Advice by the bucketful

In my last post, I said that I was going to try to get a food-grade bucket and make my own fermenter. That proved to be harder than I imagined. I had read that bakeries are a good place to get buckets because they get big buckets of icing, which is a lot less gross than some things that come in buckets, like pickles and barbecue chicken wings. So I called around and was surprised to find that there is quite a bit of competition for these buckets. If you are going to try this, here is my advice:

  • Call early in the morning, before someone else gets the buckets.
  • Try restaurants, delis, and other businesses that order food in bulk.
  • If the business doesn’t have any buckets, ask when they expect to get some.
  • When you find a bucket, be prepared to pick it up immediately.

Two for the price of one (free)

I finally found a couple of buckets at a supermarket bakery. The lady at the bakery told me she had a couple of 5 gallon buckets but I would have to come get them now. When I arrived, I discovered they were actually 4 gallon buckets but I didn’t want to tell the woman I had changed my mind after she had held them for me.

The beer kit I had bought to make my first brewing experience more likely to succeed makes 6 gallons (23 liters). I was therefore thinking I needed a 6 gallon fermenter. A little research, however, revealed that there needs to be a little room at the top to allow the fermentation to occur. So, I needed at least a 7 gallon fermenter. I knew from talking to restaurants and businesses that the standard 5 gallon bucket was the largest bucket I was likely to find for free. I went to Lowes, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware hoping to find a larger bucket but didn’t find anything larger 5 gallons.

I had to make a choice: I could either bite the bullet and buy a fermenter or I could try modifying the beer kit ingredients to either make less than 6 gallons or split it into multiple fermenters. The point of buying the beer kit was to simplify the process thereby increasing the chance of making beer that was drinkable. If I tried to modify the concentrate and yeast to make a smaller batch or batches, I was complicating things. On the other hand, I’m trying to see how little I can spend and still make a good batch of beer. Spending $15-$20 on an 8 gallon bucket seemed a little ridiculous.

Since I had two 4 gallon buckets and I needed an 8 gallon fermenter, I decided to try my luck and split the beer kit ingredients in two and brew two 3 gallon batches. It doesn’t take a lot of math to divide by 2 so it shouldn’t be that hard, right?

Roll your own fermenter

Air locksAll I really needed to make my buckets into fermenters was air locks. The air lock is a simple plastic valve that you fill halfway with water so that gas from the fermentation can escape but outside air and contaminants can’t get in. I picked up 2 air locks from my local beer store for 2 bucks. They didn’t have grommets or stoppers that fit the air locks so I went to the plumbing section of Ace and got two cone-shaped rubber washers that are meant to be used in faucet repair. I drilled a hole in the lid of each icing bucket and inserted the washers and air locks. Voila! I am now the proud owner of two 4 gallon fermenters which cost a grand total of $3.50!

Homemade fermenterI was planning on splitting the wort into 2 even batches. I decided it would be easier if the fermenters were graduated so I could easily tell how much liquid was in each one. I used a 4 cup measuring cup to pour water into the buckets and marked off half-gallon increments on the outside of the buckets.

I’m finally ready to brew some beer!

Cost so far

  • $20 – malt concentrate (beer kit)
  • $8 – hydrometer
  • $5 – cleanser
  • $0 – four gallon icing bucket (2)
  • $3.50 – air lock and rubber washer (2)

$35.50 – total