When our homebrew has finished fermenting in the fermentation vessel there is a decision to make. Do we transfer the beer into a pressure barrel or bottles. What is better a pressure barrel or bottles?
Being new to homebrewing myself, this is a question that I needed answered before the end of the first fermentation. So I did some research and made my decision.
What Is Better A Pressure Barrel Or Bottles?
There are a number of pros and cons to both methods. However a pressure barrel may be suited better for real ales and stouts. Whereas bottles are better suited to lagers where you want more carbonation. Transferring to a Pressure Barrel is easier and requires less work than bottling. The bottom line comes down to personal choice.
Depending on the beer you are brewing and how you want that beer to be when it is poured, will decide your choice between a pressure barrel and bottles.
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Are Pressure Barrels Any Good?
Pressure barrels are great and do the job they are designed to do. They serve as the secondary fermentation vessel, as well as the beer dispenser.
What could be easier?
Once you transfer the beer into a pressure barrel with the priming sugar. You keep it warm for 3 or 4 days to let the secondary fermentation kick in. Then you can let it cool down and let it clear over a couple of weeks.
Pros Of A Pressure Barrel
There are some great advantages of using a pressure barrel.
- Easy to transfer the beer
- Easy to dispense the beer
- All the beer is contained in one place
- Will last for several months
- Easy to clean once empty
Transferring The Beer
It is very easy to transfer your beer from the fermentation vessel straight to a pressure barrel. It only takes a few minutes and you are done.
Dispensing The Beer
Once the secondary fermentation is done and the beer has cleared, it is time to drink. Pouring the beer is just a matter of putting your glass under the tap and opening the tap.
A very simple way of dispensing the beer and without bottles to wash for the next brew.
Easy Beer Storage
A pressure barrel takes up a small amount of space, so all your beer is stored in one place. This is better than having 40 plus bottles to store, especially if space is tight.
Beer Is Good For Up To A Year
It is said that beer will last for up to a year in a pressure barrel, with some saying even longer. I can’t ever imagine needing to keep beer that long. Besides I want to free it up for the next brew.
However at least its good to know that there is plenty of time to drink your homebrew.
Having said that, it will only keep well if stored properly. It needs to be kept out of direct sunlight in a cool dark place.
A Pressure Barrel Is Easy To Clean
Once you have run out of beer in the pressure barrel it is relatively easy to clean ready for your next brew.
Clean out any sediment left and rinse well. Add a cleaning solution and fill barrel, then leave to soak over night. Rinse the barrel well and store. It will be ready to sterilise again once you are ready to transfer your next batch of beer.
Cons Of A Pressure Barrel
Although a pressure barrel is simple to use, there are some things that could make your decision favor the bottle.
- Low carbonation
- Loss Of carbonation
- Hard to chill.
- Can’t transport beer
A pressure barrel cannot withstand the same C02 pressure as a bottle (assuming you are using the right bottles for the job).
This is why they are suited to lower carbonation beers like ales and stouts. Lager therefore would be better in bottles.
Loss Of Carbonation
When you open a bottle of homebrew beer you should pour it all into the glass avoiding the sediment. Thus the beer is well carbonated.
However the pressure barrel is going to lose a little carbonation each time a beer is dispensed from it.
Once half way down the barrel, the beer may stop flowing. The solution is to insert some C02 through the valve at the top of the barrel.
Beer Is Hard To Chill
A real ale or stout is better served at or slightly lower than room temperature. Having said that, some prefer it chilled.
This is not easy to achieve with a pressure barrel. Unless you have a cellar at the right temperature, or a fridge converted to hold the size of the barrel.
There are occasions when we might like to take a sample of our beer to share with friends and family.
You don’t want to be carrying a pressure barrel around, it needs to stay settled in one place. So unless your friends come to you, they won’t be able to try your beer.
Can I bottle some beer from my pressure barrel?
That is a question I answer in another post Can I Bottle Beer From My Pressure Barrel?
A pressure barrel then is an ideal vessel for storing and dispensing beer, but does have its limitations. What about bottles?
Is It Best To Bottle Homebrew Beer?
It is definitely best to bottle homebrew lager or any beer where you want to achieve a higher carbonation.
Pros Of Bottling Beer
There are some pros to bottling beers as opposed to using a pressure barrel.
- Ideal for high carbonation
- Keeps carbonation
- Easy to chill
- Easy to transport and share
Ideal For High Carbonation
As long as you are using the right type of bottle that have a great seal, then bottling is great for carbonation.
The secondary fermentation is done in the bottle. Which means a small amount of priming sugar is added to each bottle as it is filled. This will result in the end in creating the C02 to carbonate the beer.
Carbonation stays until the bottle is opened and poured. The result is a decent amount of carbonation for your beer.
Ideal for lagers and anyone that prefers their beer to have higher carbonation.
Easy To Chill
Beer in a bottle is so much easier to chill than a barrel. There is always space to slip a few bottles, even a busy fridge.
On the go, they will fit in a cool box too. Chilling is sorted with bottles.
Easy To Transport And Share
Beer in bottles is easy to transport and share. Whether you want to take your brew to share at a friends barbeque or send some for competition.
Bottling the beer makes this easy on all fronts, making it a clear winner over the pressure barrel.
The Cons Of Bottling Beer
There are a few things that may put some off of bottling their beer and opting for the barrel.
- More work to sanitize
- Extra work to transfer beer
- Added work to clean
- More space for storage
- Extra equipment needed
Bottling Creates More Work
When you have brewed 40 pints of beer, you are going to need 40 plus bottles.
Preparing your bottles for your beer requires a lot for effort. Sanitizing 40 plus bottles individually could take a while.
The same goes for transferring your beer once the bottles are ready. Each bottle has to be filled individually, then each one capped.
Once you drink the beer every bottle will have to be cleaned, before the whole process starts again.
More Storage Space
Using half pint bottles for a 40 pint brew means storing 80 bottles. That is a lot of bottles to store and will take up considerably more room than a pressure barrel.
All these bottles need to be kept out of direct sunlight and in a cool place. So storing bottles can be a problem.
When using bottles there is a little extra equipment needed as opposed to a pressure barrel. While this equipment isn’t expensive, it is still an extra outlay.
First you need the bottles which vary in size, material and seal. Although it is possible to save bottles from past beer purchases.
Second, unless using bottles with screw or flip caps, then caps and a capper will be needed.
Finally although we can fill the bottles from the syphon tube directly to the bottle. It is better to use a purpose design bottle filler/beer gun, mainly for our own sanity.
What Is Better A Pressure Barrel Or Bottles?
Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so it really comes down to the type of beer and personal choice.
Any kind of lager beer would be better off in bottles. But if it is real ale that doesn’t need a lot of carbonation, then the pressure barrel may be better.
Other than that it really depends on what you prefer. Also how much storage you have and whether you want to transport and share your beer.
I decided to go for the pressure barrel because I am brewing an ale and I don’t want a lot of carbonation.
Also although I could store 40 plus bottles, I would rather just store the pressure barrel. This could change in the future and probably will see me using both.
One problem that has arisen is the sharing of my beer. So the next question I will answer in a post coming soon is, can I bottle some beer from my pressure barrel?
What do you use for your homebrew beer, a pressure barrel or bottles? Share your thoughts and any other tips that may help other homebrewers.