Someone left me a comment wondering about this, and so, this I will go into. Da da daaaa.
The introduction to this series is here, me rambling about sulphite use is here. I go into a basic (And probably boring to most) explanation of yeast, here. I go into how it all comes together in the last post, here. Last but not least in the list, written ages ago is a nuttier than squirrel poop anecdote about a gross recipe for cheap home-wine and why you should always use yeast.
I mentioned before that Midwest Supplies is a great place to get your carboys and I am reasonably sure I also indicated I’m into glass carboys. (I mean, seriously, check out this bad 5 gallon boy. Whooyah!)
But maybe you’re sitting there going, “What kind of carboy should I use?” Of course, you might also be going, “Jeez, man, get to the point.”
Okay, first and foremost, let’s look at what a carboy is. I like to give you the information and see what you do with it, so, here’s the basic idea: a carboy’s just a big ol’ container, usually with a narrow neck. They come in all sorts of sizes and as I mentioned: you don’t necessarily even have to use one. You can use a jug, you can use a bucket, or a jar. Whatever you want, really, depending on what works best for you. However, if you were to ask me to tell you what to do, I’d say, “Use a freaking carboy!”
They aren’t expensive and they’re pretty handy, anyway.
In more traditional brewing and wine making scenarios, you’d see carboys made of glass, but you’d also see them made of earthenware type materials. The glass ones actually started out in that Evilest of Evil Empires: pharmaceuticals. I typically use the same carboy in both primary and secondary fermentation, but some people like to switch it up for various reasons I am not listing here because I don’t really know them. It just seems like a massive pain in the butt, to me. (But if you do have good reasons, list them! I’d love to see it.)
You can get them anywhere between a gallon and six and a half gallons, but going any higher than that and you’re getting into what’s known as demijohns. For some reason, demijohn has always cracked me up because I can’t help thinking that they’re like, Hercules of Toilets. (I hope that wasn’t too cheesy and obscure. Jeez. Why did I type that? Did I type that out loud?)
You’re going to find you’ve really got two major choices in carboys: glass and plastic.
If you’re avoiding plastics- heeey, fantastic. Use a freaking glass carboy. Problem solved.
If you’re not, or you’re not sure? Well, let’s look at the differences between plastic and glass carboys in winemaking. First, let’s go into what “plastic” is, usually in this instance. Plastic in this case refers to PET or polyethylene terephthalate.
It’s food grade plastic, though, I have never eaten plastic- be it called “food grade” or otherwise.
I prefer glass carboys, which I said already, right? Well, one of the biggest reasons I may have considered plastic carboys happens to be my size. I’m 5’1, 105 pounds. I’m a wiry little thing, but I’m not really that big on physical prowess.
What the heck does that have to do with anything?
Glass carboys are heavy. Glass carboys with liquid in them are very heavy. Knowing that, and knowing that PET is also fairly shatter proof might make it seem to me that plastics are the way to go. Point of fact, though, and this is just anecdotal evidence: I’ve never had a glass carboy shatter or break. Maybe I’m just lucky like that. But that additional 13 pounds might not be your thing. It also might not be your thing if you’re trying to save money- shipping is often worse than the price of the carboy.
Now, there are distinct advantages to PET carboys. As I mentioned, they’re lighter, they’re not as breakable, and they won’t end up leaching smells into your wine. You can also get clear ones, so you can keep tabs on your must. So, not too bad. However, if it’s not PET, odors and chemicals alike can and will get into the wine. Not only that, non-PET plastics are not as durable and are prone to scratches during cleaning- another big no no, as those scratches can trap all sorts of bad things you don’t want. (Easy answer: no, the pickle jug you got from behind the fast food joint’s probably not a great idea. When the bottom plonks out of it, you’ll be like, “Oh, she was right.” Plus, I can just see that wine tasting. “The bouquet is…different…is that…sniiiiif…sniiif…)
One last advantage of the PET carboys is in the way they are designed. Most you find will have this little..pokey thing on the bottom of it. It’s raised up higher in the PET carboys than it is in glass. When you get to the racking portion of your winemaking- this is a big bonus because all the sediment and yeastie goodies go further down in the bottle- so, dealing with that sediment’s a lot easier.
So, why on earth would I go with the glass carboy?
One, I don’t like plastic crap. I just don’t. I use it, but grudgingly, in other things. Two, I’m a snob like that. And three? I have never, ever had an incident with water in my airlock going into the carboy. Screw you, plastic carboy, for that little experience. I was super proud of my open-mindedness. Quite smug. I bought this nifty plastic carboy.
Everything was going so well. I was pretty pleased and about to make the switch when I picked it up. Naturally, I pick it up by the neck because, that’s the easiest way to go about it. The neck bends and I go to set the thing down- only to see the water go right into my wine. GROSS. This could have been easily remedied, of course, by just pulling the stopper and airlock off to begin with- but, I’m a finicky type, already very firmly team glass carboy, so I was completely disenchanted. Now, you know. And…