If you have purchased your first home brewing kit, then you likely will have a couple 6.5 gallon food grade plastic buckets that came with it to use for fermentation. You can use these buckets for primary and secondary fermentation, and as bottling buckets. These are perfectly fine for fermentation, but you may decide that one of the first upgrades you make is purchasing a glass carboy.
The buckets come with plastic lids that have holes drilled into the top to allow for an airlock or blow off tube--these kits usually come with tubing and airlocks. The airlock and blow off tube both serve the same function--they allow for CO2 produced during fermentation to escape. This is good, because otherwise, the pressure would build up and the bucket will literally explode, covering your walls (and everything else) in beer.
Some brewers are perfectly happy to use plastic buckets.
If you decide to upgrade at some point, keep the buckets around. They can be used for sanitizing buckets (simply fill with water and sanitizer and drop equipment and utensils in), or as additional fermenters to have on hand so you can brew multiple batches at the same time. They also can still be used for bottling buckets.
Carboys look like large glass jugs with a small opening at the top. A rubber bung, or stopper, is placed into the opening to create a seal, and the bung has a hole in it to place an airlock or blow off tube. Glass carboys are excellent fermenting vessels for home brewing. If you are using a carboy as your primary fermenter, a blow off tune is your best option.
One reason brewers like carboys is the fact that they are made of glass and are see through. You can keep an eye on your fermentation with out having to open the fermenter, which risks exposing your beer to oxygen and possible contaminants. It can be easier to determine when fermentation is complete by being able to see the visual cues. (Keep in mind that when determining when fermentation is complete should not rely solely on visual cues).
The negatives of carboys are that they can be difficult to clean. They do not scratch easily however, which makes them more sanitary. And while the glass allows you to keep an eye on your brew, it also allows in light, which can skunk your beer. Therefore, it is important to store your carboy away from light, either wrapped up in a blanket or stored somewhere away from light (like a closet or basement).
Glass carboys can also be heavy once filled with beer, so moving them can be difficult. Of course, this makes for a good workout, so home brewing can actually be very good for you! You can, however, purchase carrying straps to make the moving process easier.
Better Bottles are similar to carboys, they are basically plastic carboys. They are made of PET (polyethylene) plastic, which is important to home brewing because this type of plastic has very low oxygen permeability. Better Bottles are lighter than carboys, and are unbreakable. You can also install a spigot on a better bottle, which you can't do to a glass carboy. A spigot isn't necessary, but can make transferring beer easier.
Better Bottles are also transparent, so proper care must be exercised in keeping your beer from light exposure. Better Bottles also can be a little more difficult to fit with a blow off tube. Extra care is necessary for the cleaning of a better bottle. Because they are plastic, you should avoid scrubbing the inside, as this could lead to scratches. Scratches make great hiding places for bacteria and germs that could infect your beer.
Plastic Water Carboys are inexpensive options--these are most commonly used as office water coolers. If choosing one of these, you must make sure that it meets the requirements for home brewing. First, you need to make sure it is the right size--many of these coolers are only 5 gallons, and not large enough for home brewing purposes. Fermenters need to be at least 6 gallons in size, and bigger is better. You must leave enough space for 5 gallons of wort, as well as additional space for the krausen to form and the CO2 that will be produced.
It is also important that the carboy is made of the right type of plastic. Often, these water coolers are made of the wrong kind of plastic, a type that is too porous and permeable to oxygen to be used for home brewing purposes. You want PET plastic, and you can tell simply by looking at the recycling code on the bottom**. #1 plastic is PET plastic, any others should not be used for home brewing.
A conical fermenter is the preferred method of professsional brewers, and many home brewers eventually wind up purchasing them as well. They are stainless steel, so they are durable and rust proof. The bottoms are sloped, like a cone, and this allows for sediment and the trub to settle on the bottom.
Conicals have racking ports built in, which,makes the transfer of beer very easy, without much of the trub being picked up. There are also fermentation cabinets, and walk in coolers, but these options are pretty advanced and not something that someone new to home brewing will consider.
**Just what exactly is PET plastic, and why does it matter? PET plastic is the least permeable plastic and that is why it is ideal for home brewing purposes. Other plastics are too porous, which can lead to stains and harboring of odors, as well as infections. All of which are bad for beer.
Authors: Food-and-Drink:Home-Brewing Articles from EzineArticles.com