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Plastic vs Glass Primary, The Ultimate Question

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Majikcook

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Ok boys,
we've been through this before but I wanted one last time to discuss the pro's and cons to plastic bucket fermenting vs glass carboy before I buy another primary.

1.The bucket is much easier to handle, and at 7.5 gallon capacity is more than enough to handle a 5 gallon ferment.

2.The carboy is sexier with the view and all, but does it really brew better beer? (the $1,000,000,00 question)

3. At 6.5 gallon carboy capacity, does't the 1 gallon difference of the pail mean less blow off opportunity? simple question deserves simple answer, I know

4. Does the plastic actually affect the taste or is it our own reasoning that we want the cooler looking things that sway our judgement to glass?
(guilty as charged)

5. I've been told that glass will clean easier, and does not scratch leaving pockets of places for the nasties to hide until later. Again, what can be easier than being able to put your entire arm and hand into cleaning a silly bucket? And unless I'm brewing beer with gravel as a fining agent, how am I scratching it?

So at the end of the day.... it all seems to come down to this. Does the plastic HONESTLY impart off flavors to the primary?


All good questions to lose sleep, ponder for days and possibly start a minor third world skirmish over... Would appreciate any non-biased opinions please!
 

Hatzie

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Personally, I use plastic for primary and use glass for secondary. I have heard horror stories about carboys breaking and causing some serious injuries. I don't believe that with good sanitation and a regular schedule for brews, plastic is not a bad thing. How much O2 do you can actually get in through the plastic?
 
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Majikcook

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Hatzie said:
How much O2 can actually get in through the plastic?
This is going to be the "Car-Boys" leg to stand on... If it truly is a valid point...
I'd say chalk one up for the Pail

Pail - 1 Carboy - 0

And by the way, Biased opinion are welcome.. I really want to know
 

DeRoux's Broux

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Majikcook said:
This is going to be the "Car-Boys" leg to stand on... If it truly is a valid point...
I'd say chalk one up for the Pail

Pail - 1 Carboy - 0

And by the way, Biased opinion are welcome.. I really want to know
Well, in my experience, I have always used the plastic primary. I clean it well, sanitize it well, and I have had no evidence of a "bad batch" from it. It is easier to move around on brew day, and lift to elevate for racking, kegging. What I don't like, is not being able to see all the work going on during primary fermentation. That part is just sooooo cool. I usually don't take original gravity readings, so I watch bubbles before I rack to the secondary. In my brew club, people use both, and have good results w/ both.

Just to give you an idea of "relax, don't worry, have a homebrew", a guy in my brew club just won a gold medal with a brew he mailed in to a San Diego competition. The big joke is, he stirred the wort with a stick he found laying in his yard while brewing! Now, I don't know what that says about the competition, or the judges! :p

Cheers!
DeRoux's Broux
 

zprime

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Speaking from my experience, I have to go with neither. I recently bought a 6 gal "better bottle" which I use for my primary. I dislike the plastic buckets because the first 4 or 5 batches I made were done in the bucket and all turned out with off flavors. I then switched to glass carboys, and the quality of my beer definitely improved, though I did experience a few bad situations with blow off (admittedly this was mostly my fault for only using a 5 gallon carboy). After that I bought a "better bottle" with a racking port for the primary. It's easy to clean and no syphoning for me...well at least until I go from the secondary to the bottling bucket.

Just my $0.02
 

Janx

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Glass is definitely better. It cleans more thoroughly, doesn't get scratched (you don't have to use gravel...normal cleaning WILL scratch your bucket), you can see the fermentation, which is essential in my book...not some need for sexy equipment.

It doesn't matter how much O2 gets in the beer through plastic because it's more than glass allows through (none). So is glass better on this count? Yes it is. It just is, folks.

The only benefit I can see to a bucket besides cost is that you can get your hand in it to clean it. I've always thought a glass bucket shaped fermenter would be ideal, but I've never seen one.

The point is, you can debate the degree to which glass is better all day. But it is better to some degree...maybe to a large degree. If plastic were as sanitary as glass or stainless, commercial breweries would use it. It doesn't have to be about off-flavors. For many reasons, it's just not as suitable as glass in terms of making a fermenter.

