What is a Demijohn: Quick Guide to the Vintage Container

What is a demijohn? A demijohn is a large, narrow-necked bottle that plays a significant role in storing and transporting various liquids, such as wine, olive oil, cider, and vinegar. The unique shape of these bottles, often teardrop or rounded with a cork stopper, makes them functional and visually appealing.

These bottles were originally commonly used in brewing and fermenting beverages like wine, mead, cider, perry, and beer. A demijohn or carboy is fitted with a rubber stopper and a fermentation lock to prevent bacteria and oxygen from entering and spoiling the contents.

As you learn more about demijohns, you’ll discover their appeal for practical purposes and as stunning pieces of décor. Vintage and antique demijohns found in Europe may still be covered with their original wicker and are sought after by collectors and interior designers alike. So, whether for personal brewing pursuits or to elevate your living space, demijohns provide a beautiful and functional connection to the past.

What Is a Demijohn?

A demijohn is a large, narrow-necked bottle, typically used to store liquids such as wine, olive oil, cider, and vinegar.

As you might notice, demijohns come in various shapes, but the most common one is teardrop-shaped. They often have a distinctive narrow neck, which makes them suitable for sealing with a cork stopper. Sometimes, you may find these bottles enclosed in wickerwork, providing additional protection and aesthetic appeal.

In the US, demijohns are sometimes referred to as carboys. In the context of brewing, a carboy or demijohn is a glass or plastic vessel used in fermenting beverages such as wine, mead, cider, perry, and beer.

When used in homebrewing, a primary carboy is generally fitted with a rubber stopper and a fermentation lock to prevent bacteria and oxygen from entering during the fermentation process.

Here’s a breakdown of demijohn’s features and applications:

– Shape: Teardrop or rounded container with a narrow neck

– Size: Large, able to hold significant quantities of liquid

– Material: Usually made of glass, though some are made of plastic

– Origins: The term is rooted in French language and usage

– Uses: Storing or fermenting liquids, such as wine, olive oil, cider, and vinegar

History and Etymology

The history of a demijohn can be traced back to the 17th century, although some sources suggest that it was used as early as the 14th century. The word “demijohn” is a partial translation and wordplay from the French term “damejeanne”, which means “Lady Jane.” This name was possibly chosen because the shape of the bottle resembled a stout woman in the period’s costume.

They were designed with a cork stopper and sometimes featured two small handles at the neck. The size of a demijohn can vary, but they typically held about 5 gallons.

The term “carboy” is another word often used synonymously with demijohn. Carboy’s origin can be traced back to the Persian word “qarābah” and the Middle Persian “Karāvah”. Arabic and Spanish also have similar terms, “qarrāba” and “garrafa” respectively, both meaning “big jug”.

Demijohns have been commonly used in different cultures and languages, which is evident by the various translations and similar terms across different regions. Here is a list of some translations and their origins:

– French: dame-jeanne (meaning “Lady Jane”)

– Arabic: qarrāba (meaning “big jug”)

– Spanish: garrafa

– Persian: qarābah

– Middle Persian: Karāvah

Types and Varieties

Demijohns come in different materials, shapes, and sizes, giving you many options to choose from based on your needs and preferences.


Wicker demijohns are a classic choice, offering functionality and a touch of rustic charm to your home or patio. These have a glass bottle carefully encased in a wicker shell, providing protection and insulation. Wicker allows for easier transportation by adding a layer of grip to the otherwise slippery glass container.


Glass demijohns are widely popular due to their transparency, allowing you to see the contents and monitor the fermentation process if you’re using them for homebrewing. They come in various sizes, from as small as 5 liters to as large as 40 liters. Glass demijohns can be found in different shapes, like teardrop or spherical, which can add an elegant touch to your space.


If you require a lighter and more durable option, plastic demijohns are the way to go! These vessels are made of food-safe plastic and are perfect for fermenting large quantities of beverages without the risk of breakage. They are not as heat-resistant as glass but offer more flexibility for transportation and outdoor usage.


Carboys are similar to demijohns, primarily used in fermenting wine, mead, cider, and beer. These vessels can be made of glass or plastic, and are typically fitted with a rubber stopper and fermentation lock to prevent bacteria and oxygen from entering during the fermentation process. Carboys come in various sizes depending on what you need for your homebrewing endeavors.


Though not exactly a demijohn, ewers are worth mentioning here! They are decorative jugs or pitchers used for pouring liquids, such as water or wine, often seen as a symbol of hospitality in ancient civilizations. Ewers can be made of various materials, including glass, pottery, and metal, and they often showcase intricate designs and craftsmanship.

In conclusion, many types and varieties of demijohns and related containers are available to suit your needs and design preferences. Whether you opt for the protective wicker, transparent glass, durable plastic, functional carboy, or beautiful ewer, you will enjoy these containers’ benefits for storage, brewing, and décor.

