How to use a conical fermenter?

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How to use a conical fermenter?

Postby Legman » Fri Jul 10, 2009 8:23 pm

Since I like to harvest my yeast, I'm thinking about building my own conical fermenter. Not ever used one before, so I'm not sure how it works.
Can someone explain this to me? What is the purpose of the 2 valve ports and is this really necessary? Why couldn't you just use a bottom dump valve? :?
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conical?

Postby conman » Sat Jul 11, 2009 9:26 am

usually, I only see one extra port other than the bottom dump valve, but Hey.....so what.
as long as you dont mind taking the top off the conical or if you have an opening to put in an auto siphon, then I would say dont worry about them. I use mine to check gravity without having to expose the surface to o2.

I would say that if you just want one for the sake of having it, I wouldnt bother with it.
there is a guy on ebay selling 7 gallon ones for like $240.00

they are nice if you are trying to step up the quality or eliminate another variable (oxidation primarily) in you brewing process. they are naturally easier to clean relative to carboys anyway, and a lot safer.

I have never regretted buying the ones I have and would only go back to glass temporarily if someone stole mine....lol

the conical by its very nature also lends itself to yeast collection, and only have minimal contact with the yeast because the surface area exposed to the wort is smaller.
basically there is only one negative to using a conical that ive found and it is cost compared to the alternatives.
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Conical

Postby Legman » Sat Jul 11, 2009 12:47 pm

So what your saying is, that the bottom dump valve is mainly used for trub and yeast removal and the upper valve is used for siphoning off the beer. So, basically the steps would be to siphon off beer first then collect yeast.

But why not just use the bottom valve and collect yeast first, then siphon off beer through the same valve. Is there any pros or cons by doing this either way?
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conical

Postby slothrob » Sun Jul 12, 2009 10:00 am

I think you'd usually dump the trub (if needed) first, once it's settled, then the yeast, after fermentation is complete, then allow the beer to clear, then dump the remaining yeast.

From what my buddy that has one has said, after the yeast dump there is still too much yeast stuck around the valve to get a clear beer from the dump valve. He said that you would need to lose too much beer to get it completely clean, but it probably depends on the yeast.
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Valve placement?

Postby Legman » Thu Jul 16, 2009 5:44 am

Any idea how far the racking valve is above the bottom dump valve?
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racking valve hight

Postby slothrob » Sat Jul 18, 2009 2:10 pm

I just had a chance to measure my buddy's 7.5 gallon conical.
The center of the hole for the racking valve is 6" from the imaginary point at the bottom of the cone, if you get what I mean.
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re: racking valve hight

Postby Legman » Sat Jul 18, 2009 4:44 pm

Ok, thanks. That gives me a better idea then.
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Racking arm

Postby Legman » Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:51 pm

Hey Slo, any ideas on how far the inside racking arm on your buddies conical was from the bottom of the cone?
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racking arm

Postby slothrob » Tue Aug 11, 2009 8:25 pm

His conical doesn't have a racking arm. The way the racking valve is connected to a threaded coupler on his conical (it's one of the cheap plastic ones from eBay) there's no obvious way to attach a racking arm.
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Racking arm

Postby Legman » Wed Aug 12, 2009 5:15 am

Hmmm, alright. Maybe I wont need one then. I don't really have an idea where the yeast/clear beer level is going to be at in the conical. It may just take a few batches to see where it ends up.
I did see some valves with rotating racking arms that you could purchase, but man they were expensive! One of them I saw went for about $130 :shock:
That's more than I'm going to spend making the entire conical!
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racking arm

Postby slothrob » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:01 am

My buddy said it would be nice to have one, he just hasn't been able to cobble one together. $130 is steep, though. I think I might consider going with a CPVC elbow, if I wanted to get more beer out. The cone is pretty narrow down there, how much beer do you think you'd lose?
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My two-cents on conicals

Postby billvelek » Wed Aug 12, 2009 12:47 pm

About ten or twelve years ago my in-laws gave me a plastic conical for Christmas (approx. 7 gallons IIRC); it doesn't have a valve on the side, and I don't know if they made them with two valves that long ago, or if they just didn't know or think to buy one with two. Also, it came without a stand, so I designed and built my own and decided to make it into a chilled fermentation box at the same time, similar to 'Son of Fermenter' (insulated and using a thermostat and small fan to circulate air into a separate chamber containing bottles of ice). It was my own design and worked very well; the conical is suspended in a rope sling that hangs from four metal 'eyes' screwed into the frame in the corners of the cabinet. After perhaps a dozen uses, I didn't like it so it has been in storage all these years. My memory is a bit foggy but I think I can remember some of the problems.

1. My major problem was that the trub would compact in the tip of the cone, requiring that I usually use a sanitized probe to break through it to get any flow; I'd open the valve expecting to get flow, and there would be none until I went to a lot of extra trouble with a probe, which naturally probably stirred up the upper trub into the beer. This happened more often than not. Some years after I put it in storage, I noticed the http://newstore.vvessel.com/ and decided that adding a separate removable container for the trub to drain into before it can compact would probably solve that, but I have never gotten around to trying it. I think that would also be a good solution for harvesting yeast, too.

