Bull City Homebrew
Phone
919-682-0300
Hours
Mon-Wed: 11am-7pm
Thurs-Fri: 11am-9pm
Sat: 10am-9pm
Sun: 10am-6pm
We will be closing at 5pm on 11/22. We'll be closed all day on Thanksgiving the 23rd.
This vs. That

There are so many choices of products available for homebrewing and it can be difficult to tell which set of products is the right choice for you. This list shows the pros and cons of most homebrewing products, sorted by category. It's copied from an amazing summary on Homebrew Talk by llazy_llama.

Fermentation Vessels   [ Show || Hide ]

Buckets

PROS
  • Cheap
  • Shatter-proof
  • Readily Available
  • Light weight
  • Built in handle
  • Opaque, which prevents skunking
  • Easy to modify if they aren't pre-drilled for an airlock
  • Wide opening makes cleaning a breeze
  • Wide opening also makes sanitation a breeze. Spray it with sanitizer, then just flip it upside down to drain
CONS
  • Unimpressive looking
  • Lids often seal poorly. While this isn't a bad thing for people who know what they're doing, it often scares the new folk when they don't see their airlock bubbling
  • Plastic scratches easily, which can harbor bacteria
  • Opaque, so you can't see the beauty of fermentation
  • Some use gaskets instead of drilled stoppers. These gaskets love to fall into the beer when an airlock is added.
  • Even with careful handling and proper care, a bucket won't last you a lifetime.
  • If you do get an infection (which is uncommon, borderline rare with proper sanitation) you'll most likely have to throw away any plastic equipment to prevent further batches from becoming infected.
  • Generally they have a lot of headspace. This isn't a problem for primary fermentation, as CO2 will displace the air in your bucket. It can, however, pose a problem if you're using it for a secondary. You can boil a few thousand marbles to sanitize them, then rack your beer on top of that. Seems like more hassle than it's worth to me, but I don't usually secondary.

Better Bottles

PROS
  • Less expensive than glass carboys
  • Transparent, so you can watch the fermentation
  • Firm seal with a cheap stopper, so you can be sure to get that happy music out of your airlock
  • Wider mouth than glass carboys. You can insert a seriously massive blowoff tube.
  • Light weight. Easier to move and cheaper to ship than glass carboys. Also easier to sanitize than glass carboys if you use the Llama method of 1 gallon of water, Star San, and shaking the junk out of it for a few minutes.
  • Has a handy indentation on the underside. This makes aeration a breeze if you stick a tennis ball underneath and just spin it like mad.
  • Looks pretty cool compared to a bucket
  • Can come with a built in racking set up
  • Easier to drain Star San out of. If you fear the foam, you can flip it upside down over the sink and give it a few gentle squeezes. That puffs most of the foam out.
  • Nearly indestructible. Edwort made a nice video on Youtube about how tough they are.
CONS
  • The racking modification easily doubles the price
  • More expensive than buckets
  • Transparent, which can allow light in. Easily remedied by draping a dark t-shirt over it.
  • Cannot handle negative pressure. You can still use a wort wizard with them, but you have to burp them a few times
  • Made of plastic, which can become scratched if you try to use a carboy brush on them
  • Only available in 3, 5, and 6 gallon sizes. If you're making a big beer, and using a 6 gallon primary BB, you can expect a decent blow off. If you're using a 5 gallon BB for primary for just about any beer, you can bet on blow off 90% of the time
  • If you make a post about how much you love better bottles on HBT, someone will inevitably chime in about oxygen permeability
  • If you do get an infection (which is uncommon, borderline rare with proper sanitation) you'll most likely have to throw away any plastic equipment to prevent further batches from becoming infected.
  • Any plastic gear you use will eventually need to be replaced. Sorry, but it just won't last forever

Plastic Water Bottles

PROS
  • Cheap
  • You can find them anywhere
  • Less expensive than glass carboys
  • Translucent, so you can watch the fermentation.
  • Firm seal with a cheap stopper, so you can be sure to get that happy music out of your airlock.
  • Light weight. Easier to move and cheaper to ship than glass carboys. Also easier to sanitize than glass carboys if you use the Llama method of 1 gallon of water, Star San, and shaking the junk out of it for a few minutes.
  • You can drill a hole and install a bulkhead to create a racking modification similar to that used with better bottles.
  • Some of them have built in handles
CONS
  • Some aren't made of #1 or #2 plastic, making them unsuitable for our purposes
  • IMHO, they look cheaper than the buckets
  • If you do get an infection (which is uncommon, borderline rare with proper sanitation) you'll most likely have to throw away any plastic equipment to prevent further batches from becoming infected.
  • Translucent, which can allow light in. Easily remedied by draping a dark t-shirt over the bottle
  • Made of plastic, which can become scratched if you try to use a carboy brush on them
  • Cannot handle negative pressure. You might still be able to get away with a wort wizard if you burp it as with a Better Bottle
  • Any plastic gear you use will eventually need to be replaced. Sorry, but it just won't last forever
  • Does have higher oxygen permeability, so you might not want to bulk age in a water bottle for more than a few months

