As my cider-making experience grows, so does my cider volume. I’m thinking about moving to a slightly bigger operation, but wasn’t quite sure of the exact logistics. I know that a 6.5 gallon carboy for primary and a 5 gallon carboy for secondary is a common setup. However I’ve actually found a cheaper and (hopefully) more effective options.
A Brew Bucket! Or an Ale Pail? Technically I’m not brewing or making ale, so I need a more accurate name. Theres only so many synonyms for a bucket, and I have yet to find one that works with cider or apples or something. Anyways its basically a food-grade (BPA-free) bucket that has a couple of unique additions. First is the hole in the lid, fitted with a rubber grommet that is the proper size for an airlock! Second is a spigot on the side of the bucket, about 2 inches from the bottom – so you can bottle directly from the spigot, which is pulling cider from above the yeast sediment (lees)!
I ran into this idea and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I looked into making it, however I wasn’t quite sure what the actual dimensions would be or what tools I would need. It wouldn’t be hard to find the bucket, grommets, and spigot and your local hardware superstore – and it’d probably be around $15. Since I didn’t have the tools or a design, I ended up purchasing this bucket from amazon for about ~$20. Depending on how it works, I can make my own in the future if I want a second one or have an idea on how to make mine work better than this one.
So how does a bucket work from a brewing perspective? Is it better or worse than a carboy? Lets take a look.
There are (in my opinion) three main reasons to use a glass carboy when fermenting cider or brewing beer. First is that the narrow neck of a carboy reduces the amount of liquid exposed to the air. Second is that flavors don’t stick to glass, so you can reuse them without worrying about how your jalapeno beer might affect future batches. Third is that glass is a much harder surface, so it won’t scratch on the inside and create footholds for things to cling to and grow. So why am I excited about a brew bucket? Because for cider, we can get past these things.
The first reason is a bigger concern for beer, but is something to consider for cider as well. We would prefer our cider being exposed to as little oxygen as possible. The good news is that primary fermentation creates more than enough carbon dioxide to push any oxygen out of the bucket. Our airlock will keep oxygen out – so it doesn’t matter how much surface area is exposed. Note that this only applies to primary. For secondary, fermentation is more or less done (depending on what we add to the cider), so there won’t be enough carbon dioxide being created to protect our cider. So as long as we only use the bucket for primary, we don’t have to worry about the first reason!
The second reason isn’t a huge concern for us either. We already know that we can only use the brew bucket for primary fermentation. Basically any flavor we add is going to be in secondary. So we won’t have any strange or crazy flavors in our brew bucket – just an apple juice flavor. Oh no! Our apple cider got influenced by a slight hint of…apples? Oh wait. As long as we only use our bucket for cider and keep flavor additions to secondary, then we should be fine here too.
The third reason isn’t a huge deal for the most part either. We’re always going to sanitize our bucket before use, and I’m going to always have pasteurized cider going into the bucket. Its really hard to get unpasteurized cider unless you are juicing the apples yourself, and then you can pasteurize it on your own. For now, I don’t have an orchard or anything – so I’ll be purchasing local cider if in season, or store-bought juice/cider if not. Both of which are going to be pasteurized. So we don’t really have to worry about anything growing.
So given those reasons, I can use my 6.5 gallon brew bucket for primary. I’ll probably have about 5 gallons of ciders or so for secondary. While I could easily go find a 5 gallon carboy at my local homebrew store, I actually have a ton of 1 gallon carboys from my store-bought juice. This means I can do a primary in the bucket, and then fill five 1 gallon carboys for secondary. I can also directly bottle anything left over. This means I can take one batch and actually try 5 different flavors in secondary. I’m so excited for the potential. I can’t wait to fill this thing up with local cider and see how it turns out! I’m gonna need a lot more bottles…
So yay! Heres some pros and cons to the brew bucket. I’ll add more if I find any while using it.
- Good for primary
- Cheap to buy or build
- Built in protection from the sun
- Don’t need a bung, just the airlock
- Spigot greatly simplifies bottling/racking process
- Can make star san mix in this bucket to sanitize, and then dump into smaller bucket to sanitize other things
- Great place for stickers
- Can’t see exact levels of cider and yeast sediment
- Can’t use for secondary
- Bucket lid may be harder to get an airtight seal than a carboy and stopper (may need to look into standard lids that have a rubber sealing ring)
- Still haven’t thought of a cider-specific equivalent to brew bucket or ale pail. How about “The Cider Provider”? Or “Theres Cider Inside ‘er”? Bleh.