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Currently I use glass carboys because the glass seems easier to keep sanitary and you can fill them with your spare change if you ever stop brewing. I'm wondering if having a bucket would be an upgrade or a downgrade. What do you think?

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7 Answers 7

Choosing between buckets, glass carboys, etc is always a matter of personal choice.

The ease of use on buckets is high, but the durability is poor and they are much harder to keep sanitary over multiple uses. Any tiny scratch will make the bucket hold microbes you can't see or kill with a simple acid rinse, and now your fermentation vessel is a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off and ruin a batch. There is also no way to get into a bucket without opening a giant hole to the outside world for any old thing to fall into. Fermentations are also not something you get to watch.

Glass carboys are the "classic" choice, and they don't have many of the drawbacks mentioned above. However, they are harder to clean than buckets, and there is risk of serious injury if you break one. However in terms of long term durability and sanitation, they can't be beat by anything but a conical.

My personal choice is plastic carboys. I use 6gal "better bottles", which have the advantage of weighing pretty much nothing, they are nearly unbreakable, you can watch the ferment, and you're not going to get hurt by one. They are easier to clean than glass carboys if you use a bottle washer attachment for your sink. They are lightweight, easy to hold upside down, and easy to see when they are clean. One lesson I learned the hard way however: If you are used to using a bottle brush on your glass carboys, do not put that brush in the better bottle! You will scratch the inside, and ruin it just like you would a bucket. Use hot water and a good cleaner like Five Star PBW, and you've got an easy to maintain system that will last a very long time.

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Buckets are great for primary fermentation. You can dangle your sterilized oak chips in sterilized nylon sock very easily and remove at will. You can add a couple of pints of crushed blackberries into your Merlot, to shake things up. the bucket is easy to lift in comparison and provides a good carry all when not in use. I have two buckets & three carbouys and use them all.

Salutee

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Buckets are much easier to deal with: they're lighter, easier to get material in and out of, easier to clean, and generally unbreakable. I have a couple of carboys and a bunch of buckets. I almost never use the carboys because they're just so much more work.

Be careful when cleaning a glass carboy with a hose pushed into the neck of the bottle. If there is dirt or sediment in the bottle, it can get caught between the hose and the neck of the carboy and allow pressure to build up to dangerous levels. True story: I was washing out a glass carboy that had dirt in it (had been a terrarium) in the back yard with a garden hose. Left it on its side with the hose running to flush out the dirt for a few minutes. Stepped inside the garden shed for a few seconds and pow! The carboy exploded and embedded glass shrapnel in the shed door. Glad I was inside!

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The down side to glass carboys is that they break and cut you. I've heard of some pretty heinous injuries caused by dropped carboys. Plastic buckets have never hurt anyone.

OK. Maybe I am a bit paranoid about it. But I'm always drinking beer while making beer. I suspect I'm not the only one. The idea of drunks carrying around large, heavy, glass bottles worries me.

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There are carboy handles that make it much easier to move a carboy. If you're imbibing so much you can't lift the carboy, you may consider placing it on a cart with wheels. –  jscott Nov 9 '10 at 11:04
    
I was being a bit ridiculous about it when I wrote that. But yes, the handles and the carboy carriers (the cargo net type) make them much easier to carry. I still ended up with a stress fracture in one. I suspect I bumped it against something when setting it down one time. I don't trust that carboy now. Glass is a strange beast. –  thebeav Nov 9 '10 at 15:13
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NEVER use a carboy handle with a full carboy. The neck of the carboy can snap off, possibly causing severe injury. The manufacturer even states that they should be used only on empty carboys. –  Denny Conn Nov 17 '10 at 18:36
    
consider getting a "brew hauler"; they support the carboy from underneath and are rater to 100lbs - northernbrewer.com/brewing/brewing-equipment/… –  STW Dec 1 '10 at 19:08

Buckets are cheaper, lighter, and easier to deal with in general. They're not advisable for long term storage though, as they allow some light and oxidation to occur. Carboy's allow no oxidation, but they're more difficult to deal with.

If you get a carboy cleaner wand, this is an attachment to a garden hose or water tap that creates a powerful stream of water, cleaning a carboy should be pretty easy. Personally I use a product caller PBR (Professional Brewery Cleaner) - soak the carboy with 2 tablespoons and some hot water, and everything comes off pretty easily.

I use a plastic bucket for the primary fermentation (about 10 days), then a carboy for the secondary, which can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months or more.

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Best six bucks I ever spent was on a carboy handle. Saved my ass going up and down those basement steps. –  Fishtoaster Nov 9 '10 at 3:50
    
most handles I've seen come with the warning that they're not intended for moving a full carboy –  STW Dec 1 '10 at 19:05
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for moving, consider a "brew hauler". northernbrewer.com/brewing/brewing-equipment/… –  STW Dec 1 '10 at 19:09
    
@STW, +1 for the BrewHauler. I don't move full carboys any other way. –  Pulsehead Mar 14 '11 at 12:48

The biggest downside to the carboy I've found is in checking the specific gravity to tell if the initial fermentation is done.

The hydrometer simply falls too far to read well. We had to attach some dental floss to it so we could retrieve the thing! This was especially true during our last brew which had a VERY active fermentation with lots of stuff bubbling out through the airlock. This left a residue all over the inside of the carboy which made it especially difficult to check the specific gravity.

If I had my way, I'd do my initial fermentation in a bucket and then an optional secondary fermentation in the glass carboy (mostly because we already have it and it looks pretty in there :)).

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We dropped the hydrometer in our first time and used floss to pull it back out. We later read that you should use a thief to pull out some beer to test instead. We ended up buying a rocket launcher (test jar) to put the beer in for testing. Much easier this way! –  Joe Philllips Nov 9 '10 at 2:12
    
Right after I wrote this, I figured that there must be some type of ladle/test tube thing that would work for this. Do you have a link? –  Matt Kellogg Nov 9 '10 at 2:17
    
Here is a 3-piece theif so it should be easy to clean: northernbrewer.com/brewing/3-piece-thief-plastic.html –  Joe Philllips Nov 9 '10 at 3:57
    
You may also be interested in a refractometer, which is an alternate method for measuring the sugar content in a liquid. You only need a drop or two! –  pkaeding Nov 9 '10 at 4:39
    
I sanitize a turkey baster and use it to pull out enough beer to fill a test tube and then use the hydrometer in that. –  Nicholas Trandem Nov 9 '10 at 22:54

Buckets are definitely easier to clean, since you can actually get in there and rinse and scrub, but if the plastic gets scratched, you might never be able to fully sanitize it again, as bacteria can get down into the scratches and avoid the sanitizer.

My personal preference is to use a carboy for the main fermentation work, as I can actually see into it and monitor the fermentation and settling. I use a bucket, but only as an intermediary between the carboy and the bottles.

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