the screw-on lid has one already built-in. Also included is a nylon carrying strap and an adjustable dial on the lid to keep track of when you started fermentation.
Kego 5.5-Gallon Wide Mouth Carboy Pros
Kego 5.5-Gallon Wide Mouth Carboy Cons
Glass Carboy vs Plastic Carboy: Who Wins?
Just like the ongoing debate of whether secondary fermentation is beneficial or a waste of time, another topic that is always a topic of discussion is if you should you use glass or plastic, and if it really makes a difference one way or the other.
Check out the video below to help you get a better understanding of the differences between using glass or plastic.
How To Move, Carry, Or Transport A Carboy
Once you have transferred the liquid to a carboy, ideally it is always best to leave the vessel undisturbed, and in one location.
However, life in the real world does not always make for the ideal brewing environment. You may need to change locations due to space restrictions, or your beer needs to be conditioned in another room of the house.
For whatever reason, it might be necessary to move the carboy from one location to the other, and a 5 or 6-gallon glass fermenter filled with beer is quite heavy compared to a plastic carboy and can be awkward to carry and move around.
If you must move or transport a heavy glass carboy, one way you can do that is by putting your carboy in a milk crate, which is usually plastic and very durable. The milk crates are easier to lift and move around than picking up large bottles on their own.
One inexpensive option is to buy a carboy handle or carrier strap. A carrying handle will clamp around the neck of the carboy and will allow you to safely move the heavy carboy from one area to another with just one hand.
Another way to safely move around a carboy is with a carrying strap. Most straps will fit any size carboy, but is designed to be carried with both hands. Even though both types can be used to make the move much easier, it is recommended to still support the bottom of the carboy when using a carrying strap.
How To Clean The Inside Of The Carboy
There isn’t any way to get around keeping your carboys clean and free of debris. Unfortunately, this step cannot be skipped or done lazily because if the gunk and residue hardens and builds up, then your next batches of beer could range from bad to spoiled or anything in between.
The best thing to do it try to clean the carboy as soon as you empty it, then it will be that much easier to clean and sanitize when you brew your next batch of beer.
It is best to use a cleaner such as OxyClean or PBW along with warm water, instead of a scented dish soap. Gently shake the carboy with the solution and see what comes loose. This should take care of most of the crust, and if it doesn’t, you can put a small washcloth inside the carboy along with the OxyClean/water solution and shake the carboy vigorously.
The washcloth should be able to remove a lot of the left-over residue that was sticking to the inside walls of the carboy.
Use a carboy brush to clean out any remaining ring of gunk. This will take some effort, but you can buy a carboy cleaning brush that connects to your drill to make it a much easier job. Be careful if you are trying to clean a plastic carboy because it will scratch much easier than glass.
If none of these steps work, then it might be time to cut your losses and purchase a new carboy. Remember, early cleaning means an easier
Which Style Of Carboy Should You Choose?
There are many things to consider when choosing the right carboy, and both glass and plastic have certain advantages and disadvantages, no matter what you choose.
Are you planning on using a carboy for primary fermentation and/or secondary too? If you are brewing a 5-gallon batch of beer, and want to use a carboy for both stages, you will likely need to purchase two different sizes.
A larger 6 or 6.5 gallon should be used for primary to allow enough head space, and a smaller 5-gallon can be used for secondary.
As you have just read, all of the glass models have one thing in common and a big disadvantage over plastic: they can all break and can cause serious injuries if that happens. But the main advantage glass has over plastic is that glass will not scratch, which can give a place for bacteria to hide and ruin your beer.
Our Carboy Recommendation
I prefer to use a glass carboy as my fermentation vessel, especially if I am doing a two-stage fermentation. So if you are looking for a quality carboy for primary and/or secondary fermentation, the glass carboy from Northern Brewer is a good choice.
Just remember that a glass carboy that is full of beer or wine is very heavy and can be hard to handle. Make sure you get yourself a carboy carrying handle or carrying strap to make transporting a bit easier.