Glass Carboys

PROS
  • They just plain look awesome. If you're going for the mad scientist look, glass is the way to go
  • They can be cleaned with a carboy brush. You can scrub the crap out of them without fear
  • Can handle negative pressure, if you use a wort wizard
  • With proper care, they can outlive you
  • Transparent, so you can watch the fermentation
  • You get a great seal, so your airlock will bubble away happily
  • Most any homebrew store will have tubing that fits straight into the neck for a pretty big blowoff tube
  • Most any homebrew store will sell accessories specifically made for glass carboys. Carriers, caps, blow off tubes, etc...
CONS
  • Drop it once, and it's a dead carboy
  • Many people have had to go to the hospital because of glass carboys. Gotta be careful with these things
  • Most expensive fermenter on this list
  • Heaviest fermenter on this list. Makes cleaning and aeration harder, and makes shipping much more expensive
  • Recently glass carboys have seen a huge degradation in manufacturing quality. We've seen a few break for what seemed like no reason

Cornelius Keg

PROS
  • No glass carboys to break.
  • No delicate plastic surfaces to scratch and consequently harbor bacteria.
  • No UV worries.
  • Very tolerant to temperature.
  • Convenient carry handles.
  • Interchangeable vessels/ streamlined process. I can ferment, age, bottle and serve from all the same containers.
  • Not finicky to sanitize, I can use whatever product I want.
  • Dented cornies can be hammered back out with a rubber mallet.
  • Can be stored sanitized and pressed with a little CO2 more or less indefinitely, thus I can brew anytime without having to check if the primary is clean.
  • All one container type. I usually wait until I have three or four (used, rinsed) backed up before I bother breaking out the OxyClean.
  • Since I can harvest yeast out of cornies I am somewhat less interested even in conicals.
  • Can tolerate spunding valves/ pressurized primary ferments.
  • Carboy brush is quaint reminder of bygone era.
  • Cornies tolerate sharpie marker labels directly on bare steel, cleans up easily with hot water, OxyClean, green scrubber. Just to the side of the black post in case of drips...
CONS
  • More expensive than buckets, more expensive than carboys.
  • O-rings are less durable than glass.
  • Several parts to keep track of, organizational skills required.
  • Multiple surfaces means cornies are less forgiving of marginal sanitation pratices.
Sanitation Products   [ Show || Hide ]

Star San

PROS
  • A little goes a long way
  • Foams up nicely, to get into all the little nooks and crannies
  • Mixed properly with distilled water, a spray bottle of Star San will last months
  • The foam (that we don't fear!!) will break up in your wort, and provide a bit of yeast nutrient
  • Safe, despite recent debate. Charley Talley of Five Star Chemical drank a glass of the stuff to demonstrate
  • Comes in a neat easy-measure bottle
  • Is a no-rinse sanitizer. No need to risk adding wild bacteria from your tap water
  • Can be used to remove painted labels on bottles like Stone and Corona
  • Continues to sanitize in the presence of sugar. Due to this, it is invaluable in sanitizing plate chillers and other equipment that you cannot see inside of
  • Is a surfactant, allowing it to remain effective for a longer period of time on equipment. In laymans terms, it sticks to what you apply it to, and continues sanitizing
CONS
  • Some people still do fear the foam, and will rinse it out, despite manufactures instructions and HBT's best advice
  • In its concentrated form, it can etch glass. Be careful and don't spill the pure stuff
  • Dries the hell out of your skin, if that kind of thing bothers you, or you are female, or both
  • May stain some kitchen surfaces with prolonged contact

Iodophor

PROS
  • No-rinse sanitizer. No need to risk adding in bacteria from your tap water
  • Smells kinda neat
  • Not at all unhealthy. Iodine (the main ingredient in iodophor) is added into table salt. You can trust the stuff
  • Doesn't foam up like Star San, if you're afraid of that kind of stuff. Also won't make your vinator overflow everywhere like Star San does
CONS
  • It can stain your plastic gear (especially vinyl tubing) quickly if not diluted properly. When diluted properly, it can still stain after repeated use
  • Can stain your skin if you get it on you. You can always blame it on reverse vitiligo if you like

