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Homebrew Questions: Fermenting in Buckets and Where to Buy Kits

Snug as two bugs in a tub

I brewed again this past weekend.  This time it was an Imperial Stout that should be ready sometime in July.  I’m going to be adding some oak I’ve soaked in Four Roses bourbon to make it extra special good, and I’m really looking forward to tasting it.  I just hope it makes it to July.

You see, I’m fermenting it in a bucket, which was not the plan.  The eve before I brewed, I went to the home brew supply shop to get a 6.5 gallon carboy for the stout, as my primary is currently playing host to a lazy pale ale that seems content with a slow and steady fermentation.  Problem is they only had buckets, so I bit the bullet and picked one up.

As I understand it, the downside of using a bucket is that if you scratch the inside, bacteria will take hold and wreak havoc on your fermentation.  I’m hoping it’ll be okay because the bucket is new and seems to be in good shape, but it’s different than what I’ve done in the past, which adds an element of uncertainty to a process I barely have a handle on to begin with.  

I will say that fermenting in a bucket is convenient, removing the hassles of getting the wort into the narrow neck of a carboy and making it simple to aerate the brew by pouring it between the kettle and bucket a few times.  Does anyone here use buckets regularly, or only carboys?  I’d like to know what to look out for.

Also, I’m now on my fourth kit from Northern Brewer, and I’m wondering if there are any other (or better) places to buy extract kits from.  I’ve been pleased with the quality from Northern Brewer (at least from what I can tell – what do I know?) but I’m open to trying someplace new, just to spice things up a bit.  I might even be open to *gasp!* buying components from an online retailer and finding a nice recipe somewhere on line.  If any of you have any info to share in either regard, it’s greatly appreciated.

All in all, I’m having a great time brewing, and it looks like my New Years resolution to brew at least once a month might actually happen.  We’ll just see what happens when I have to bottle all this stuff – that’s the part I hate!

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Categories: Beer, Home Brew, Home Brewing

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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55 Comments on “Homebrew Questions: Fermenting in Buckets and Where to Buy Kits”

  1. Briz
    February 1, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Very cool. My friend brews at home, I sent him this link. I am intrigued by the process but have no desire to attempt.

    • February 1, 2011 at 11:16 am #

      I felt the same way for a long time – I like to DRINK beer, but making it? I don’t think so. I think the opportunity to blog about it pushed me over the edge, and now I’m starting to (finally) really enjoy it.

  2. Matt
    February 1, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Austinhomebrew.com has a HUGE selection of kits including clones of hundreds of commercial beers. Every kit has an extract, partial mash, all grain uncrushed and all grain crushed option. They have very fast service and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

    For what it’s worth I’ve done most of my fermentation in buckets. I have a single Better Bottle that I use once in a while, too. The main thing about buckets is you can’t use abrasive cleaning tools. I just give it an overnight soak in hot water and oxyclean free and all is good.

    • February 1, 2011 at 11:17 am #

      Good cleaning tip Matt. I use a soft sponge for all my equipment cleaning, and I have a big bucket of Oxy in the garage, so a soeak shouldn’t be a problem.

      Austin sounds like a paradise – I’ll have to check it out!

    • February 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

      Used them when I lived in Austin. Great folks, good products. Bought several of their kits, and each was delicious.

      • February 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

        I bet they’d be even better once you brewed them, Tex. 😉

  3. February 1, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    I don’t know about buckets, but there are alternatives to Northern Brewer. Their quality is good, but the prices are high. Midwest Supplies is a lot cheaper and I’ve been happy with the quality.

    • February 1, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Midwest was the other place that I couldn’t remember the name of – thanks for the reminder Zac. Do you ever create your own recipes or find good ones online and then gather the goodies to brew them? I’m feeling a little wanderlust.

