On Test: FastFerment Conical Fermenter – an affordable conical?

20150928_114139Do you dream of conical fermenters?  I didn’t ever really – thinking that they were going to be large, stainless steel monstrosities that probably cost multiple thousands.

But then Greg from BrewUK asked me if I’d like to test a more economical plastic conical fermenter from the guys at FastBrewing.

Now, normally getting a new fermenter is a fairly hum-drum affair: It’s usually a great big bottle or a bucket with a lid…oh and maybe a tap too, if you’re lucky.

But the FastFerment is a bit more than that: it starts off as a giddily exciting box full of mysterious things, threaded whatsits and lengths of tube…

All these bits and pieces seem very well made, feel solid in the hand and the whole thing gives the impression of getting quite a lot for your money.

Assembly

Upon unpacking the FastFerment and loose-fitting it together, I was struck by it’s size and presence.  it’s a good deal taller than a glass carboy or PVC bucket; even though it does still fit in the same footprint.

(note that I was given the stand with the test unit.  The stand is an optional extra at thirty or so quid, normally you’d mount the fermenter onto a wall with the included brackets)

The following evening I assembled the whole thing properly.

The instructions say to wind the included (PTFE?) plumbing tape onto some of the threads – being careful to go in the direction of the threads so as to prevent leaks.  The instructions don’t say how much to wind on.  I went with a couple of turns – which as it turned out, was nowhere near enough…

In terms of putting the unit together, it’s a fairly straightforward operation.  As long as you take note of and carefully follow the instructions as you go.

Some of the fittings (the thermowell especially) need the assistance of a spanner to get them locked up and tight, and in doing so you really do have to be careful not to cross-thread by mistake.  I ended up moistening some of the threads with a little  StarSan and that seemed to help a bit.

One criticism: the lid for the FastFerment is too big; I have fairly big hands but still found it difficult to screw the lid down, one-handed.

I’d like to see some rubber on there or even a slightly smaller sized lid.  In its current massive shiny white plastic form, it’s too difficult to get to grips with – and things get even worse when your hands are wet.

In-Use

Before use, try to get at least 23L of water into the fermenter before you use it for the first time.  I’m willing to bet that you’ll almost certainly find you have leaks.

I had leaks from the thermowell, the bottom joint, where the tap joins the conical part, and also where the sediment bottle trap joins the tap unit.  I had to tighten, check and re-tighten EVERYTHING.

One glaring problem is, again, to do with the lid: every time you struggle with and eventually unscrew the lid, the rubber seal falls away from inside it and drops into the fermenter.  This happened every time – without fail – and that’s totally unacceptable.

Obviously, I appreciate that with a conical fermenter you might not need to open the top that often – but the seal falling off and dropping into the wort/beer?  That’s not on.  FastBrewing guys, you really need to re-design that lid.

Seriously.

Make it more substantial, rubberized and with a retained seal…please.

The tap unit screws directly onto the the bottom of the conical itself – and then under that tap unit, the threads take the retaining lock-ring of either the hose barb or the sediment bottle trap.

All of these pieces are well-made and solid, but the the retaining lock-ring on both the hose barb unit and bottle trap unit is just too big and far too slippery when wet; both of really need either a hexagonal nut and accompanying spanner, or some form of rubber grip on the lock-ring.

The locking rings really have to be belted up tight to prevent leaks and in doing so become almost impossible to loosen again – especially if they’d had some sticky wort come into contact and with them…

Once I was happy that I’d got everything tight and holding water I washed and drained  the whole thing out and then carefully sanitized with StarSan.

In doing so, I found the FastFerment to be an absolute gift in terms of weight –  it’s just so easy to pick up and shake  and as we all know that’s the only way to make sure that sanitizer gets into all the crevices.

After a nice and easy brewing session, I filled the FastFerment up with 23L of cooled Belgian Christmas beer – noting all the while that the markings on the side of the conical unit were nice and clear, legible and easy to see.

The thermometer also seemed to be measuring the temperature correctly (just remember that the thermometer is an optional extra, so don’t expect it to be in the box.)

Once filled; it was a simple matter of hefting the whole thing, stand and all, upstairs to the fermentation chamber*

(*oh, alright, it’s actually the shower room in our bedroom.  Eve is very understanding…)

A few hours later and the ferment was in full swing, we were at high krausen and things were swinging; but as this was a darker beer I easily noticed minor leaks coming from the thermowell and also the joint where the tap unit met the conical bottom.

20151002_192923I just tightened both up and they seemed to be holding well when I left them.  The airlock was bubbling nicely, so I could only assume the whole unit was gas-tight.