Will you notice differences in your beer? Maybe not. Will you bucket last as long as a carboy? No way. So, the real question is, do you want to save some money because even though plastic is worse, as you aknowledge, you won't notice its flaws? Or do you want the best option, which you already seem to understand is, in fact, glass.
 

uglygoat

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glass, i prefer glass. i have two primaries now. a 6.5 and 6.0 gallon.... very nice. three secondaries, all 5 gallon. i used the bucked twice to ferment, i was not satisfied with the results of the bucket, it does not give a real good seal imo, i could push down on the lid and hear it suck air in, and not through the air lock. i just started buying glass carboys pretty cheap... 16 bucks for the five gallons, and about 24 for the six...

glass is better imo, cause like janx said you can see what is going on in your primary. it is critical to be able to see what is going on or what has gone on, especially if you think you gots a stuck fermentation.

glass is better imo, cause i can rack a new batch of wort right atop the yeast slurry from the previous batch. this you cannot do with plastic cause it will likely get infected.

chemicals eventually eat their way into plastic, especially if you are doing long soaks to remove odors/flavors...

bottom line, i prefer glass, and rest my defence with janx ;)
 

Janx

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It's really a question of plastic vs glass, and at this point glass is ahead because it's the best way to go. I don't actually use a carboy, but a demijohn, which is just a big carboy.

Plastic - 2 Glass - 3
 

Rhoobarb

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Glass all the way. I haven't used my HDPE plastic bucket since my first brew session; I only use it for bottling nowadays. I have a 6.5 gallon primary and three 5 gallon secondaries. I'll add to what others have said:

1. Anything will scratch plastic. You need a diamond to scratch glass.

2. Being able to see your beer is a definite advantage. How many times have we read on here about how the 'plasticines', as I'll call them, have been soooo tempted to pop the lid and take a look? Not a problem with glass. I can tell with a quick glance that all of the sediment has settled. Plus, it's cool to take a peek at a vigorous, rolling ferment as it happens, in all it's glory!

3. Glass is more durable, provided you don't drop it from a great height. You'll eventually have to replace HDPE.
 
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Majikcook

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All good points.. and Janx, you can't vote twice.... :D

So, let us recap...
Plastic will eventually scratch, however... the ease of using plastic as far as lifting, cleaning and at 1/4 to 1/3 the replacement costs, doesn't it warrant a closer look at replacing a pail every 6 months for $7.00 rather that wrestle a full glass jar?

As far as seeing your beer ferment, is it not true that we should protect our batch of gold from all light in the primary and seconday stage? Thus voiding any notion of seeing is believing? Is not hearing the bubbles stop enough proof of a solid ferment?

Again, not enough conclusive evidence to convict the plastic of inadequacy.

I vote plastic... hung jury... case dismissed
 

Janx

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Majikcook said:
So, let us recap...
Plastic will eventually scratch, however... the ease of using plastic as far as lifting, cleaning and at 1/4 to 1/3 the replacement costs, doesn't it warrant a closer look at replacing a pail every 6 months for $7.00 rather that wrestle a full glass jar?
No.
As a person who doesn't like to waste things, doesn't like to take the trash to the dump, etc, I'd disagree. The weight difference is nothing. Glass is far easier to get truly clean and sanitized, so there is no advantage to plastic on this point. Plus, whatever bucket you're getting for $7 isn't food grade I'd imagine.

Majikcook said:
As far as seeing your beer ferment, is it not true that we should protect our batch of gold from all light in the primary and seconday stage?
Yes, that's why you cover them. We're not talking advanced rocket science here...

Majikcook said:
Thus voiding any notion of seeing is believing? Is not hearing the bubbles stop enough proof of a solid ferment?
No you can uncover it and look briefly...or for that matter for hours on end...with zero ill effects. Especially if you compare it to the ill effects you will certainly get from plastic.

Hearing the bubbles is most certainly not enough to tell what's going on. Wait until you've been brewing a while. The visual cues are very important. It's really ludicrous to say that hearing or not hearing bubbles can tell you what stage your beer is in.

Add to that that everyone is tempted to open the bucket and peek and they usually do so. That's a huge contamination risk.

Majikcook said:
Again, not enough conclusive evidence to convict the plastic of inadequacy.

I vote plastic... hung jury... case dismissed
I can't imagine why you draw the conclusion that plastic is better when not one argument has been made on that side. The compelling arguments have been made for glass. The plastic folks are in the "well it's all I've ever used and it works OK" camp. Those of use with experience who have tried both clearly favor glass.

Seriously, ask 100 brewers who have been brewing 5 years or more if glass or plastic is better and over 90 of them will tell you glass, and the other 10 will be wrong. That's because glass is better. Sanitation is THE most important thing in beer making and there are degrees of sanitation. It's not a black and white thing. A plastic fermenter will never NEVER be as sanitary as a glass one.

My conclusion is that you had already decided and weren't really interested in others' opinions at all. You wanted to hear plastic is better, but it just isn't. Wait until a few of the other experienced brewers chime in. I know a lot of folks who brew and have been brewing a long time. Proposing that plastic makes as nice a fermenter as glass to those guys would get you a LOT of laughs.

