Fermenting in Plastic Buckets versus Glass Carboys

OK, here is a source of contention that I hear about to no end. And here is my final belief on the pros and cons of plastic versus glass fermenters:
Like everything, there is a pro side and there is a con side. Since I teach my beginners to start fermenting in plastic, and then transfer to glass for a week or two of aging and cold-stabilizing, I will give the PRO side of fermenting in plastic containers.

Buckets (with tight-fitting lids and airlocks) have the following benefits of glass carboys for PRIMARY fermentation:

  • it is easier to pour your hot wort through a strainer into a bucket than it is through a strainer, into a funnel into a glass carboy: the hole is (obviously) much larger
  • you cannot shatter the plastic bucket like you can a glass carboy, with hot liquid (and I have seen carboys SHATTER, me droogs...)
  • it is easier to do a hydrometer reading directly in the bucket than it is to mix around the contents of the carboy and then suck out some of the liquid with a turkey baster...
  • buckets, with handles, are easier to move around and carry, especially for the beginner.
  • Buckets are less expensive than glass fermenters
  • BLOWING OUT THE FOAM IS MEANINGLESS, for the primary fermentation - a 6-gallon bucket negates this useless, archaic practice... please read this in regards to THAT whole topic...)

The CON side of buckets is that you should not scratch the plastic inside, or else you may harbor permanent infections, but eventually it is good to replace, or downgrade, your bucket anyway. (Make it a "sterilization bucket" after a few years of usage....)

Glass carboys never need replacing (unless you shatter them), but if you do want to ferment in all glass, I would recommend a 6 or 6.5-gallon carboy, and then invest in a wort-chiller, and have a five-gallon fermenter (glass carboy or Better Bottle) for secondary aging of the finished product. This is how some "more advanced" brewers will go, but you really WILL want that wort chiller if you plan on using the carboy-to-carboy method.

Obviously, this carboy method is for the brewer who has already dedicated himself to the hobby and is willing to invest in more equipment, spend more money on the hobby, and is also willing to deal with, logistically, more troubling scenarios. Either way, though, you can make excellent beer.

E-mail me with questions or comments on this matter - I am interested....