Bleach

PROS
  • Easy to find, no matter where you are
  • That's pretty much it
CONS
  • You need to rinse the hell out of it after you sanitize
  • To be used more effectively, you can add vinegar to water - warning: this is potentially dangerous, please read this first.
  • Mixing vinegar and bleach creates a toxic gas. Not the good kind of toxic gas that comes from a night drinking hefe weizen, but the bad kind that can kill you
  • Due to the amount of bleach you're going to need, in the end it's more expensive than Star San or Iodophor
  • Smells like crap, and will reek up your brew space
  • You really don't want to get this stuff on your skin
  • If there's any bleach left over in your equipment, your beer is going to taste like bleach, and probably be pretty unhealthy to drink
  • Not a no rinse sanitizer, so you have to risk the bacteria in your tap water as you rinse the hell out of your gear. However, if you mix it properly with water and vinegar (do your homework before you do this. Be sure you know what you're doing, and NEVER mix bleach and vinegar directly!) it can be used as a no rinse sanitizer. Listen to the podcast with Charley Talley here, where he discusses proper and safe use of bleach.

One-Step

PROS
  • Comes with most brewing starter kits
  • No rinse
  • Is pretty effective at cleaning
  • Doesn't really smell like anything
CONS
  • No longer classified as a sanitizer by the FDA. If you want to spin that wheel and use it, be my guest. I won't. Then again, people used it for years before the FDA changed their rules. I've used it myself once or twice, and the batches turned out fine.
Clearing   [ Show || Hide ]

Racking to Secondary

PROS
  • Results in really clear beer
  • If all you have available is a bucket and a 5 gallon carboy, racking the beer to secondary can free up a fermenter for a new batch. Can you say “pipeline?”
  • Sounds really cool when you're explaining it to your non homebrewer friends. “Yeah man, today I racked 5 gallons of Russian Imperial Stout to secondary. I'm hoping it turns out nicely.” They might not have any idea what you're talking about, but it does sound cool
  • Reduces the risk of autolysis if you're planning on bulk aging for a very long time
  • If you're going to add fruit to your beer, now is the time
CONS
  • Potential risk of oxidation, no matter how careful you are. If you're very careful, you can minimize the risk.
  • Potential risk of infection. You can minimize this as well by carefully sanitizing all your siphon gear and your secondary vessel.
  • It requires another vessel. You have to purchase one, which costs money. You have to clean it, which costs time. And you have to sanitize it, which costs sanitizer and time.

Long Primary

PROS
  • Only requires 1 fermentation vessel. Fewer fermenters means less cleaning
  • Has pretty much the same effect as using a secondary if you're patient enough to wait a month or so
  • Much less effort required. Just leave it alone for a long time
  • Many styles of beer are meant to be a bit cloudy
  • With something dark like a stout, who cares if it's clear? It's not like you can tell
  • No additional risk of oxidation or infection
CONS
  • You can't add fruit. Well, you can, but you want to wait at least a week or so before you do. I probably wouldn't
  • Too long of a primary can result in autolysis. This isn't even really a concern unless we're talking more than 6 months in primary
Bottling   [ Show || Hide ]

PET Beer Bottles

PROS
  • The come in brown/amber, but clear plastic soda bottles can also be used
  • You can tell they're carbonating, because the bottle will become rock hard
  • Caps are reusable
  • New caps with tamper evident seals can be picked up at many LHBS or online
  • Can be taken to many places that don't allow glass bottles
  • Can be picked up at any grocery or convenience store, pre-filled with soda
  • Can be dropped without shattering
  • You don't need any special equipment to cap them
CONS
  • As with anything plastic, it might last a long time, but eventually you'll need to replace them.
  • Not as impressive as a glass bottle when you hand one to your friend
  • You need to finish off the bottle rather quickly to prevent the beer from going flat. Not a problem with most 20 oz or 1 liter bottles, but when you're talking about a 2 liter soda bottle, you'd better be ready to drink/serve 2 full liters pretty quickly
  • Not eligible for entry into most competitions
  • You can't use a bottle brush to clean them if they have dried in gunk. A soak or a session with the jet bottle washer is required
  • You have to be careful not to use root beer bottles. You're never going to get that taste out of the bottle. Never. Never ever. Never ever ever.