      • February 1, 2011 at 11:32 am #

        Honestly, I base a lot of my recipes off Northern Brewer. Their inventory sheets are pretty detailed. What I typically do is replace the liquid malt extract with dry (same amount) and mess around with the hops (usually increasing them and adding Simcoe – I love Simcoe). I realize that I could save more money with the kits, but that’s not my goal. What I want to do is buy the extract in bulk so that I always have the ingredients on hand (and save some money in the process).

        • February 1, 2011 at 11:42 am #

          If I keep brewing at this pace, I’ll probably start trying to buy in bulk as well. I like the idea of having stuff on hand in case an opportunity to brew presents itself. Right now, it takes some planning.

      • Matt
        February 1, 2011 at 11:44 am #

        I also use Northern Brewer inventory sheets for recipes of basic styles. Another great resource for proven recipes is the homebrewtalk.com forum in the recipes section.

        If you really want to start creating your own recipes I highly recommend the book “Brewing Classic Styles.” It gives you contest proven basic recipes that you can then tweak to your heart’s desire.

        For actual recipe creation I use BrewPal on the iPhone and Beersmith on the PC. They let you play around with ingredients and see the impact on gravity and bitterness as you build your recipe. My best beer to date is a self-made recipe.

        • February 1, 2011 at 11:47 am #

          Sounds like fun for sure. I’ll probably do one or two more kit brews and then wander off into deeper waters. The question is if I go all-grain and then start monkeying around with recipes, or just stick with extracts.

      • February 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

        I’ve done some all grain with a buddy who has all the equipment and know-how. However, his beers are never as good as mine. I realize that all-grain is cheaper once you get past the initial equipment investment, but the variation in quality has me spooked a bit. I’d rather make a beer that stands up to my favorite craft beers than risk brewing something that’s just meh. Still, I get the appeal of added control of all-grain.

        As far as creating recipes, I stay away from the forums as the average homebrewer doesn’t share my tastes and they are often over concerned about every little detail. It’s just homebrew, yo. Instead, I start with the Northern Brewer recipes and calculate using Beer Calculus. The few that I’ve saved there are listed under “comoprozac” (long story).

        • February 1, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

          Hmm…I hadn’t considered how extract brewing might be more consistent than all grain. Maybe I’ll see how a few more extract brews turn out before I consider going all-grain.

          Besides, extract is easier, and that means more fun in my book.

      • Matt
        February 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

        I switched to all grain a few months ago and every one of my all grain beers has been better than my extract brews. This is partly due to experience, freshness of the wort and all grain forcing me to do full boils rather than partial boils with top-off water. Consistency isn’t difficult with all grain and it allows you a LOT more flexibility in your recipe. Mash temperature can create a dry beer or a sweet beer and you don’t have any control over that when you use extract. Extract is notorious for having a good amount of unfermentable sugars, which is why a lot of people brewing extract have their beer stop at 1.020 when the target final gravity is much lower.

        • February 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

          You people are tearing me apart!!

          Kidding. You make all-grain sound attractive. I just need to balance my ability to screw up the process against the shortcomings of extract. Not a clear winner here yet. 🙂

      • February 1, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

        I think it depends on what you want to get out of your homebrew. I feel like I have a firm grip on making a pretty tasty beer with extract and am too lazy to make the leap. Of course, if you really want more control and are really into the brewing process and love to experiment, all-grain is the way to go. Honestly, the best homebrew I’ve ever had has been all-grain, but my best efforts with extract weren’t far off.

        • February 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

          You and I might be on the same page here, Zac. I just need to get a better sense of how my beers are turning out before I know which way to go. If they’re potent and tasty, it’s hard to beat the simplicity of using extract.

  4. Matt
    February 1, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    I have a few tips because I know bottling knocked you out of homebrewing for a while. Here are a couple things I do to make the process easier.
    – Get a bottle tree and a Vinator. This alone will make bottling a LOT more enjoyable.
    – Don’t bother cooling the priming sugar solution. By the time a quart or so of beer mixes with the hot sugar it will cool down to beer temps. This shaves a lot of time off.
    – Cut a 4 inch piece of tubing and attach it to the bottling bucket spigot then attach your wand. Then you just raise each bottle up on the wand to fill rather than messing with a hose.
    – Bottle over the open door of your dishwasher if you can. This way any spilled beer goes into the dishwasher, no cleanup!
    – Dump a bunch of caps in a bowl of sanitizer. As you fill each bottle just rest a sanitized cap on the top and set it aside. Complete your entire bottling and then cap them all.

