The PET carboy is easy to clean because it is hydrophobic, so a soaking solution of Five Star’s PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) usually does the trick to clean up the fermenter. They are easy to grip when wet and much easier to lift when full and wet. And, because they are unbreakable (e.g. pouring hot wort into a cold carboy is not a concern for shattering a plastic carboy, but is for glass), they provide one less reason to go to the local emergency room.
So, I am a bit prejudiced on which carboy you should use. Here’s Northern Brewers take on the pro and cons of each:
Are you interested in getting into home brewing? Would you like to make ales and beers that are as good as (or better than) what you can buy in the store or find on tap? You can. I know you can make good beer because I make good beer–without high tech equipment. The equipment should cost less than $100 and you can make beer for between $.50 and $1.50 per bottle (depending on what you want to make).
1-Ingredient kit. (For starters, go with a kit that uses malt extract. Don’t start with an all-grain kit right out of the chute. The link above has links to a number of online kits.)
2-Equipment kit. (The link above also has links to a number of online kits.)
3-cleaner, sanitizer, and a few other things (like bottles).
All of the equipment kits should have:
A plastic fermenter with airlock (either food grade buckets with lids or plastic carboys). Some homebrewers prefer only glass carboys because glass doesn’t scratch. Plastic will accumulate scratches over time that will harbor batch-destroying bacteria, so it’s a good idea to replace them after several uses. The recommended replacement period ranges from five uses to one year. Glass breaks and makes shards that cut and puncture. Replacing 20 plastic buckets is much less expensive than one trip to the emergency room.
A priming bucket for bottling. After the beer has finished fermenting, it’s transfered to a priming bucket where sugar is mixed with it (for ‘conditioning,’ aka carbonation, in the bottle).
A hydrometer. The specific gravitity (OG-original gravitiy) at the beginning of fermentation and at the end of fermentation (FG – final gravitiy) determines the alcohol content. Do not bottle if the specific gravity is still dropping!
A bottle capper.
Beyond those things, you should have:
2 1/2 cases of 12 ounce bottles (non twist offs and not clear or green-light makes beer ‘skunky’)
A 20 quart brew pot (if you can’t fit a 20 qt on your stove, you’ll need to do a partial boil. For how to do a partial boil MoreBeer has instructions in PDF format here.)
A food grade thermometer (candy thermometers work). I use a Taylor digital thermometer. They’re inexpensive (under $20) and won’t shatter in your wort.
Here are parts 1 & 2 of Alton Brown of the Food Network giving good information on home brewing. He shows how to do a partial boil with whole hops (this is a style preference, most hops you’ll be able to find are pelletized). The only niggle I have is he says that “dry hopping” is the addition of hops at the end of the boil. Dry hopping is the addition of hops in the fermenter after fermentation has stalled.