Conical Fermenter Advantages for Home Brewing

by Brad Smith on December 30, 2014 · 17 comments

FastFerm1Conical fermenters, once out of reach for home brewers, have recently become very popular as companies have started making conicals in small and affordable packages. Many home brew sized conicals have entered the market in the last few years in the sub-$200 price range. I have to say, I’ve been using primarily carboys for many years, but the conical does offer some advantages over a bucket or carboy.

Professional Conical Fermenters

Most modern professional fermentation vessels are cylindo-conical. They are typically cylindrical on the top, but have a conical shape on the bottom, and vary in size from a as little as a half barrel (about 60 liters) to hundreds of barrels (several thousand liters). Professional fermenters are made from stainless steel as it is easy to clean and can be reused almost indefinitely. They all have a valve at the very bottom of the cone which can be used to remove sediment, and also drain the finished beer for bottling or kegging when done. Most also have a second port higher on the cone which can be used to draw samples of beer for measurement or tasting.

The Advantage of the Conical Fermenter

The reason conicals are used almost exclusively in professional brewing is that they have several advantages for beer production:

  • One significant advantage is that a conical is a “uni-tank” which means that you can perform the primary fermentation as well as aging/storage in the same vessel. With a flat bottomed fermentation vessel, you have to transfer the beer to a second vessel to separate the sediment from the beer for aging. However in a conical, you can simply slowly open the valve at the bottom to let the sediment out, but leave the beer behind.
  • Closely related to that is the ability to remove yeast and sediment from the beer easily, and at any point in the fermentation. This makes it easy to reuse the yeast by drawing some yeast off and washing the yeast. This can save you some money in the long run as you can use one yeast vial for several batches.
  • Another advantage is that you can transfer the wort without siphoning, using just gravity as long as your fermenter is higher than your bottling/kegging vessel. Some fermenters with closed tops even allow you to apply CO2 pressure to the top of the fermenter to force the beer out the bottom to transfer.
  • Many conicals are made from stainless steel which makes them easy to clean and maintain. Even a plastic conical can be cleaned pretty easily in most cases.

Using a Conical Fermenter

Conicals are pretty easy to use. You transfer and ferment your wort just as you normally would. Most homebrew sized conicals have an airlock on the top to relieve pressure during fermentation, and you can draw sediment as desired from the bottom of the conical.

When drawing off yeast and sediment you will usually get a mix of beer and sediment – it is rare to get a clean plug of yeast. Its best to draw just a bit of sediment at a time from the bottom over several days than it is to try to remove all of the yeast/sediment all at once. Also you need to be aware that on some conicals, yeast can stick to the side of the cone, so it may require a gentle nudge to get it out. If harvesting yeast for reuse, I recommend that you wash your yeast and store it properly.

When drawing liquid from the bottom of a conical you also need to be aware that some air will enter via your airlock. Make sure you use a two-way airlock that will allow some air in or remove the airlock temporarily. Though adding air to the fermenter is not ideal, it will be fine if drawing off small amounts of sediment as there will still be a layer of CO2 over the beer protecting it, and also some fermentation will still be generating CO2 to push the air out.

When transferring for bottling/kegging, try to separate the sediment first, and once you have a mix that is mostly beer, let the valve run and transfer it all.

An Inexpensive Conical Fermenter

Several of the large online home brew shops are offering conicals now (even in stainless) for a few hundred dollars. If you are looking to get into a conical without a large cash outlay, we’re also offering the new FastFerment conical fermenter for $99.99 (full disclosure – an affiliate). You can learn more about the FastFerment conical fermenter here.

If you have a few hundred dollars, you can move up to a stainless conical such as those from Blichmann, SS Brewtech and others. These are easier to clean and will last longer, though obviously at a higher price point.

Have some thoughts on conicals or fermenters in general? Leave a comment below. Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing. Also check out the How to Brew Video series I shot with John Palmer if you want to learn more about all grain brewing.

Happy New Year as well!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy January 25, 2015 at 10:30 am

You say to “make sure you use a two-way airlock”. Could you explain which type of airlocks work two-ways? I typically use a three-piece airlock like this one ( Do I need to get a different type for this to work?

John Torchiana June 20, 2015 at 10:47 am

I have been using Better Bottles as my fermenters for years, and it was not unusual for the airlocks in the primary fermenters to bubble for several (4-6) days before settling down. I recently purchased a FastFerment after reading one of your articles. What I was surprised to see was that the airlock stopped bubbling after a single day! I initially thought I had damaged my yeast, but a gravity reading showed 1.108, suggesting that fermentation had occurred. Assuming I did nothing horribly wrong, what makes a conical ferment so rapidly?