    • February 1, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      You sir are my hero – great advice!

      You’ve done this a few times before, eh?

  5. Nicole
    February 1, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    I use a bucket for primary fermentation for all of my beers before racking to either a glass carboy or a Better Bottle. I’ve never had an issue with infection or oxidation. After 2-3 years of regular brewing I replaced all my plastic items (bucket, lid, racking cane, hose) and designated the old ones for sour beers.

    I’ve never used a kit myself. My local homebrew store is so well stocked that it’s just as easy to get a recipe (or make one up) and pick up all the ingredients.

    • February 1, 2011 at 11:45 am #

      Your local shop sound nice. My place is 40 minutes away and has a reputation for being under stocked and overpriced. After a couple of trips, i’m starting to understand why.

      Good to know that buckets are mostly okay. I’ll be moving the stout into a Better Bottle for secondary in a month or so, so sounds like I’m on track. I actually enjoy the bucket – it’s far easier to aerate and carry than a carboy. I just wish I could see inside – I want to watch the magic happen!!

  6. Marvin
    February 1, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Most brewers I know prefer brewing in a bucket. No glass carboy that can break, no worries about light and when you really get into it; it makes harvesting yeast a lot easier as you can just remove the lid.

    Personally I wouldnt worry about the plastic, as you brew and learn you find out there’s a lot of myths. They were true once, like in the 80’s, when your yeast wasn’t as strong and pure as it is now, but a lot of them are getting debunked now. Yeah you could scratch it but anymore the yeast is so strong that it’ll starve a lot of other microbes out, plus if you do scratch it buckets are cheap, unlike a broken carboy.

    • February 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

      I hadn’t considered the “myth” factor, but I’ll but it, mostly because I think I enjoy using buckets!

  7. Brandon
    February 1, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    I use plastic buckets for primary fermentation and 5 gallon glass carboys for secondary. I’ve brewed over a dozen or so batches in the last 4 months in buckets… no problems. I do like Northern Brewers recipe kits because I can view the grain bill online prior to ordering. Seems like others are secretive about it. I have used morebeer.com for some kits as well. I also happen to have a More Beer store within driving distance… so that is mainly why I use them.

    • February 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

      I’ll have to check out morebeer.com, but overall it sounds like I started at the top. I guess I get some pretty good advice around here.

    • Don
      February 1, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

      Brandon, on a completely different note I found a new favorite Cigar. Hoyo de MonterrayReposado En Cedra, which I think translates to “complete awesomeness in cedar”. Very very nice cigar! I can burn it down to the last 1/2 inch before it gets hot, and it is firm and very well constructed, no unravelling or uneven burning at all. It is by far the best $7 cigar I have found, with the possible exception being an Oliva V. Thought you would want to know.

      • February 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

        Why not do a post about it Don? Our readers could always use a new vice. And cigars are better than heroin, right?

        • Don
          February 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

          I have enough vices to blog about! However if we lived in Amsterdam we could do that Heroin blog you keep talking about!

      • February 1, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

        I’m game for a new cigar. I usually only have one 2-3 times a year with my father-in-law, but I’d love to impress him with a stogie one of these days.

      • Brandon
        February 2, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

        Nice, I’m always down for a good cigar story. Oliva V has to be the best cigar for the price. Assuming you like a full-flavored cigar.

