Dan here–I am the author of this website and a cider blog, cidersage. I make a lot of mead and cider at home, and have recently started to place in AHA-affiliated competitions for the former. Over the years, I’ve used mostly glass carboys and plastic buckets as primary fermenters. Both work, and have their advantages and disadvantages. Lately, though, I’ve been using two 30L (7.9 gal) Speidel plastic fermenters, and I find them to be superior for primary fermentation. I detail my findings below.
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Why Plastic For Primary Fermentation?
First up, I should deal with the commonly-asked question about whether to ferment in glass or plastic. Glass is technically the superior product, as it is completely inert and unreactive with the fermentable substances that come in contact with it. The key with fermenting in plastic is that you must use food-grade plastic–such as HDPE–other forms of plastic containers are not acceptable as fermentation vessels because they could react with your cider, mead, or beer, leaving behind undesirable flavor compounds and aromas or even unsafe chemicals.
Advantages Of The Speidel Fermenter
So, the first order of business with plastic is using the right type. Home brewing suppliers know this, and will generally disclose the food-safe nature of their plastic fermenters up front. Once you know the plastic vessel in question is food-safe, there are several advantages that become apparent with the Speidel Plastic Fermenters in particular:
The Speidel Fermenters are made from thick HDPE, which is particularly useful for two main scenarios that I encounter frequently.
Mixing, Aerating, and Degassing Mead
When making mead, I utilize a stirring attachment attached to a power drill for the above functions. When mixing, it allows me to quickly dissolve liquid honey with water within the fermenter itself rather than having to pre-dissolve it or risk breaking a glass fermenter with the stirring attachment. This process also performs the initial aeration needed, as I’ll froth up the must by frequently reversing the direction of the drill.
Degassing is really the same process, either during fermentation or immediately following fermentation (both, in my case), to drive off excess CO2.
Warning: While you can really let the drill rip on the initial mixing/aeration before fermentation starts, use extreme caution during fermentation or afterwards, as the large amount of CO2 built up in solution will come out of solution very quickly with this sort of agitation, overflowing out of the fermenter and causing a huge, sticky cleanup job.
Collecting Juice at an Apple Pressing
If, like me, you ferment in a different location than you grind and press apples, you’ll have to transport fermenters to/from the pressing site. I do not recommend glass for this, as having a carboy break with your precious juice inside–particularly in the car–would be a nightmare. Since it’s handy to gather and transport juice in a plastic fermenter, why not just ferment in it as well if it’s food-safe?
As you can see below, it’s easy to add honey from 1 gallon jugs just by inverting them and setting them into the wide top opening of the fermenter. The same is true of fermenting cider or mead with added fruit–simply add the fruit to a mesh bag and drop into the top of the fermenter (you’ll have to either weight it so that it sinks or punch it down periodically if you do this, so that all the fruit stays in contact with the fermenting must). You can’t do this easily with the tiny inlet of a glass carboy.
Ease Of Transportation
The Speidel fermenters have built-in handles on the side, making it easy to move them around. For me, this comes in handy when moving them in and out of vehicles when going to/from a cider pressing or moving them in and out of a top-opening chest freezer that I use for controlling temperature during primary fermentation.
Ease of Transferring/Racking
While your cheaper fermenting buckets share the ease of transport and durability aspects of the Speidel fermenters, it’s the bottom spigot that really sets the latter apart.
The bottom inlet sits an inch or so above the bottom of Speidel, allowing you to drain the fermenter with the included spigot without having to use a siphon/racking cane.
I find it easiest to attach a length of liquid tubing to the spigot so that you can set your receiving container on the floor below the elevated Speidel that you’re transferring from.
Once the transfer is complete, you can discard the sediment in the bottom of the Speidel, then easily wash it and sanitize it using the large inlet.
There’s one downside that I’ve noticed with the Speidel fermenters: it’s hard to monitor the fermentation via airlock activity. The airlock is quite large and can handle vigorous fermentations with ease, but as fermentation slows down, it’s harder to discern the vigor of the fermentation compared to the more easily-observed bubbling activity apparent in smaller, 3-piece or S-style airlocks. This could make it harder to catch a stuck fermentation unless you’re frequently monitoring the specific gravity of the fermenting must.
As fermentation slows down, one option is to replace the standard stopper with a #8.5 stopper drilled for a standard airlock hole (the standard stopper is drilled for the much larger Speidel airlock). This will allow you to switch to a smaller airlock when the initial fermentation slows down and better monitor the state of affairs without extracting multiple samples and taking gravity readings.
Recommendation: Switch To Glass For Aging
While great for primary fermentation, I’d recommend using glass carboys for aging mead. This is because plastic is oxygen permeable over long periods of time, and mead generally benefits from long periods of aging. Cider is generally not aged for so long, so if you plan to consume, keg, or bottle it within, say, 6 months, you could rack to plastic for aging without encountering much trouble.
I hope you found this review to be useful. If you have questions or recommendations for new content, feel free to leave a comment or use the Contact Form to send me a message. If you’ve found this content to be useful, please consider subscribing for email updates so that I can notify you of future content and offers. Happy fermenting!
While you can find Speidel fermenters on various places (including eBay), so far I’ve found MoreBeer to be the most economical choice, at least in the U.S. For more information about fermenters in general, visit the fermenting equipment page. See my tutorials for cidermaking and meadmaking if you want more start-to-finish walkthroughs of the process.