I'd encourage you to go glass, but if you don't then good luck with the bucket :D
 
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Majikcook

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No, no real conclusion here Janx... I'm still up in the air. Just thought I'd throw a little wood on the fire. I do have to believe better beer comes from glass which is why you see glass secondarys pretty much exclusively. But I was interested in why glass is better, you know , the scientific end to it if there is one.
 

Justin Chomel

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Howdy folks. I am new to the board, but have been brewing for awhile. I recently got a conical, and desperately miss seeing the fermentation in action. Especially a lighter color beer, where you can really see it churning.

I brewed a coffee porter Sunday evening, and after I pumped the wort into the conical, I noticed a leak at the bottom of the conical. It was a minor leak, and gave me time to pull out my old glass carboy. I just came in from the brew shed. I was out checking on the fermentation progress. Seeing the action again makes me wonder if I should fix that leak on the conical or not. ;) I guess throw a vote in for glass from me, and I'll leave you with a picture from Sunday night's Coffee Porter brew:


-JC
 

Tony

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Well to anyone worried about light messing things up in a carboy, either in the primary or secondary, I found a cool site which sells custom covers for 1,3,5,6 & 6.5 gallon carboys. Only 8 bucks for 5 gallons and 11 bucks for 6.5 gallons, so it doesnt seem like it will break anyones bank...lol

www.carboycovers.com is the place I found.

I have heard so many times about making sure when using a carboy, you need to keep them in low light to no light areas, so I have been looking into a few of these. Plus I figured this would be a good place to mention the covers.
 

ryser2k

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I keep my carboy (secondary fermenter) in the basement, but there is some light down there so I wrap a dark colored beach towel around it. Seems to work fine, and it is cheaper than buying a custom cover.

As for the great debate here, I can definitely vouch for the fact that plastic retains the smell of your last batch... I just transfered my Sam Adams Summer Ale clone to secondary and cleaned out the primary, and it stinks to high heaven. Even after several weeks in dry storage, you can still smell the last batch in there...

Despite all this, I haven't noticed any off flavors in my beers so far. However, I'm still thinking of going all glass after the convincing arguments I've seen here...

It's funny because when I started, my boss told me that I would be spending tons of cash in about a year to get all the best equipment... he was right, I'm going all-grain, I want to move to kegs from bottles, and now I need to get a 6.5 gallon carboy. Damn this hobby for being so fun!
 
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Majikcook

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Hear that!
Thanks for the input on the last batch carryover. I think I'll be looking at a 6.5 with a blow off.
 

Swervo Maneuver

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I got a sweet carboy cover for almost free...
It's a black t-shirt from the dresser.

x-tra bonus? Put it on a table and it looks like some bizare pinheaded robot is in the dining room.




-yar
 

uglygoat

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:D

i do the same thing with old shirts that no longer fit my 'govornator like physique'...


;)
 

rightwingnut

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Careful...I know you can get a sunburn under a t-shirt, maybe they don't protect from light as much as you think. Although, they've got to be beter than nothing.
 

wwgiese

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Majikcook said:
Ok boys,
we've been through this before but I wanted one last time to discuss the pro's and cons to plastic bucket fermenting vs glass carboy before I buy another primary.

1.The bucket is much easier to handle, and at 7.5 gallon capacity is more than enough to handle a 5 gallon ferment.

2.The carboy is sexier with the view and all, but does it really brew better beer? (the $1,000,000,00 question)

3. At 6.5 gallon carboy capacity, does't the 1 gallon difference of the pail mean less blow off opportunity? simple question deserves simple answer, I know

4. Does the plastic actually affect the taste or is it our own reasoning that we want the cooler looking things that sway our judgement to glass?
(guilty as charged)

5. I've been told that glass will clean easier, and does not scratch leaving pockets of places for the nasties to hide until later. Again, what can be easier than being able to put your entire arm and hand into cleaning a silly bucket? And unless I'm brewing beer with gravel as a fining agent, how am I scratching it?

So at the end of the day.... it all seems to come down to this. Does the plastic HONESTLY impart off flavors to the primary?


All good questions to lose sleep, ponder for days and possibly start a minor third world skirmish over... Would appreciate any non-biased opinions please!

It probably doesnt matter. I like glass but it breaks. Plastic will eventualy stain but has less light getting in to the fermenting beer. I keep it in adark place any way so that doesnt matter. It seems that plastic would be harder to keep sterile but when I use it I fill the bucket up with boiling water and put a lid on it the night before, Then use the water the next day in the sparge. So I think it is plenty sterile for the primary. I always use glass for the secondary though. The bucket is nice if you like to scim the scum off of the top of the fermenting beer, which I like to do early in the fermentation to get a little more of the trub out before it drops into the beer and the yeast starts to look for other things than sugar to eat. So I guess I would say that I like both for different reasons and I use both most of the time.
 
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