After four days things had died down a bit and I thought it time to take the sediment bottle trap off, in order to remove the primary sediment.

But it wouldn’t budge – the locking-ring was seriously locked tight.   I’m no seven stone weakling but it seemed the previously leaked wort had gummed up the lot, making it impossible to undo.

20151012_112226In the end I undid the sediment bottle from it’s own locking-ring unit and took that away to dump the sediment (being careful to turn the tap to the “off” position, first!)

I replaced the emptied and newly sanitized sediment trap and then I went away on a work trip to Las Vegas for a week; pausing only mid-flight to remember that, even though I’d replaced the bottle trap correctly, I hadn’t turned the tap back on to allow the sediment through.  Blast.

Upon returning a week later I noticed a good build up of fresh sediment in the bottom of the cone.  I turned the tap to “on” and hoped that the sediment would just run through into the bottle trap naturally.

20151012_112656As soon as the tap moved, huge bubbles of air from the empty sediment trap bubbled up through the wort – which was not what I really wanted or expected.  Lets hope that there’s no off-taste in the finished beer from oxidation.

Happily though, within a couple of hours, the sediment previously in the cone had effortlessly slid through into the bottle trap – leaving a nice clean looking cone and a very happy me.

20151014_091831A couple of days later still,  I hefted the whole lot back downstairs to the worktop in the kitchen where I planned to bottle.

Even though there was a lot of sloshing about on the way down the stairs there was no danger of raising the sediment as it was safely stowed in the sediment trap with tap above turned to “off”.

Now, with the Fast Ferment on the worktop and at a good working height, I managed to wrestle the sediment trap locking-ring undone, and was treated to half-a-cup full of beer all over my shoes and the floor – there’s obviously room for extra fluid to gather between the tap unit and the bottle locking-ring, so that’s something to watch out for.

Having attached the hose barb and locking ring, I noticed the paltry length of hose supplied with the Fast Ferment…it’s seriously and pointlessly short for any type of sensible wort transfer.  I also had no other hose of that bore that would attach to the hose barb, so just had to go with what I’d got out of the box.

Any chance of at least a metre or two of this hose in future, FastBrewing?  It’d make all the difference…

Undeterred, I pushed on with bottling; and found out that as well as being short, the hose was almost too wide to fit into the neck of a standard bottle; plus, due to the sheer pressure of the beer coming down this huge bore hose, the supplied plastic clamp was incapable of effectively holding the torrent of beer back – so I had to rely on the tap, instead.

In the end I elected to run the lot through the supplied hose and into a glass carboy in order to bottle from there.

Obviously the measly hose length couldn’t possibly reach to the bottom of the carboy, which lead to a little splashing of the beer during the transfer – which, again, I hope won’t lead to any significant oxidation damage.

But, once I had finally finished bottling from the carboy, I went about cleaning the whole Fast Ferment unit…which was an unbridled joy:  I mean; end-to-end it took less than 5 minutes!

That’s great and takes so much of the heartache away from a bottling evening.  This product scored a hell of a lot of points in my eyes from that one fact alone…

So, in summary:

I didn’t like:

  • Chasing down leaks: Before next use, I’ll be doubling up on the PTFE tape on some threads
  • The massive lid: I’ll be putting rubber bands around it to help with grip
  • The seal on the lid: I may tack it in place with Superglue or rubber cement or something
  • The locking rings and their lock-ups: I may put some food-safe lubrication on those threads
  • The piddly length of hose for racking/beer transfer

But, I did like:

  • The solidity of the whole thing.  It’s well made and should last a while
  • The fact that it’s a conical fermenter – which I didn’t think I’d ever own
  • The clarity of the beer that comes out of it, and the lack of yeast sediment mess
  • A thermometer in a thermowell – even if it is an optional extra
  • It’s lack of weight: way safer and easier to move than a glass carboy
  • It’s ease of cleaning: way easier to clean that a narrow-necked glass carboy
  • You can wall-mount it if you’re so inclined, or you can fork out for the stand if you’re not

I genuinely like this product a lot – but it’s clear that you’re going to have to do a little work yourself in order to get it performing properly.

Is it worth the price tag of eighty-five or so quid with the stand being an extra thirty?

Well yes it is, as long as you are prepared to put in the work to make it sealed and solid – and also understand that it’s nowhere near as straightforward as the old “brew in a bucket routine”

PS: I don’t know whether FastFerment is just a name; as, incredibly, my Belgian Dubbel Christmas beer had done with its primary fermentation in under three days!

http://fastbrewing.com/products/fastferment

Orders yours from Greg at BrewUK:

http://www.brewuk.co.uk/fast-ferment.html

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