John December 14, 2016 at 5:23 pm

I had one of the Fastferment conical fermenters. I traded it for an 8 gallon stainless kettle. I had some problems with the fermenter. The yeast clung to the cone and the beer had to be racked to a secondary to clear it. The threaded hole for the thermometer was difficult to clean an sterilize. The ball valve and threaded fitting are impossible to clean.

Brad Smith December 14, 2016 at 6:49 pm

I know FastFerment has been making design improvements to their conical fermenters to resolve some issues early adopters had with it. I do agree that a stainless conical will last longer and is easier to clean but there is still a substantial price difference between plastic and stainless conicals. That being said, I have been trying out a new stainless conical myself and will post my review on the blog shortly.

Edweard Rose February 13, 2017 at 5:30 am

Hi Brad,
I agree with you. It is difficult to choose best conical fermenter. You have listed some useful advantages of conical fermenter. I love your post. Thanks for a wonderful post….

Jason March 25, 2017 at 4:42 pm

I’ve heard there are some quality problems with the commercially available plastic fermenters, which is why I decided to build my own. Using some plans I found online I was able to build my own for around $150 after all is said and done. The cost was a bit higher because I used clear PVC for some of the trub collectors, stainless steel sampling valve, and a chrome plated brass main drain valve. I built a larger, 5 cup trub collector for primary, and smaller 1 cup trub collector for secondary. I also made a transfer adapter with a 1/2″ barb. Today I put in my first brew so I won’t know the results for another week or two, but if the beer turns out I will quickly be purchasing the gear to make a second.

Brewcod May 2, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Very very interesting fermenter you got, Jason.
Let us know how it worked.

Sidney Patin December 4, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Jason, could you share where you got the plans for your conical fermenter on the internet? Thanks.

Stewbie March 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm

I did research on plastic 10 gal batch conicals including looking at some homemade design’s similar to Jason’s. I found a manufacturer in Temecula CA that was selling a ready to go 15 gallon Conical with all the fittings for about $225. (Minibrew by Home Beverage). Very cheap option compared to stainless. So far 3 batches in and it works great, loving it. Probably won’t be able to use in summer due to no temp control though. Still learning yeast harvesting, definitely need to wash yeast even with Conical still too much trub. I think I will build a Trub/Yeast harvester out of pvc using Jason’s picture of his, great idea vs. just putting a jar below the valve and draining some off. I’m currently doing a few trub dumps during fermentation to get rid of the real chunky trub, then racking all the beer out before collecting yeast. I found that trying to do it before racking off the beer there was too much pressure and you get too much beer and not enough yeast.

Todd April 25, 2018 at 12:27 pm

I was gifted a Fast Ferment about 2 years ago and was excited to use it. I have to be honest, I can’t stand the thing. I had a terrible time getting a good seal on the lid, the yeast all stuck to the sides so even when I tried dispose of sediment, most of the yeast stayed behind. When I went to transfer to my keg I ended up moving a ton of yeast. I am not crazy about pulling off and emptying the container regularly as it would have air bubble up through the beer late in fermentation. It also would not fit in my fermentation chamber so I pretty much just used it for Belgians and Saisons.

I still have the thing, but I don’t know if I will ever use it again. Concept is great, I just had trouble with execution. I am sure some of my issues were operator error, but frankly I prefer to stick with my PET carboys.

james cagle November 13, 2018 at 10:36 pm

The red handle pops off and allows you to completely disassemble it for easy cleaning…. what specific troubles did you encounter….

Happy brewing….

maurizio benazzo July 7, 2020 at 9:16 pm

Love to do 1st and 2nd fermentation in one place, that’s clear… now… before i bottle i now transfer from the second to a new carboy to add the sugar/honey/maple and, then, bottle.
Can i add the sweetener in the conical, shake it a bit and bottle from it or need to first transfer all in another carboy?

Gary D. January 24, 2022 at 7:00 pm

I have a ‘catalyst’ conical fermenter that works well, but for different reasons I have used both it and a glass carboy. My question is on many articles that picture a home-brew conical in use, it appears the valve to the trub trap is open throughout fermentation. I had assumed the opposite was proper protocol, leaving the valve closed until time to dump, but the former makes sense, as it allows you to collect trub as you go, while gaining a clear perspective of when enough trub has again been collected to warrant additional dumps. This process seems it would also render a relatively clear(ish) trub trap content near the actual end of primary ferm. Is there a right or a wrong view on this? Thanks, GD.

Dawn Kitai October 28, 2022 at 9:36 pm

How great that you can ferment and store in the same vessel with a conical fermenter. I have brewed beer at home a little bit and I want to get more into it this fall. I will find an excellent place for home brewery supplies first.

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