1 bbl brewing system

Conical Fermentation Vessels

Imagine pouring yourself a glass of your favorite homebrew, a perfectly crafted beverage boasting a vibrant color and a refreshingly crisp taste. But there’s a secret weapon behind achieving such clarity and quality: the conical fermentation vessel.

In the world of brewing, fermentation is where the magic happens. Yeast transforms wort, a sugary liquid extracted from malted grains, into beer. But during this process, yeast and other particles settle at the bottom of the container. A cylindrical fermenter, the most basic type, can make it challenging to separate the clear beer from this sediment, often referred to as “trub.” This is where the conical fermentation vessel steps up its game.

the Conical Advantage: Design and Functionality

Conical fermenters, as the name suggests, feature a cone-shaped bottom that slopes down to a central point. This design offers several advantages over traditional cylindrical vessels:

  • Efficient Sediment Collection: Gravity takes center stage in a conical tank. As the yeast and other particles fall out of suspension during fermentation, they naturally settle down the cone and accumulate at the bottom point. This creates a distinct separation layer between the clear beer and the sediment, making it much easier to extract the good stuff.
  • Simplified Transfer Process: Imagine trying to siphon beer from a bucket filled with loose sediment. Not an ideal scenario! The conical design allows brewers to use a racking arm, a specially designed tube that sits slightly above the cone’s bottom. This arm extracts clear beer without disturbing the sediment, minimizing the risk of introducing unwanted flavors or cloudiness into your final product.
  • Potential for Secondary Fermentation (Optional): Some beer styles benefit from a secondary fermentation, where the beer is transferred to another vessel for further conditioning. Conical tanks can sometimes serve this purpose as well, eliminating the need for extra equipment.

Types of Conical Fermentation Vessels

Conical fermenters come in various shapes, sizes, and materials, catering to the needs of both homebrewers and large-scale breweries. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types:

TypeMaterialCapacity RangeProsCons
Stainless SteelStainless Steel1 Gallon – 1000 Gallons+Durable, Easy to Clean, Long LifespanHigher Cost
PET PlasticFood-Grade PET Plastic1 Gallon – 50 GallonsLightweight, Affordable, TransparentPotential for Scratches, Not Ideal for High Temperatures
UnitanksStainless Steel10 Gallons – 1000 Gallons+All-in-one fermentation and serving tank, Pressure capable for carbonationComplex to Operate, Higher Cost

Stainless Steel: The workhorse of professional breweries, stainless steel conical tanks offer unparalleled durability, ease of cleaning, and resistance to corrosion. They can handle a wide range of temperatures and pressures, making them suitable for various brewing styles.

PET Plastic: A budget-friendly option for homebrewers, PET plastic conical fermenters are lightweight and shatter-resistant. They also have the advantage of transparency, allowing you to visually monitor the fermentation process. However, PET plastic can be susceptible to scratches and may not be suitable for high fermentation temperatures used in some beer styles.

Unitanks: These advanced conical tanks combine fermentation and serving functionalities into a single vessel. They are equipped with jackets for temperature control and can be pressurized for carbonation, eliminating the need for transferring beer to separate kegs or bottles. Unitanks are ideal for space-saving setups but come with a steeper price tag and require a more in-depth understanding of operation.

The Conical Fermentation Process

The conical fermentation process itself isn’t inherently different from using a cylindrical fermenter. However, the conical design simplifies several steps:

  1. Wort Transfer: Once your wort is prepared, transfer it to the sanitized conical fermenter.
  2. Yeast Pitching: Introduce your chosen yeast strain at the appropriate temperature.
  3. Fermentation Magic: Allow the yeast to work its magic, converting sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. During this time, you might need to adjust the temperature depending on the yeast strain and desired beer style.
  4. Sedimentation: After fermentation is complete, the yeast and other particles will settle at the bottom of the cone. This process can take several days.
  5. Transferring Clear Beer (Racking): Using the racking arm, carefully extract the clear beer from above the sediment layer and transfer it to another vessel for conditioning, kegging, or bottling.

Conical Considerations: Capacity, Space, Design, and Customization

Just like any brewing equipment, choosing the right conical fermenter requires careful consideration of several factors:

Capacity: Homebrew conical fermenters typically range from 1 gallon to 50 gallons, while commercial tanks can reach capacities exceeding 1000 gallons.

  • Homebrewers: Consider your typical batch size and how much space you can dedicate to the fermenter. If you brew frequently in smaller quantities, a 5-gallon conical might be sufficient. For larger batches or plans to scale up production, a 10-gallon or bigger model would be suitable.
  • Commercial Brewers: Production volume and space constraints are key considerations. Large breweries might require multiple conical tanks of varying capacities to accommodate their brewing schedule.

Space: Conical fermenters, especially the larger ones, can have a significant footprint. Measure your brewing area and ensure you have enough vertical clearance to accommodate the fermenter with headspace for removing the lid.

Design: Beyond the basic conical shape, some features can enhance functionality:

  • Double Jackets: Jackets are spaces between the inner and outer walls of the tank that can be filled with a coolant or heating element. This allows for precise temperature control during fermentation, crucial for certain beer styles.
  • Pressure Rating: Some conical tanks are pressure-rated, enabling them to be used for carbonation. This eliminates the need for transferring beer to a separate vessel for carbonation.
  • Sampling Ports: Sample ports allow brewers to extract small amounts of beer during fermentation to monitor progress and taste development without affecting the main batch.

