Bottles or pressure barrel?

mrleebobmrleebob Posts: 1Member
edited August 2012 in Beer Brewing
I'm considering purchasing one of the online starter packs. However, I'm not sure if bottles or pressure barrel is best for me. Any advice? Thanks.


  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator
    edited July 2016

    This is a fairly common question, and it depends on that you will brew and your personal preference. Here are a few points to consider, often lagers and ciders will be chilled so bottles can be put in the fridge, whereas beers are not always chilled. Bottles are simpler and have less things to go wrong, but barrels are easier to fill and clean;

    There are a couple of things to bear in mind, but whatever you choose shouldn't affect the taste: If using plastic bottles they should be PET (food grade) plastic to ensure that they are suitable. Whether using plastic, glass or a barrel, they must be fully sterilised to ensure they are clean so as not to spoil the brew (with VWP or similar, and well rinsed with clean water). Traditionally it is often said that glass is best, and different people have their own preference, but one advantage of plastic is that they will not shatter if accidentally dropped. Bottles have the advantage over barrels if you intend to chill your brew in the fridge before drinking, as not many people can get a 40 pint barrel in their fridge (or they're not allowed to even though the beer is perhaps more important than the food in there!). Transporting - if you think you may like to take a few pints to that party, BBQ, etc you're off to, then bottles are easier to transport, rather than having to lug a barrel around. The beer/lager will keep for longer in a bottle, and will not need any CO2 adding later, but if you're barrel starts to 'glug' when getting low, it means it is letting air in through the tap which will limit the life of the brew inside, and dispensing it may become quite slow. The way around this is to inject CO2 into the top of the barrel with a brass injector valve and CO2 bulbs.

    We often use the PET plastic 500ml screw cap bottles because they have many advantages, they are safe, look good and are opened with a bottle opener, can be re-used, and you can tell when the brew is carbonated as the bottles go hard from the pressure and cannot be squeezed any more. They can be chilled if wanted, and easily transported. It is just personal preference though. We find there is less to go wrong with bottles so they are often best, barrels can have issues. This link is to the most popular bottles used by home brewers:

    If you decide on a barrel then there are 2 main types, the standard barrels which are the cheaper option, or better quality versions such as the 'King Keg'. Standard barrels are perfect for the job, the main difference is that the King Kegs are a heavier grade material and a little more sturdy, they have a 4" (100mm) neck so you can get your hand in to clean inside more easily, and you can choose between a 'top tap' or 'bottom tap' version. King Kegs come with a brass valve fitted into the lid for injecting CO2, whereas on the standard barrels it is often an upgrade or optional extra. For pouring the perfect pint from your barrel we have a great 'sparkler tap' available which really are great and are very popular


  • platosplatos Posts: 24Member
    Not much going for barrels then.
  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator

    Barrels are very popular, possibly because people like the idea of dispensing their own brew in the comfort of their own home, and they are quick and easy to clean and fill. The downside is that they are hard to chill down, but this often doesn't affect the real ale drinkers and is not such of a problem in cooler months.

    Personal preference seems to be the deciding factor!

    I used to brew beer and wine 30 years ago and now that I'm retired to France and have time on my hands I want to get back to brewing again.
    The local wine cooperative sells a really good red for 99 cents (80p) a litre if you take your own cubitainer or empty mineral water bottles, but French beer is almost all lager and I miss a pint of real ale.
    I want to know if a barrel full of 40 pints of real ale can produce enough carbonation, if I only drink 2 pints per day, to stop the outside air from glugging in through the tap - without the need for a CO2 capsule system.?
  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator
    edited May 2013

    We have quite a few English customers in France for that exact reason - they miss their real beers! It is very hard to give a definitive answer to the question of CO2 because different brews create more CO2 than others, and there are several factors such as temperature that can make a difference to the pressure within the barrel. The CO2 becomes more of an issue as the barrel gets used up, as the void left by the beer needs to be replaced with CO2, but there is less beer in there left to create it. You may be OK, but if in doubt it is best to have the correct lid with the CO2 brass injector valve fitted before you fill your barrel with the brew and seal it, as if you want to use the valve later, it would mean opening the barrel and letting air in to fit the new lid.

    One thing to bear in mind if buying your CO2 from the UK, Royal Mail will often stop parcels going abroad which contain pressurised cylinders, whereas the couriers are not as bothered and it should be OK, especially if using over-land transport, air freight will not allow them;

    Thank you for the prompt reply.
    I think you have decided me in favour of bottling as I would hate to have the bottom 3rd of a barrel of delicious real ale go off because I didn't use it quickly enough.
    Another factor is that I enjoy a wide range of beers including real ale, bitter, brown ale, stout and mild so I can keep a variety in bottles and put them in the fridge in hot weather.
    Down here most supermarkets and garden centres have what looks like a home brew section but it is for wine only. Some fermenting of ones own grapes goes on but the majority buy wine from the local cooperative and bottle it to lay down in their cellars.
    I let the cooperative store my wine in their enormous stainless steel vats and fill up my empty containers when I run out - my local co-op has 5 wines en vrac (in bulk) from the cheapest red at 80p a LITRE and white and rose right up to a superior red at just over a pound a litre. You can see why at those prices nobody bothers to ferment their own wine unless they have a glut of their own grapes.
    Bottling beer down here is slightly different because it will have to be in old Champagne bottles which are plentyful especially around Christmas. They need 29mm crown caps though but owing to the glass thickness much less risk of broken bottles. 
    A votre sante.

