Which Fermentation Container is Right For Your Batch?

Using the proper fermentation container is everything to wine making.

You'll want to keep the yeast lively and healthy and in turn they'll make you some awesome wine! Some vessels help to keep out all the little nasties better than others.


Infographic showing a carboy with ruined white wine in itSpoilage bacteria and oxygen can ruin your wine


Fermenters come in a lot of different shapes with each having it's own plus and minus. They're built in a way that should make your job easier to:

  • handle
  • ferment
  • view
  • clean
  • protect your wine from bacteria, oxygen etc.

 Doing your homework before you get started can save you some headaches and extra work. See my wine making supplies page for details on what you need for certain batches.


Note:

Wine can benefit from oxygen at different times in it's life cycle. At other times it can simply ruin it.

The fermentation container you choose and how you use it, will influence the amount of oxygen that contacts your wine. Keep in mind that racking and ullage can also introduce unwanted oxygen to the wine.


Where to Buy Fermentation Containers?


The majority of wine makers and brewers trust these online retailers above the rest. They deliver fast and have great customer service too. I usually see who's got the best deals on for pricing and shipping when I'm ready to buy.

  1. Morewinemaking.com
  2. Homebrewing.org
  3. Amazon.com

The first three only sell wine making and beer supplies. That's it. These guys really know their craft.

One or more of these stores will have free shipping or at least flat-rate shipping within the U.S.



Which Primary Fermenter Should You Use?

Well... how many bottles do you want to make? Because that's what determines your primary and secondary fermenter sizes.

Figure out how much wine you want to make and add at least 25% more to it when choosing a primary. This headspace allows some room for any foaming or expansion without it coming through the airlock. 

It also gives the yeast oxygen for energy to help expand the colony quickly.

When making wine from juice you'll be leaving some sediment behind when you rack it. That means if you start off with 5-gallons of juice/must then you will have slightly less than 5 when it's all done and ready to bottle.

So 1-gallon of finished wine = @5 -750ml bottles of wine...... start with a 2-gallon primary fermentation container

  •   3-gallons = @15 bottles...... start with a 5-gallon primary
  •   5-gallons = @25 bottles...... start with a 6.5-gallon primary
  •   6-gallons = @30 bottles...... start with a 7.9-gallon primary

Consider using a carboy or demijohn as a primary fermenter for your delicate white wines instead of a bucket. Oxidation and bacteria are more easily controlled because of the small neck.

Use "food grade" buckets only if you're going with a plastic primary fermenter. There's a reason the grocery stores and bakeries use only food grade containers and bags. You don't want plastic toxins or off-tastes coming out in your wine.

The most economical are food grade buckets. For a larger batch - food grade drums work excellent.
Both buckets and drums come in many sizes.

There are also stainless steel tanks and conical fermenters - these also come in food safe plastic too.

Image showing many types of fermentation containersDetermine your batch size - then choose a container

Size is the first thing to think about when looking for a fermentation container. You should consult the recipe you're going to follow and whether or not you decide to double it etc.

Keep in mind that grapes and other fruits can benefit from a wide container. This gives the skins and pulp a better chance to be in contact with more of the must than what a narrow vessel would give you.

This way you get the maximum color and flavor extraction... which results in a vibrant, fruity and fragrant wine!

Once you start the racking process you will usually have to top up with other wine you have on hand. Or stock up on some different size containers.

This is where some of the smaller fermentation vessels can really come in handy.


What Should You Use For a Secondary Fermentation Container?

When it's time to rack to a secondary fermentation vessel then you should leave very little air space. Top it right up. This is easier to do with a smaller necked vessel than a wide one.

Image showing carboys topped up with wineMake sure your secondary fermenter is topped right up into the neck

Containers like:

  • carboys
  • demijohns
  • jugs
  • growlers
  • large wine bottles


all have a small neck. The smaller surface area within the neck limits the attack point for nasties.


Too much air space above the must at this point means a larger playground for spoilage organisms and bad bacteria. Also along with all that air comes oxidation and you want to avoid that at this stage.

Your finished wine could take on a brownish tint with an off-odor to it. Especially white wine - not good.


List of Fermentation Containers

The best types of containers to use are those made specifically for wine making.

Vessels like:

  • glass carboys
  • plastic PET carboys
  • glass demijohns
  • plastic food grade barrels and drums
  • food grade buckets
  • glass jugs
  • stainless steel tanks
  • conical fermenters
  • oak barrels

all do a great job in the right circumstance. Until you get some experience follow a good wine making recipe and use whatever is suggested. Check out my how to make wine section to get started.


What NOT to Use!

Image showing poor fermenting containersDon't use any of these vessels for fermenting

If you're in doubt about what not to use for a fermentation container here's a quick list to reference.

Don't use:

  • earthenware
  • porcelain pots
  • scratched plastic buckets
  • steel buckets and drums
  • non-food grade plastic containers

These are either not good for your health or not good for your wine's health!



How Many Fermentation Containers Do You Need?

You'll find that you really can't have enough sizes of containers.

There are so many variables to the different fruits, recipes and methods of wine making. When you have more than one batch going on at the same time it can be a bit of a juggling act sometimes.

Just get started and try to look ahead to the end of that first batch. For example you'll lose a little wine each time you rack.

So you can:

  • go to a smaller fermentation container
  • add a similar wine to top up
  • add marbles to top up

or do a bit of each.

You're going to learn as you go but make sure to write down what size of primary and secondary fermenters you used in a wine log book. Because over time you'll likely forget!


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