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My brewing buddy asked me this the other night. I've accumulated a lot of stuff over just an 18 month brew career. Not all of it useful. I know it's subjective, but I'd be very interested to hear other people's answers.

My answer: the Northern Brewer aeration system. Not a bad solution for, say, someone who can't rock their conical fermenter. But I've found rocking the carboy and pitching correct amounts of yeast to be just as efficacious and less fiddly and time-consuming.

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Do we still do these types of things as community wikis? –  brewchez May 27 '11 at 20:11
    
I'm with you on the Northern Brewer system, which is really just a fish tank pump with an aeration stone. But I like to use an Oxygenator, which hooks up an aeration stone to an O2 tank. Nothing like pure dissolved O2 to get the yeast what it needs. I swear by it--my results improved tenfold after I started using it--particularly on big beers... –  markskar Jun 2 '11 at 16:39
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8 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Carboy neck handles. I bought one and never used it and probably never will. I don't trust the neck on a full carboy and an empty carboy is easy enough to move. For full carboys I always use a Brew Hauler... definitely a great piece of equipment!

I'd probably also suggest anything to solve a "problem" you didn't know you have... water treatment, Ph, etc. You may eventually want to play/experiment with all parameters but sometimes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it works fine. It's easy early on to worry about everything and buy too much.

Maybe a bottle brush... if it's dirty enough that you need to scrub, it's dirty enough for the trash. Rinse and dry immediately and you shouldn't have to be scrubbing!

I happen to like S type airlocks... I'll use a blow off tube if I'm expecting krausen to get to them -if they do get gunk in them a bleach water solution takes care of it. I just blow through with my mouth to clear out the gunk once the bleach breaks it down.

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I just bought three new 6 gallon carboys and forewent the neck handles. I don't like 'em for the same reasons you stated. –  JackSmith May 31 '11 at 12:55
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I mainly use my carboy handle when i'm cleaning. that glass gets slick when it's wet and covered with cleaner. –  baka May 31 '11 at 20:58
    
I've found the handles incredibly useful. My basement stairs are very narrow and steep. I couldn't carry, simultaneously, two full carboys down to the basement without the handles. Also, handles are aces when cleaning the carboys. –  jscott Jun 1 '11 at 2:14
    
simultaneously carrying 2 full carboys by handles attached to the necks while walking downstairs sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. you should still be supporting the bottom of the full carboys when you carry them: the neck is a point of weakness. –  baka Jun 1 '11 at 11:23
    
@baka No kidding? I didn't know that. The guy at my LBS sold me on the handles as he indicated they were attached to the strongest part of a carboy and allowed for one-handed operation. Guess I'll have to take 'em one-at-a-time instead. Appreciate the info. –  jscott Jun 4 '11 at 20:45
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If you're kegging and force-carbing, you don't need a carbonation stone. Waste of money and just something else you need to sanitize.

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Intermediary kegging solutions like Party Pigs or Tap-A-Drafts. These things are great when you can't move into a full blown kegging set up, which requires a lot of extra gear, but as soon as you start kegging for real, then they get stuck on a shelf and forgotten. I'd encourage anyone who is considering them to just jump to normal kegs instead, unless you've got serious space constraints.

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The old "buy cheap, buy twice" argument. I subscribe to it. –  JackSmith May 31 '11 at 15:15
    
yes and no, they fill a need for those of us with space/budget constraints that prevent us from buying all the needed kegging gear. –  STW Oct 19 '11 at 17:37
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I would add that as a winemaker the first thing I am ditching are my plastic buckets as primary fermenters. Glass is roughly 3 times the price and stainless steel is 10 times but I think worth the investment if you are in it for the long haul. I don't think this is as big of a deal for beer brewers but with wine, especially country wines, the buckets pick up wine odors and stains after a single use. I recently made watermelon wine and that bucket is lost. It may be technically fine, clean and safe to use but I personally can't use a stained bucket.

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Buckets pick up stains and smells from beer, too, but these colors and smells don't transfer to subsequent batches. I use buckets in winemaking to press into. After two days, I rack off the gross lees into carboys. I ferment red wine in plastic, too, but not buckets. I use Brute garbage cans for that. –  JackSmith Jun 2 '11 at 12:58
    
@JackSmith one tip to help prevent plastic from taking on flavors and smells is to always wash them in cold water; particularly while they're dirty –  STW Oct 19 '11 at 17:38
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Ditto on the spring loaded bottle fillers. They seem like a great idea maybe the implementation is wrong - wider tube and much softer spring I think would work better than what I have seen in the US.

But yeah, as is a total dud.

I just line up a bunch of bottles in a tub to catch the spillage, start a siphon, and let the mutha run.

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Spinning sparge arms - they don't spin properly, they cause you to lose heat during the sparge, and even the manufacturer says they're useless

The "upside down carboy" fermenter kits - they just don't work and are a PITA to set up

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This from the guy who wrote the book (er, web site) on batch sparging! –  JackSmith May 29 '11 at 18:08
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I've getting rid of my bottles that hold more than 22 oz. The 32's and 1 L bottles don't fit well on a refrigerator shelf (usually too tall). You usually end up with a partial bottle that can go flat fairly quickly.

"S" type airlocks - they are a pain to keep clean.

Spring-loaded bottle filler - I find it just as easy to fill bottles directly from the priming bucket and you have one less thing to sanitize before using it.

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I heartily disagree with the S-type airlocks. They're only difficult to clean if you have a VERY vigorous fermentation and the others are too fragile for my taste. –  Ell May 28 '11 at 20:00
    
I agree on the S-type airlocks. I like to cold crash before kegging and I'd have to switch out to a three piece air lock just to do it (if not the sanitizer in the S-type airlock would get sucked in). Might as well just stick with the three piece. –  markskar Jun 2 '11 at 16:34
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I never use my flip-top bottles anymore. They're too much of a hassle. The cages like to oxidize. The rubber seals wear out. They don't seal as well as regular bottles. Because you don't throw the caps away, if you label them with a little sticker, you then have to clean it off. You always have to explain to your friends how to open them, and you can't give beer away in them without sounding like a tool when you ask for them to hold on to the bottles to give back to you after they drank the beer. I bottle solely in regular bottles now.

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I heartily confirm this answer. They look pretty but are a real pain in the long run. And there are few carriers that can handle the diameter of the bottles, so they are a pain to transport/send as well. –  drj May 27 '11 at 20:17
    
Yup, not fitting into 6-pack carriers was my biggest gripe with them. I guess if I ever get around to making mead or wine I'd use them again. –  Graham Jun 1 '11 at 12:38
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