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What are some good options for primary and secondary fermentation vessels for half batch (2.5 gallons) recipes?

At the moment half batches seem to be the best compromise between ease of brewing, expense, splitting LME, and having enough brew to share and sample. Looking around I've found the following options:

  • 3.5 gallon food grade buckets
    • Pros: cheap
    • Cons: To much head space(?)
  • 3 gallon pet Better Bottles
    • Pros: correct size size
    • Cons: expensive, non-opaque material
  • 1 Gallon Glass Bottles
    • Pros: cheap
    • Cons: non-opaque material, need to further split batches, more to clean

Are there any other practical options that I might be missing?

I've looked at some other questions on the site but they don't cover the batch size I'm looking for.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I would go with the 3.5 gallon buckets, and I don't think it's too much headspace, at least not for primary. I've been happily using 8 gallon buckets for years - so that's 4 gallons space for a half batch, so 3.5 gallons is not too much.

You can also use the 3.5 gallon buckets for secondary (if you really need a secondary). Here, the headspace might be on the large side, but not excessively. Personally, I'd just go with that, but if you want to be extra careful you could purge the air with CO2 if you have a CO2 tank, but it's not really necessary since racking will cause some CO2 to come out of solution anyway, which will blanket the beer.

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With any size fermentation, your fermentor is just something that keeps your beer off the floor. Likewise, there are countless practical options beyond what you've listed here.

You're just trying to balance convenience, ease of cleaning, and availability. Any of those things will work fine, and there's nothing to really worry about as far as a reasonable amount of excess headspace goes.

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I have brewed a lot of half batches lately. Great for testing out recipes and perfecting them. What I do is brew a 2.5 gallon batch of wort. Put that into a 5 gallon carboy pitch my yeast and wait till the krausen subsides. Then rack that for secondary fermentation into a 3 gallon carboy. That way you will not have to worry about an overflow because the 5 gallon gives plenty of headspace. This setup has worked great for a wide variety of beers.

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I acquired some used 15l PET water cooler bottles from work, which I use for smaller batches with some large bungs and an airlock. They're a bit of a pain to clean, but are light enough even when half full that you can give them a good shake.

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Around North Carolina you can go to the grocery store and pick-up "Primo" drinking water in 3 gallon plastic jugs that are, for all intents and purposes, the same as a Better Bottle. I imagine there's a drinking water supplier like that "everywhere". The five gallon ones are $11 at Wal-Mart, so the three gallon ones must be around $9. And the water in the jug is pretty close to reverse osmosis water (does have a few minerals added, see HomeBrewTalk search "Primo"), but can be used for your brew.

Brewing with Bottled Water Video

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A great idea. However I just looked around here locally the 3 gallon bottles appear to be polycarbonate (via recycling id code 7). From my understanding Better Bottles are PET, and designed not as oxygen/C02 permeable as polycarbonate. I really wonder if permeability makes much of a difference during short term fermentation. –  rheone Mar 5 '13 at 18:04

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