2. They require a lot more vertical room, so if you plan to do lagers, make sure you consider that. With a stand, they are too tall to put into a converted chest freezer and would probably take up almost all of the room in a full-sized refrigerator. Of course, the easy solution is to drain into a carboy or corny for any long-term conditioning -- or lagering after fermentation is finished -- thereby freeing your expensive conical and refirgerator for quick re-use on another batch.

3. Without a second valve, or a 'v-vessel' configuration, or doing a secondary in a separate fermenter, I'm pretty sure you will have issues with getting trub mixed into your beer. When I would finally free the flow through the valve with a probe, all of the slurry would NOT slide down and out the valve as I had expected, and I wasted a lot of beer trying This could have been due to the 'plastic' perhaps not being as slippery as metal, or perhaps it was because it had set there too long and compacted, or maybe it was because the slope on the cone is not steep enough. When I eventually get around to trying it again with a 'v-vessel' configuration, I hope that issue will be solved.

4. They are heavier and much more awkward to move around if you need to do that. In my case, because of its height and footprint I would set my 'cabinet' on the floor, so when it came time to drain it, I would need to carry it and lift it up onto a counter. Even the designs that I have seen for other conicals would appear to be heavier than a carboy when the weight of the stand is included, and most that I have seen do not seem to be high enough to drain into a carboy or bottling bucket without additional elevation. Of course, the ones with a side valve do provide more height for drainage. If you build one, make sure that you have at least one valve high enough.

5. Finally, and maybe it is just me with my particular configuration, but I didn't find it easier to clean and sanitize. I would naturally take it out of the fermentation cabinet to do that, and then it is just awkward to handle. I would set it with the cone pointing down into a 5-gallon plastic bucket, but would need to be very careful because it is unstable like that, especially when filled for soaking. Perhaps it was the plastic against plastic. I was also removing the valve for cleaning and sanitizing and then having to re-tape the thread with teflon pipe tape, and on one occasion began to cross-thread the darn thing, nearly ruining it. Major pain in the buttocks, in my opinion, and I still somehow managed to get an infected batch. So the darn thing went into storage. However, I have recently read where it is possible to add boiling water to the plastic to sanitize it, so perhaps I wouldn't need to remove the valve afterall.

I do intend to give it a try again. Good luck with whatever you decide.

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Re: racking arm

Postby Legman » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:23 pm

slothrob wrote: I think I might consider going with a CPVC elbow, if I wanted to get more beer out. The cone is pretty narrow down there, how much beer do you think you'd lose?


I don't really know how much I'd lose. I guess my main problem is that I don't really know how far up the yeast is going to be up the cone and how close that will be to the racking valve.
I've never really measured how much yeast/trub is in the bottom of my fermenter. I'm guess maybe a quart of yeast sludge? :?
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RE:Conical problems

Postby Legman » Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:57 pm

Bill, I have read things that do state some of what you said. Particularly the part about the trub being stuck and not draining from the dump valve. And yes, it will not be as easy to clean as a carboy or bucket.
With all those things said, I'm trying to take that into consideration while I'm building it. I may end up completely hating it, but I can resist to give it a go.

I'm building a stainless conical with aluminum frame. I've got an approximately 13 gallon stainless hopper with the frame height set so my racking valve will be above the keg. I'm still working on the frame and have yet to buy my valves. But all in all, I probably will only spend about 40 bucks total on this project. Believe it or not, so far I've got my parts from the scrap yard close to my work.
Yeah, yeah. I know what your thinking. But actually there's some really good stuff there sometimes. A lot of it's junk, but on occasion there are things there that are dumped off that are band new or hardly used. So was the case with the stainless hopper. It's pretty heavy duty and only had a few scratches on it........and I only paid $7.50 for it! The aluminum for the frame cost me $20. So I'm only out $27.50 at the moment.
I'll post some pics of it when I get it all done.
God my neck is red sometimes. :lol:
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More on conicals

Postby billvelek » Thu Aug 13, 2009 9:39 am

Legman, I wasn't trying to talk you or anyone else out of getting a conical; I was merely trying to show that, depending on one's circumstances, it isn't necessarily going to be a bed of roses. Sounds like you found a really good deal, and have the means to work with metal. I'm jealous on both counts.

I've been meaning to dig my conical and cabinet out of storage and see what I can come up with to make it like the 'v-vessel'. Between that and my hopes that I can get all of the trub removed that way, and the ability to sanitize by adding boiling water and draining it through the valve to sanitize it, most of my complaints should be satisfied. As for its weight and awkwardness to move and lift onto the counter, I suppose I can convince my wife to help me the night before bottling day, but I'll need to be extra nice to her. :D

Cheers.

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