Brewers are a funny bunch. We tend to like shiny things and gadgets. Few things get the green-eyed monster going as much as a stainless steel conical fermenter, this is why I leapt at the opportunity to be the babysitter of one for an indeterminate period of time.
As luck would have it, the fermenter by BrewTech was to be delivered to my house on the very night of a beer tasting. Further to that, the person bringing it was one of the first to arrive, so there was ‘my’ conical proudly on display as everyone else got to the tasting. And stare they did…
I did not really have a chance to check it out right then and there, but I already loved it for making me the envy of the brewers present.
The next day I gave it a look-see and it sure appeared to be good quality. Everything smooth, not looking like it would harbor bacteria, plus it was complete all the way down to the airlock and bung. The sturdy construction was encouraging, and to this day I have absolutely no questions as to its robustness.
My one disappointment was the lack of instructions relating to its use. After a half-dozen batches I realized that it is not necessarily true that you can simply modify your procedures to add the dumping of trub (in my case only cold trub) and yeast at certain intervals. It is very dependant on the yeast and how well your yeast has been provided with oxygen. Other than that one small lesson, my experience was extremely positive.
The ease with which I could initiate a transfer was unbelievable, however that is likely because of the fact that I use a pump, since the height is insufficient to directly rack into a keg once full. You’ll want to make sure to have it sufficiently high to rack into a keg before you fill it, otherwise, you’re faced with moving 10+ gallons of fermenting or fermented wort, which is not a pleasant task. In fact, despite that it comes with handles, in no way should this be construed as an endorsement of moving a full conical, that’s pure insanity if you ask me.
Given my positive experience with this conical fermenter, the remainder of this review will serve to highlight some of the items that I wish I had known from the beginning. If I had know about them, it would have been possible to work around them at the start, rather than while I was trying to make use of the conical. In no way should this be construed as putting down the fermenter since it has been a joy to make beer in there!
After the initial awe at being able to ferment in a conical wore off, I was struck with the realization that I had no idea what volume of beer I was fermenting. Not wanting to etch the inside of the cone, I have settled on the eyeball method, having filled it with known quantities to various levels.
Issue: The lid, being essentially a sheet of stainless steel with a hole for the bung, and the fastening mechanism (a screw putting pressure in the middle of the lid) mean that if you over-tighten you can temporarily bend the lid giving a worse seal than before.
Advice: Slowly tighten the lid until it just starts to bend, and then back off a bit.
Issue: The ball valves for the racking port and the bottom dump are very close together.
Advice: Before you fill the conical ensure that you place them in an orientation that will allow you to operate them both (i.e. the dump to dump the trub and yeast and later the racking port to empty the fermenter).
Issue: There is no indication of the orientation of the racking arm inside the conical. i.e. whether it is pointing up or down
Advice: If this is important to you, put an external marking so that you will always know where it is pointing. Otherwise make sure you check before filling the conical!
Issue: The bottom dump is very close to the ground.
Advice: Before you start using the fermenter, either decide on a short container that you can use (and test it) or determine how you can ferment with the dump port raised. Note that you need to be able to operate the valve with the container in place, so test that as well.
Issue: Sanitizing the dump and racking ports may not be obvious.
Advice: use a spray bottle of no-rinse sanitizer, it seems to have worked for me so far.
Issue: Cleaning an object this size is not a simple task.
Advice: There is no simple and inexpensive solution, so consider this first. I wish I could say that CIP is the answer, but never having tried it I know neither whether it is a reasonably priced idea nor its effectiveness. My solution has been in warm weather to use the hose and sponge outdoors but in the significantly sub-zero weather I get in winter, I have an alternate means, which is the spare shower stall. It works a charm, but turning on the shower when you don’t intend to get in can be a little bit of a damp experience. In addition, I recommend using an effective cleanser that requires little user intervention.
Issue: You can’t see the beer.
Advice: Get over it! As homebrewers we are accustomed to seeing the wort ferment, and as such, it may not be as entertaining. Just leave the yeast to its privacy and trust that it is doing its job. Why must we micro-manage our workers?
Overall, this is what I believe to be a durable product, but unfortunately it will be gone before I can report back on the long-term test results. I hope to attempt conditioning under pressure in this beauty of a fermenter as soon as I resolve the issue of how I will do that. We’ll see…