  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator
    Bottles can be easier in many ways, but as long as you keep the pressure in a barrel it will store for quite a few months to allow the beer to condition. It will take more CO2 the lower down it gets in the barrel though
  • KnitnBrewKnitnBrew Posts: 4Member
    At what point should there be noticeable pressure in the PET bottles? The brew has been bottled  two days ago with 1/2 ts of brewing sugar in each, but I can still squeeze the bottles a little.  How much resistance should I feel?
    Or do I worry too much? :-)
  • MreddsterMreddster Posts: 60Member
    Yea you worry too much ;)  It varies with each brew I think. Ok I have only done two but the second batch felt solid after a day, but first one took a bit longer.
  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator
    edited April 2013
    It varies massively on the brew and the temperature, it can take much longer, even weeks if it is cold and the sugars don't start fermenting, ideally keep it warm to help it get the secondary fermentation going more quickly
  • KnitnBrewKnitnBrew Posts: 4Member
    Thanks, folks. I will leave it to it and report back in 4 weeks
  • ciderspiderciderspider Posts: 2Member
    Hi folks, I'm a relative newb to this game and have just bought a barrell I was wondering how much sugar to put into a 40 pint barrel of cider for a relative fizz and how long would it keep in the barrel? Also do I just put it straight into the barrel after the first stage fermentation if finished. Any advice gratefully received
  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator
    Hi, are you making cider from kit ingredients or is this for cider made from your own apples?
  • ciderspiderciderspider Posts: 2Member
    I'm making your very own on the rocks pear cider, I'm aware on the amount of sauger in the fermentation bin I was wondering for the secondary fermentation
  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator
    If the instructions don't specify then add around 120g of sugar to the barrel before sealing it up. Once it has finished in the fermenting vessel it can be syphoned straight over to the barrel, just try not to disturb the sediment, and once sealed in the barrel it can be left to condition and carbonate. The longer it is left the better the flavour will be, we recommend a good few weeks if possible
  • tamsenvntamsenvn Posts: 4Member
    edited August 2016
    I'm a relative newb to this game and have just bought a barrell I was wondering how much sugar to put into a 40 pint barrel of cider for a relative fizz and how long would it keep in the barrel? Also do I just put it straight into the barrel after the first stage fermentation if finished
  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator
    To give cider some fizz add around 120 to 140g of sugar to a 40 pint batch, if you add it to the barrel and keep it somewhere warm for a week this will help it start the carbonation. If you store the barrel away from UV light it will usually keep for at least 6 months, often longer
  • MikeyGMikeyG Posts: 21Member
    I'm currently researching Cornelius Co2 pressure barrels, the idea of cleaning 1 tank rather than 36 odd bottles appeals to me no end ... and its transportable if need be ( not that it will happen that often), I have a local co2 supplier so that's covered .... anyone else have this system or something similar ???
  • HBO_StaffHBO_Staff Posts: 1,967Administrator
    We're not sure of anyone else's thoughts but we have used a corny keg and force carbonated brews, it is a good way to transport your brew and can be used to carbonate it quickly. Bottles are always great and probably our preference, but you are quite right, cleaning them is more time consuming!
  • CadfaelCadfael Posts: 11Member
    edited September 2016
    I bought a King Keg for my ales leaving the bottles for the larger's . So far I haven't managed to stop the barrel from losing pressure. I have only used water for testing as i don't want to waste a brew but I don't have the confidence to use it. I have given up on the barrel I think bottles are much easier to use.
  • MikeyGMikeyG Posts: 21Member
    Thanks for that Cad.......did you contact the supplier of the tank or is it one you've had for a while ?
  • MikeHMikeH Posts: 67Member
    I have the standard HBO barrel and the few brews I've done in it (I found I liked the /idea/ of having a barrel of beer more than the practicality of it, mostly use bottles now) have been the John Bull Traditional English Ale. My barrel does not have the gassing valve fitted so it is purely pressurised by the beer.

    I find that the pressure is mostly fine. If you're having a big session then you will probably want to leave it a few days for it to re-pressurise but after a big session you'll probably not want to drink any more for at least a few days any way!

    When the quantity of beer was getting low I found that with one or two brews I'd get it "glugging" as it sucked air back in through the tap during a pour. To remedy this I slackened off the cap to let air in the top. Introducing air into the barrel like this does resolve that issue but of course it dramatically shortens the life of the beer. If you have to start doing this then you'll want to polish off the rest of the beer in a week or so to make sure it doesn't get infected by anything airborne that you've introduced through the cap. If you have a barrel cap with gas nozzle fitted then you won't have to let any air in, you can pressurise the barrel before it sucks any in through the tap and the beer should continue to keep.

    Hope this helps, Mike....
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