Customization: While less common, some manufacturers offer customization options for conical fermenters, such as adding tri-clamp ports for easier attachment of accessories or choosing the angle of the cone itself.

Conical Cash Flow: Price Range for Every Brewer

The cost of a conical fermenter varies significantly depending on size, material, and features. Here’s a general breakdown:

TypeCapacity RangePrice Range
Homebrew (PET Plastic)1 Gallon – 50 Gallons$100 – $500
Homebrew (Stainless Steel)5 Gallons – 50 Gallons$500 – $2000+
Commercial (Stainless Steel)10 Gallons – 1000+ Gallons$2000+

Homebrew Budgets: PET plastic conical tanks are the most affordable option for homebrewers. Stainless steel offers increased durability and functionality but comes at a higher cost.

Commercial Breweries: Commercial-grade conical tanks are significant investments. The price depends on factors like size, features like jacketing and pressure rating, and the overall quality and reputation of the manufacturer.

Conquering Conicals: Installation, Operation, and Maintenance

Installing and operating a conical fermenter can seem daunting at first, but with proper knowledge, it becomes a streamlined process. Here’s a roadmap to get you started:


  • Location: Choose a clean, dry, and level surface that can support the weight of the full fermenter.
  • Assembly (if required): Some conical tanks require minor assembly, such as attaching the racking arm or stand. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • Sanitization: Thoroughly sanitize the entire fermenter and all accessories before first use and after each subsequent brew.


  • Wort Transfer: Carefully transfer your cooled wort from the brew kettle to the sanitized conical fermenter.
  • Yeast Pitching: Introduce your chosen yeast strain at the appropriate temperature according to your recipe.
  • Fermentation Management: Monitor the fermentation process, including temperature control (if your fermenter has jackets) and airlock activity.
  • Sedimentation: Once fermentation is complete, allow sufficient time for the yeast and other particles to settle at the bottom of the cone.
  • Racking: Using the racking arm, extract the clear beer from above the sediment and transfer it to a secondary fermenter, keg, or bottling bucket.


  • Cleaning: After each use, disassemble the racking arm and thoroughly clean the entire fermenter and accessories with a no-rinse sanitizer solution.
  • Storage: When not in use, store the conical fermenter in a cool, dry place with the lid slightly ajar to prevent moisture build-up.

Selecting Your Conical Champion: Choosing the Right Supplier (continued)

  • Warranty: A longer warranty period indicates the manufacturer’s confidence in the product’s quality. Look for warranties that cover both material and workmanship defects.
  • Price: Conical fermenters can be a significant investment. Consider your budget and prioritize features that align with your brewing needs. Don’t be afraid to compare prices from different suppliers before making a purchase.
  • Customer Service: Responsive and knowledgeable customer service is essential, especially for new brewers who might have questions or require troubleshooting assistance.

Conical Champions and Challengers: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Conical fermentation tanks offer several advantages over traditional cylindrical vessels, but there are also some considerations to keep in mind:


  • Superior Sediment Collection: The conical design allows for efficient separation of clear beer from sediment, resulting in higher quality and clarity in your final product.
  • Simplified Transfer Process: The racking arm facilitates easy extraction of clear beer without disturbing the sediment layer.
  • Potential for Secondary Fermentation: Some conical tanks can be used for secondary fermentation, eliminating the need for transferring beer to another vessel.
  • Greater Versatility: Features like jackets and pressure rating (on some models) enable greater control over fermentation temperature and carbonation.


  • Cost: Conical fermenters are generally more expensive than cylindrical fermenters, especially for larger capacities.
  • Footprint: The conical design can take up more space, both vertically and horizontally, compared to cylindrical tanks.
  • Cleaning: While the conical design aids in collecting sediment, some nooks and crannies around the racking arm and bottom cone might require more attention during cleaning.

Conical Craft Brews: Final Thoughts and Frequently Asked Questions

Conical fermentation vessels have become the gold standard for craft brewers, both professional and homebrew enthusiasts alike. Their ability to produce consistently clear, high-quality beer makes them a worthwhile investment.

Here are some commonly asked questions (FAQs) about conical fermenters:

Q: Are conical fermenters necessary for homebrewing?

A: Not necessarily. Cylindrical fermenters can work well for homebrewers, especially those on a budget or with limited space. However, conical tanks offer significant advantages in terms of ease of use and beer clarity.

Q: What size conical fermenter should I get?

A: The ideal size depends on your typical batch size and brewing frequency. Consider your available space as well. Homebrewers typically start with 5-gallon or 10-gallon conical tanks.

Q: How do I clean a conical fermenter?

A: Use a no-rinse sanitizer solution to thoroughly clean the entire tank, including the racking arm and lid. Disassemble the racking arm for more effective cleaning.

Q: Can I use a conical fermenter for fermentation and serving?

A: Unitanks are a type of conical fermenter that can also be used for serving beer. They offer a space-saving solution but require more complex operation and cleaning.

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