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Because beer fermentation releases excess heat, it’s important to properly control the removal of that excess heat so that the fermentation process can be controlled (different kinds of beer ferment at different temperature ranges, so temperature control is key).
What are your options?
Cooling jackets are the most popular choice for temperature control. The jacket wraps around the fermentation tank, and either hot or cold fluid is circulated through the jacket. There are different styles of cooling jackets available, such as dimpled or channel style, and your needs may also demand that the top or bottom sections of your fermenter be cooled by separate jackets. You should know what type of beer you’re going to be brewing and what your brewing goals are before speaking with a supplier so that they can offer specific advice regarding cooling jacket installation.
In addition to using cooling jackets, commercial breweries often insulate the fermenters to help with temperature control. There are numerous options for insulation (for example, gel-based) so speak with your supplier to see which would work best with your setup.
More and more breweries are using cylindroconical tanks (a conical bottom and a cylindrical top) for the fermentation process. The cone's aperture is usually around 60 to 70 degrees, which allows the yeast to flow towards the cone's apex, where, at the end of fermentation, yeast and other solids can be flushed out.
The cylindroconical fermenter boasts a number of advantages: industry suppliers frequently cite the low initial cost, low maintenance costs, ease of cleaning, better temperature control, and improved mixing among the reasons to operate a cylindroconical fermenter over competing fermenters.
Despite these advantages, the cost of a stainless steel cylindroconical fermenter may be over budget for small homebrewers, and most non-professional operations generally make do with either glass carboys or food-grade plastic buckets.
Many suppliers offer custom add-ons for your fermenter that you may want to consider. A dry hop port, for example, allows you to add dry hops to the beer after primary fermentation, which has numerous advantages (hoppy flavor and aroma added without too much bitterness). Speak with your supplier about the custom additions on offer. You may also be able to choose the position/quality of standard elements of your fermenter, including valves and manway doors, so do be sure to speak with your supplier about the available options.
Uni-tanks are fermentation tanks that combine the ability to ferment beer with the ability to age/carbonate the beer. Essentially, uni-tanks combine the functions of fermentation tanks and brite tanks. Though this option is not entirely rare, many breweries continue to process their beer with a separate brite tank for aging and carbonation instead of using uni-tank.
Though food-grade plastic buckets are perhaps more popular for the beginner brewer, more advanced homebrewers often praise the usefulness of glass carboys for fermentation.
Glass carboys offer a number of advantages over plastic buckets. First, glass carboys allow the brewer to let the beer sit for months (the carboy can be sealed air-tight). This is useful if the brewer doesn’t have any organized or particular plans for distribution. Second, because glass carboys are transparent the brewer can monitor their beer as it is fermenting, which allows greater quality control over the process. Third, fermenting in a glass carboy is generally cleaner and freer of bacteria than plastic bucket fermentation.
There are also some disadvantages to consider. First, glass carboys require specialized cleaning (you’ll need to buy a bottle brush to clean it). Second, glass carboys are more expensive than food-grade plastic buckets, and they’re also much more likely to break. As a result, operating glass carboy fermentation will be higher cost overall than simply using plastic buckets.
It all depends. Most tanks are custom and are made once the tank is ordered. Lead times can be as short as 3 weeks to as much as 3 months or even longer when there is a backlog in production. It also depends on where the manufacturer is based. If you live in the US and you order from a Chinese tank manufacturer you will have to include a few weeks for delivery. There are also distributors who carry tanks in inventory and those lead times are much shorter.
Tank prices can vary drastically based on the country the tank is manufactured, the distance it must travel to its destination, and the quality of materials and construction. Generally, tanks made in Asia tend to be 20-40% cheaper than tanks made in the U.S. or Canada, but this does not include shipping costs which can be quite high depending on the size of tank.