  8. Brandon
    February 1, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    I’ve been homebrewing for 2 yrs now using Brewers Best kits I get from a store called Brew and Grow but have been wanting to start getting my kits from Northern Brewer because they seem to have more choices. I can’t compare the quality since thats the only kits I’ve used but I can say my friends, family and I enjoy the beer

    I brewed these kits using white buckets for 2 week primary fermenting per instructions in the kits and switch to the glass carboy for 2 week secondary fermenting before bottling. My results have been good using the buckets as far as I can tell, the beers have been drinkable with no bad tastes or smells that Ive noticed.

    Keep in mind I was a Budweiser drinker up until my friend turned me onto homebrewing and good beer so my experience with different beer styles is very limited and I really don’t consider myself a good judge of whats a good representation of any certain style but as i said my results have pleased me and the people i share them with.

    My first time homebrewing was the English Brown Ale kit from Brewers Best and I thought it was a great tasting beer which is why i continued to keep brewing myself so theres a suggestion if you decide you want to try another option

    • February 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

      Thanks for chiming in, Brandon. I’ll have to check out Brewer’s Best to see what they’re all about – I’m definitely ready to try something new.

      One good think about going from Bud to homebrew is that your beer will almost always be more interesting and satisfying.

  9. Evan
    February 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    I’m a Better Bottle fan. I hate glass carboys, and buckets aren’t as high a grade of material. I never scrub my fermenters, ever. I just do a soak in Oxyclean for a few days, then store it. When it’s brew day, I soak in oxyclean again, then hit with star-san, and it’s ready for beer.

    • Evan
      February 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

      And screw kits! I’ll teach you to build recipes. It’s way more fun that way 🙂

      • February 1, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

        Kits are nice because a monkey (like me) can do them. They’re a great place to start. But after a while, I know I’m gonna get bored, then I’ll ask you to become my brew-Yoda, Evan. 😉

    • February 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

      A no scrub solution? I like it! I scrub out my better bottles with a brush, but I’m always worried I’m missing a bug or two. A nice oxy soak makes sense.

      • Evan
        February 1, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

        Go grab the 15lb box of Oxyclean at Costco, and you’ll never have to scrub again! I haven’t scrubbed a fermenter in almost a hundred batches now, and haven’t had a problem yet.

        • February 1, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

          No need, Evan – I have a ten pound tub that’s nine pounds full!

      • Evan
        February 1, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

        Then you’re set! Do the Oxyclean soak with hot water and agitate it every once in a while to kick it back to life. Most fermenters will be ready for storage after a day or so of soaking… Most of mine soak for a week or more because I’m too lazy to dump them out.

  10. February 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    We personally love our kits in our store. We rely heavily on grain for our extract kits instead of extract. We teeter on the edge of our kits being mini mash at all times. We have our recipes online and you can see them before you buy them.
    We use a lot of buckets in our brewing practices. We just replace them every 9 batches or so in them. That way you don’t really have to worry about scratches in them. We also don’t do secondaries. That is a big help to keep things easier. We got that hint from Jamil about 5 years ago and have not notices any differences in the beers.

    • February 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

      No secondary? Doesn’t that lead to yeasty beer?

      • Matt
        February 1, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

        Nope, just leave your beer in primary for the same total time and do a clean rack off the top of the yeast cake and you will be fine. Secondary is only needed for really long term storage (6+ months). I even dry hop in my primary in a muslin bag without any issues. Secondary is just another opportunity to introduce nasties into your brew so I would avoid transferring it unless you have to.

        Another time secondary is useful is if you have an abnormally large amount of trub in your primary and you’re unsure of the final volume of beer. If you have a volume marked secondary it will be easier to know how much priming sugar you need to bottle.

        • February 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

          Hmm…I have a bottling bucket, which should allow me to measure before I sugar. The whole “do less and get the same result” thing really appeals to my lazy-assed ethos!

      • Matt
        February 1, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

        It sounds like you add the priming sugar differently than I do. I add my priming sugar to the bottom of the bucket then rack the beer on top of it. The swirling beer mixes in with the sugar. I usually give it a gentle swirl with a sanitized spoon at the end for safe measure. I would be concerned about proper mixing of the priming sugar if I added it to a full bucket of beer. Priming sugar solution is fairly thick.