Glass Beer Bottles

PROS
  • They look cool, especially Grolsch bottles IMHO
  • You can buy them at just about any grocery store or convenience store, and the come pre-filled with beer! (major selling point for me)
  • If you get dried in gunk, you can use a bottle brush to clean them without risk of infection
  • 12 oz glass bottles are required for entry into most competitions
  • They'll last forever with proper care, assuming you can get your buddies to rinse them out and give them back to you
  • It's easy enough to ask your friends to save up their beer bottles for you
  • They generally come in a 6, 12, or 24 pack container that can be reused
  • It's also easy enough to contact a few local bars and restaurants, and ask for their empties
CONS
  • Drop them once, and they break. Now you have to clean up beer off the floor and broken glass
  • Can't take them to most lakes, parks, etc...
  • Capping ~50 glass beer bottles for a 5 gallon batch is a PITA. Using 22 oz bombers is less so, but still a PITA
  • Some brands put their logo onto the glass itself. In those cases, they are ineligible for competition
  • Whether you're buying them empty or new, they're going to be more expensive than PET
  • You have to buy new caps each time, and you have to own a capper
  • They generally only come in 12 and 22 ounce sizes. There are a few exceptions, but that's generally accurate
  • If you buy them pre-filled with beer, they have labels on them that you have to remove. Okay, you don't really have to, but it looks tacky if you don't. This is easily done by filling the bathtub with water and Oxiclean, then just leaving them to soak for a few hours or even overnight

Grolsch Style Swing Top Bottles

PROS
  • Man, these just plain look awesome
  • A breeze to cap, just swing the top and you're done
  • Generally come in larger sizes than standard 12 oz beer bottles
  • Available empty from most LHBS or online at several sites
  • Available full of Grolsh in many areas, if that's your kind of thing
  • Did I mention how awesome these things look?
  • The bottles are reusable almost indefinitely, though the gaskets will need to be replaced on occasion
CONS
  • Expensive, full or empty
  • The gasket needs to be replaced on occasion, but they're cheap enough
  • Ineligible for entry to most competitions
  • You can't find Grolsch in the swing top bottles everywhere. They certainly don't sell them where I am

Growlers

PROS
  • None. See the cons.
CONS
  • They aren't rated for pressure, and therefore aren't recommended for bottle conditioning. Use at your own risk.
Yeast   [ Show || Hide ]

Liquid Yeast

PROS
  • Liquid yeast tends to come in many more varieties than are available dry. If you're trying to make a specific style, liquid yeast will help a lot
  • Many people don't recommended it, but you can pitch liquid yeast without a starter
CONS
  • It's more expensive than dry yeast by a long shot
  • You really should use a starter, although it's not 100% necessary
  • If you don't use a starter, you'll generally experience longer lag times with liquid yeast

Dry Yeast

PROS
  • Using a starter isn't necessary, as it's usually more cost effective to just pitch an extra pack of yeast if your recipe requires
  • It's cheap. Whereas Wyeast Labs liquid yeast can cost $6.99, a packet of Safale S-05 is about $3.99. Even if you're going to double pitch, that's still half the price
  • It's been my experience that dry yeast tends to hold up to shipping better than liquid yeast. This may or may not be the case for you, but that has been my experience
CONS
  • Fewer available strains
Carbonation   [ Show || Hide ]

Tabs/Drops

PROS
  • Easy to measure, hard to screw up
  • No need to boil, one less step in the process come bottling day
CONS
  • Per batch, they are expensive

Corn Sugar (Dextrose)

PROS
  • Cheap. We're talking dirt cheap. If you buy per batch, we're looking at less than $1 for an average 5 gallon batch (4.5-5 oz). If you buy in bulk, that price drops
  • Ferments out clean, leaving little to no residual flavors
CONS
  • You do need to dissolve it in water. Liquids are more easily absorbed than solids. Dissolving it in water means you need to boil said water to kill any bacteria present
  • If you aren't careful in your process, you can end up with poor distribution throughout your bottles. Uncommon, sure, but not unheard of

Table Sugar

PROS
  • Easily available. If you don't already have some in your house, you probably live in a cave. That being the case, you can probably steal a few pockets full from your local IHOP, Denny's, or Waffle House. (kidding! I don't advocate stealing from anyone. Also, if you live in a cave, how are you reading this?)
  • Dirt cheap. Cheaper than the dirt that I used to gauge corn sugar. Like, dirt that you got on sale or something
CONS
  • Some people say there's no difference in flavor. Some say there is. I'm undecided here
  • As with corn sugar, you need to boil it with water. Bacteria, uneven distribution, etc...

