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 crown cap bottles which are exclusive to us here at Home Brew Online, 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.
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
Addition; DUE TO POPULAR DEMAND WE NOW HAVE A STARTER KIT WITH BOTH - NO NEED TO CHOOSE, BOTTLE SOME AND BARREL SOME:
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!
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;
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