        • February 1, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

          That’s what I do as well. Sugar solution on bottom, rack the beer on top in a swirling motion and then bottle from the spigot on the bottom of the bucket.

          You had made it sound as if you added the sugar to your primary, and bottled right out of the thing, which I was a little bit in awe of. 😉

      • Matt
        February 1, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

        Oh, that would be pretty awesome. I meant sometimes with all grain you won’t hit your target volume exactly. If you end up with a lot of trub in primary it can be difficult to tell how much pure beer you have. I rack to a secondary that has volume markings so I can tell how much volume I have in preparation for bottling. As you know, since the priming sugar is the first thing to go in the last thing you want to do is prime as if you have 5 gallons of beer and then end up with only 4 out of primary. This is a bigger issue with all grain because you don’t top off with water.

        • February 1, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

          Makes a lot of sense, but I still love the idea of throwing some sugar in the primary and bottling the mofo! That’s hardcore!!

  11. February 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    Cool Jim..lot’s of comments, which I can’t read through at this time, so this may be redundant. I have carboys and buckets. I have never had an issue with buckets contaminating a batch of beer, and often find them way easier to use…especially dry hopping. it’s much easier to deal with the mess.

    If I have a beer that’s going to produce a ton of blowoff (like a lot of Belgian strains) I use the carboy…otherwise the lid to the bucket can burst off spewing goo everywhere, making mommy very unhappy.

    Check craigslist for carboys buckets…I always find them cheap there. Always good to see a brother brewing.

    • February 3, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

      Thanks for the info, Nate. I have an imperial stout in mine, and I hope it’s not so active that it blows the top off the bucket. I have a blow off tube installed, so hopefully that’ll keep the pressure down.

  12. February 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    If you want to go from 1 bucket, straight to bottles, then I would look at “Carb Tabs”, like these: http://www.northernbrewer.com/brewing/munton-s-carb-tabs.html
    They allow you to fill straight into your bottle, and then drop 3 in a bottle, and cap, no sugar solution & stirring required.
    The real anwser though, is to keg. No bottles to clean, just one large vessel.

  13. markk
    September 8, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I use buckets . Cleaning them with Ivory soap and a wash cloth . works great and leaves no residue since Ivory is pure soap .
    One thing I do not like is that the lids are not skrew on . Getting them off is difficult and only works a couple times before they leak . so I use duct tape to seal them off. not that it matters any . It is just more easy to tell how your fermentation is going if your air lock is bubbling instead of gas leaking out the lid .

    anyone know of any buckets that have skrew on lids ? Seems like some beer supply company would have already jumped on this .

  14. markk
    September 8, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    One more comment . the kits .
    Northern brewer is good . I would not suggest a Cooper Cerveza unless you hate beer and love bitter water . How ever I hear they have good products . I use a lot of Nut Brown Ale from Muntons that I spice up with a blend of dark and black and honey barley and some other yeast . Most of my kits are Brewers Best . Good but use a different yeast for them .
    Kits and yeast … Use the yeast that comes with it if you wish but always check it first as it may be mostly dead . I usually buy a sachet of yeast to do my kits and sometimes use both packs together as two is better than one . Get your yeast form the local supply so it is fresh from the fridge . You will notice a big difference in the taste . Try Wyeast . They have all the flavor info for their yeasts on their site .

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    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Brislin, Girls Pint Out. Girls Pint Out said: Homebrew Questions: Fermenting in Buckets and Where to Buy Kits:   Snug as two bugs in a tub     I brewed again … http://bit.ly/hcQ6bI […]

  2. Fermenting buckets | Sektion31 - April 4, 2012

    […] Homebrew Questions: Fermenting in Buckets and Where to Buy Kits …Feb 1, 2011 … You see, I’m fermenting it in a bucket, which was not the plan. The eve before I brewed, I went to the home brew supply shop to get a 6.5 gallon … You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed. « Roswitha tursas […]

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