Various Other Adjuncts

PROS
  • Can result in slight modifications in your finished product. In some beers, this can be highly desirable
  • Most are available at the local grocery store. At mine, I can get maple syrup, clover honey, molasses, light and dark brown sugar, and turbinado sugar
CONS
  • Different priming sugars require different amounts. Some will ferment almost fully, while some will leave a decent amount of unfermentable material behind. You'll have to do your homework to know what can and can't be used, and what amount to use
  • May leave behind residual sweetness (brown sugar in particular) that can be undesirable in most styles of beer
  • Generally much more expensive than corn or table sugar
  • Again, you probably want to boil in water
Extract   [ Show || Hide ]

Dry Malt Extract (DME)

PROS
  • Stays fresh longer than liquid
  • Easily storable, and easily transferred into separate containers. This comes in handy when using dry extract for starters, or for doing partial late extract additions
  • Available for bulk purchase from most any LHBS and most online stores
  • Easy to clean up any spills
CONS
  • Tends to clump when added to wort. This is easily remedied by adding DME slowly and stirring constantly
  • Available in fewer varieties than LME
  • More expensive than LME

Liquid Malt Extract (LME)

PROS
  • Available in many different varieties
  • Smells amazing. So amazing, in fact, that sometimes I'll dab a bit on my upper lip, and just be in a heavenly mood all day
  • Less expensive per pound than DME or canned extract
  • Can be stored over long periods of time without much degradation of quality
CONS
  • You will at some point, regardless of how careful you are, spill this stuff. It's not too difficult to clean it off a stove top (if you're quick about it) but it will make your floor feel like velcro if left to dry. Clean it ASAP
  • To get every last drop out of your container, you'll need to either dip the container into the boiling wort and pour the run off out, or ladle in boiling wort and pour again. It's not difficult, just be careful not to burn yourself as I do every single time
  • Pours slowly. Remedy this by letting the container soak in hot water for a while to thin it out
Brew Pots   [ Show || Hide ]

Enamel

PROS
  • Many kitchens already have an enamel stock pot of sufficient size to do partial boil extract batches
  • If you have access to a second-hand store, enamel pots are generally the least expensive on this list
  • Clean in place (CIP) type cleaners, such as PBW, Oxiclean, and One-Step can be used
  • Poor heat distribution, meaning that once you get your steeping water to the appropriate temperature, it's easy to keep it there
CONS
  • Eventually, even with proper care, the enamel coating will chip, rendering them unusable for brewing
  • Fairly heavy, making shipping more expensive
  • Generally not available in sizes larger than ~3 gallons, making full boils impossible for a standard 5 gallon batch
  • Poor heat distribution, making for slow heating and cooling
  • Cannot be drilled for ball valve installation. This isn't a huge deal since you wouldn't be using a small enamel stock pot for an all grain batch, unless you're making smaller ~2.5 gallon batches

Aluminum

PROS
  • Generally the cheapest kettle available in 5+ gallon size
  • Very light weight, making for cheap shipping, and easier transportation and pouring
  • Excellent heat distribution, resulting in rapid heating and cooling
  • Easily drilled for installation of a ball valve. This can come in handy when/if you decide to move to All Grain brewing
  • A new aluminum kettle will last for the length of your brewing lifetime with proper care
CONS
  • Passive oxide layer must be created and maintained. This is done easily enough by filling the kettle with water and boiling for ~30 minutes. You'll know it's there when the inside of your kettle has a brown discoloration
  • Although an aluminum pot will likely last for as long as you need to use it, it probably won't last forever. If you inherited your great-grandparents aluminum pot, leave that for spaghetti
  • CIP cleaners cannot be used without damaging your pot. With aluminum, you'll need to use old fashioned manual labor

Stainless Steel

PROS
  • Shiny! Who doesn't like the gleam of stainless steal equipment?
  • With proper care, you'll be able to pass on your SS brew pot on to your great great grandchildren. They just plain last forever
  • Can be cleaned with CIP cleaners
  • Passive oxide layer is much easier to maintain than with aluminum
  • Easily drilled for installation of a ball valve. This can come in handy when/if you decide to move to All Grain brewing
  • Better heat distribution than enamel
CONS
  • The most expensive kettle on this list by far
  • Much heavier than aluminum. More expensive to ship, and more difficult to transport and pour
  • Much less heat distribution than aluminum. Slower boils, and harder to chill quickly

If there's something you think should be added here, let us know at info@bullcityhomebrew.com.