Tip of the Day: Your Primary Fermenter

Starter Kits

The most common method of homebrewing is to use a large plastic pail as a primary fermenter. Some benefits of the plastic pail include the following:

  • Ample head space allows for krausen (yeast foam) to build-up without necessitating a blow-off tube.
  • It is easy to strain and transfer wort into the pail without the need for a funnel or siphon.
  • It’s easy to clean out the messy yeast cake and residue left behind from primary fermentation without needing a carboy brush.
  • Compared to glass, it’s affordable, lightweight and durable.
  • A plastic pail is handy for sanitizing equipment.

Here are a few things to know about your plastic pail:

  • Unfortunately, plastic is easily scratched. Small scratches in your pail can harbour bacteria and can be very difficult to sanitize properly. Avoid scratching the inside of your pail by using a soft washcloth instead of a scrubby. If your primary fermenter looks to be in rough shape (if you see a lot of scratches), you might consider getting a new one or switching over to glass. Keep in mind, if you use a glass carboy as a primary fermenter, you’ll likely need a blow-off tube. The shape of the carboy minimizes air-space, which is good, but it also doesn’t allow space for the krausen to develop. The krausen is then likely to come up through your air lock. The solution is to use a small length of hose with one end jammed into the bung (or on a carboy cap) and the other end sitting in a jar of sanitizer.
  • When you purchase a brand new pail to use as a primary fermenter, the lid will be very stiff and fit very tightly onto the pail. A rubber gasket inside the lip of the lid allows for an airtight seal but only if the lid is fastened properly. These lids loosen over time, but, for the first few uses, you’ll likely have to stomp that lid down until you hear it snap into place. Put on a shoe and stomp. Now, of course, getting that lid off can be tricky too. Put most of your weight onto one side of the lid while you wrench on the other side, loosening one tab at a time. You can use a towel to protect your fingers while you do this. A tool exists to make this much easier, aptly named, a pail opener. This tool is currently available at Barley’s for $7.90 or can occasionally be found at paint stores.
  • Plastic is permeable to the air and is, therefore, not recommended for secondary fermentation.



2 thoughts on “Tip of the Day: Your Primary Fermenter

  1. I have just recently switched back to the plastic pail. I find that the krausen nearly always overflows. I usually use a wine bucket for a primary fermenter and then transfer to a carboy for secondary aging before I bottle and prime. I do notice that using a secondary fermenter really allows the beer to age nicely but it takes a bit more time to carbonate in the bottle than it does when I go from primary to bottle.

    I couldn’t agree more about the scratched surfaces harboring bacteria. I lost a batch when I didn’t notice a big scratch on the top part of the inside of the pale (likely when I was storing some equipment in it). I have started to leave my sanitary rinse in my buckets for up to 12 hours before I brew. You just need to make sure that you rinse properly…

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