Like an over anxious 5 year old kid on Christmas morning, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my new 7 Gallon SS Brew Bucket from Ss Brewing Technologies. Thankfully during the holiday season the Fedex vans run nearly around the clock and the latest addition to my expanding brewery arrived as I was pulling out of the driveway on my way to work.
Leagues of homebrewers have been debating the merits of glass, plastic, and Better Bottle for many years, but the one thing they all agree on is; stainless is the best. But the high cost of most stainless steel options is well outside of the range of most homebrewers and frankly, you can brew some really fantastic beer in the same glass carboys and plastic buckets that homebrewers have used for many many years. So the cost of a stainless steel fermenter is really overkill unless you have some money burning a hole in your pocket.
At $175.00 the 7 Gallon SS Brew Bucket is still a good chunk of change for anybody, but it places a high quality fermenter within the reach of more homebrewers than any other option out there that is currently available.
Maybe it is was the light snow flakes falling on a brisk morning, the warm greeting of an overworked holiday delivery van driver, or the fact that I was still in a bit of a sleep coma from the lack of caffeine, but there was something magical about unboxing this bad boy.
Well packed in a cardboard shipping container, the Brew Bucket arrived wrapped in a scratch resistant plastic cover which kept the stainless in terrific shape during its journey. Included in my box was a different gasket for the lid which was explained in a small note as an on the fly production change to the pre-installed gasket the fermenter shipped with. The new gasket definitely lets the lid sit better on top of the fermenter than the original one, so the change is welcome.
Inside are level markings at every 1/2 gallon from 4 gallons to 6 gallons. I’ll be interested to see how well these markings hold up after repeated usage and cleaning. The Ss Brewing Technologies logo on the outside really finishes off the nice professional look of the product.
** UPDATE ** 1 and half years later and the markings are still very visible.
Weighing in at just around 10lbs, the Brew Bucket is less heavy than its popular counterpart, the glass carboy. With the added handles on the side, it is far easier to carry when filled with much less chance for breakage. The legs seem very sturdy and held up well to a bit of torture testing while filled completely full with water. There were no signs of stress while rocking the filled Brew Bucket back and forth on its legs, similar to what a homebrewer would subject it to during cleaning or oxygenating without a stone.
You might expect a stainless steel fermenter to take up a lot more room in your brewing setup, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the footprint was hardly larger than a standard ale pale of the same volume. With the Brew Bucket being stackable thanks to its clever foot and cone design, I think it opens up a lot more storage space for other fermenters whether you’re just sticking them in the hallway bathroom (sorry honey) or a custom fermenter closet.
The handles are robust enough to handle the weight just fine, although I do get a bit of flex when its filled. The handles collapse down against the sides for storage, but oddly I have one that likes to creep back up to attention when I’m not looking. I don’t see this as an issue, and its probably due to the design of that type of handle rather than a manufacturing flaw since I have a few other household items with similar grips and they exhibit the same strange behavior as well.
One of the most important items on this package is the lid. The gasket around the lid is made of Food grade silicone according to the manufacturer. Although it fits well in the groove, the smart homebrewer would be wise to remove and clean this between brewing sessions to prevent any bacteria from taking up residence in that space. The new gasket provided in the box was simple and easy to install and appears made of a dense enough material that it should hold up well over time. Ss Brewing Technologies mentions on their website about making replacements available sometime early 2014.
Closing the lid is a snap thanks to the really easy to use latches that are built into the Brew Bucket. They require only one hand to latch on and have just enough pressure to seal the lid tightly but not so much that it requires you to hold down the lid with another hand. Having used fermenters from Blichmann Engineering, I much prefer this method of closing the lid than some awkward clamping mechanism that you end up having to fight with.
To test how well it seals I filled the Brew Bucket with 6 gallons of water and shook it upside down for well over a minute without losing a drop of water. I don’t get nearly as good results with a plastic bucket. The only concern I have is the amount of pressure that can build up inside with certain yeast varieties can be disastrous unless you have some sort of pressure relief, so it might be nice to see a safety blowoff/relief valve as an option in the future.
The provided silicone stopper fits well into the hole in the lid of the vessel, but I found that using a standard stopper from your local brew store doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the harder silicone version, so if you’re going to be using a blowoff tube instead of an airlock make sure you’re using the included silicone stopper or equivalent and not the inexpensive versions from the brew shop.
The cone shape at the bottom of the brew bucket, while not an official conical fermenter, does help compact the yeast into a smaller volume and my first batch appeared to clear better than a typical plastic bucket with a flat bottom allowed, although that could be due to many different factors besides the shape.
The cone is the cause of the only 2 issues I have with this setup actually. Compared to a plastic bucket which is quite easy to hoist up and dump in a sink, the cone prevents you from grasping the fermenter from any decent angle. It’s not really too big of an issue, but if you need to dump it while full you’ll find that its a bit akward to lift up and tilt. Not a showstopper, but its worth noting.
My only real complaint is the amount of liquid left over after racking the beer off. Just a hair shy of 100oz remains in the bottom of the vessel (measured using water as a test) using the racking arm. With some yeasts this may not be an issue, but with a medium flocculation yeast or higher you leave almost 40oz of beer remaining in the bottom. I would like to see racking arm placed a bit lower in the cone to allow you to pull more liquid out.
The Brew Bucket is a winner, hands down. My only real hold up is the price and the amount of beer that could get left behind when you rack, but otherwise this is a real high quality product clearly designed with homebrewers in mind and not just some scaled down version of what the big boys are using. I’m really looking forward to any other products that might be coming out of their shop in the future.
UPDATE After over a year of brewing with the Brew Buckets, I now own 3 of them and will never go back. They perform as well as a conical, are ridiculously easy to clean and still work and look like brand new after a few dozen batches.