Sizes and Capacities

Typically, you can find demijohns with capacities ranging from 1 to 16 US gallons (4-60 liters). The most common size used for home fermentation is around 1 gallon (approximately 4 liters). Some demijohns are even larger, holding up to 40 liters of liquid. These larger sizes are more suitable for commercial or bulk storage purposes.

There are a few factors to consider when selecting the appropriate size for your demijohn:

– Purpose: How do you intend to use the demijohn? If you’re fermenting smaller batches of beverages at home, a 1-gallon demijohn would suffice. However, for larger-scale operations, you might require a larger capacity.

– Storage space: Make sure you have adequate space to store your demijohn, especially for larger sizes. They should be kept in a cool, dark place to prevent spoilage and ensure optimal fermentation conditions.

– Transportation: Depending on your needs, you may need to transport your demijohn between locations. Keep in mind that larger sizes may be more cumbersome and difficult to handle. Some demijohns come equipped with handles for easier transport.

When choosing a demijohn, consider the purpose, storage space, and transportation needs to find the perfect fit for your situation.

Uses and Functions

Some of the most common uses for demijohns include wine, beer, cider, and mead production. Thanks to their specific features, these bottles are designed to work well for both storage and fermentation processes.

During primary fermentation, a demijohn helps protect your beverages from harmful bacteria and oxygen exposure. The bottle’s narrow neck reduces the surface area that is exposed to air, thus limiting the contact between the liquid and any potential contaminants. Demijohns also make attaching a fermentation lock or airlock simple, further protecting your brew from unwanted elements.

In the process of racking, which is transferring the liquid from one container to another to remove sediment, a demijohn plays a crucial role. Its design ensures minimal sediment disturbance while effectively separating the clear liquid from the bottom. You can also find demijohns with a built-in tap, making it even more convenient for racking your beverages.

Not only useful for fermentation, but demijohns also serve as effective storage for your finished products. The distinct shape and sturdy construction can keep your wine, beer, cider, or mead well-preserved for an extended period. A demijohn is often enclosed in wickerwork or accompanied by a carrying handle for easy transportation, especially when dealing with large quantities.

Below are the key functions demijohns offer:

– Primary fermentation protection
– Efficient racking process
– Suitable storage for finished products
– Easy transport of large liquid quantities

As you have seen a demijohn is a versatile container that caters to your various needs when producing wine, beer, cider, or mead. From the initial fermentation stages to maintaining preservation and ensuring ease of transport, its unique design aids in smooth processes without compromising your beverages’ quality.

Demijohns in Interior Decorating

Demijohns add a touch of vintage charm to your interior decor as they can serve as unique decorative pieces that blend well with various styles.

Consider picking from antique or reproduction bottles when incorporating demijohns into your decorations. Antique demijohns feature wavy old glass and a rich history, while reproductions offer a similar aesthetic at a more affordable price. Common colors for demijohns are green and clear, both of which can easily adapt to your existing color palette.

To enhance your interior decor, place demijohns strategically throughout your space:

– Vases: Fill demijohns with fresh or dried flowers to create eye-catching centerpieces. A collection of different-sized demijohns filled with flowers makes for a visually appealing display for your dining table or mantle.

– Shelving: Use demijohns as decorative objects on open shelves. Their unique shapes provide an interesting balance to items surrounding them, such as books, framed photographs, or small trinkets.

– Terraces and courtyards: Decorate your outdoor spaces with demijohns, displaying them on tables or the ground to create water-like shadows.

– Staircase: Line demijohns along your staircase to add an unexpected pop of color and an intriguing focal point.

Experimenting with different arrangements allows you to find the perfect balance of vintage charm and contemporary style. Incorporating these versatile bottles into your interior decor allows you to elevate your space and bring a touch of history to your home.

Demijohn Care and Maintenance

Caring for your demijohn is important to preserve its quality and ensure that it remains a reliable vessel for storing and fermenting liquids. To maintain your demijohn, follow these simple steps:

1) Cleaning: Make sure to clean your demijohn thoroughly before and after each use. Rinse it properly with warm soapy water, removing any residue or sediments. Always ensure you sterilize the demijohn with a sterilizing solution to guarantee bacteria-free storage.

2) Storage: When not in use, store your demijohn in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight or any extreme temperatures. Consider covering the opening with cling film to prevent the ingress of dust, insects, or bacteria.

3) Handling: Demijohns, especially glass ones, can be fragile; thus, it is crucial to handle them carefully. Ensure that you use the demijohn’s handles when moving or transporting it to avoid any potential accidents.

4) Protection: Invest in a protective covering, such as a bag or an urn, to provide extra protection when you need to move or transport your demijohn. This will minimize the risk of breakage and make it easier to carry.

5) Inspecting: Periodically inspect your demijohn for any signs of damage, such as cracks or chips, which may compromise the quality of the stored liquid. If you spot any defects, replace the demijohn immediately and avoid using it for fermentation purposes.

By following these steps, you can ensure the longevity of your demijohn and maintain the quality of the liquids stored within. Remember to handle your demijohn with care, keep it clean, and store it appropriately to enjoy its benefits for a long time.

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