Jan 082016
 

6 gallon fermentation bucketI never really questioned the 5-gallon standard prevalent among homebrewers.  That’s the size of the first kit I bought, and beyond doubling to 10 gallons every once in a while, I never tried out different batch sizes.  The 5-gallon standard is a standard for a reason.  The volume fits in readily available 6.5 gallon food-grade buckets and in 5-gallon glass or plastic carboys.  It also makes 2 cases of beer or completely fills a corny keg.

I’ve heard a lot about people brewing almost exclusively small, 1-gallon batches.  I’ve been intrigued for some time as to the allure of small batch brewing.  So when I received a gift for a 1-gallon brew kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop, I was excited to try it out.

Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Small Batch Kit

small batch brewing kitThe kit came with a 1 gallon glass fermenter, airlock, tubing, thermometer, tubing clamp, and sanitizer.  I was surprised that the kit was an all-grain recipe wother 2.5 lb of crushed grain.  I assumed most beginner’s kits are extract kits.  But I guess their rational is the batch size is small enough to mash in a stock pot.

Additional itemsBeyond what came with the kit, I needed a few extra items.  I decided to forgo the stock pot and used a small cooler as my mash tun.  I used an Erlenmeyer flask to measure the water, a strainer for straining the wort from the grain, and a stock pot to boil the wort.  I also grabbed a funnel for transferring wort into the fermentor.  Besides the flask, all these items are laying around most kitchens, and should make it easy for anyone to just whip up a small batch of beer with no need to invest in brewing equipment.  So far, this small batch brewing seemed like a great idea.

Brew Day

Small batch mashI mashed for an hour per the instructions, and strained the wort into the pot.  Apparently the cooler was not designed to pour liquid, and I created a mess by having wort stream down the side of it.  Not pleased that I lost some of my first runnings – strike one.  Especially since the total volume I collected was just over a half gallon.  At this scale, every ounce counts.  After cleaning up my mess I returned the grain to the cooler and batch sparked with another half gallon of water.  Again, transferring and straining the wort proved messy.  Nonetheless I got (almost) everything transfered.

Hazy wortAt this small scale and without the use of a false bottom, there really is no way to vorlauf.  So the wort you collect is a cloudy mess.  I tried to strain the wort back through the grain bed in the strainer, (per the instructions), but that did not clear up the wort – strike two.

Nonethless, I proceeded with the boil, added the 4 (yes 4) Columbus pellets, followed by the finishing hops.  After chilling the wort, I transfered it to the 1-gallon jug.

Fermentation

1 gallon batch of beerThe instructions say to fill to 1 gallon, but I left a little bit of headspace as I expected the yeast to foam.  However, even reducing the headspace some did not protect me from an overflowing mess – strike three.

high krausenAfter a couple days the foaming subsided and only lost a little beer.

When it was time to bottle after a couple weeks, I got to thinking if I really wanted to go through the hassle of bottling.  I had about 110 to 120 oz of beer/yeast cake.  I figured I would recover about 90% of the beer, thereby leaving me with 100 oz or about 8.5 bottles.  Was it worth the hassle of sanitizing 9 bottles and caps; dissolving, boiling, and cooling the 0.5 oz priming sugar; then filling the bottles that inevitably results in a sticky floor?  No, not for 8.5 bottles of beer.  I opted instead to transfer the beer into 2 2-L bottles and for carbonate from my kegging system.  Much simpler.

Final Thoughts

Overall I’m glad I tried small-batch brewing.  At least now I know what I’m not missing out on.  The amount of effort to brew 8.5 bottles of beer was not much less than to brew two to four cases of beer.  I can see this being an alternative way to make beer if you’re in an apartment, space is tight, and you’re stuck brewing on an electric stove.  But even then, it’s a lot of work to make a beer that you and a buddy could go through in a single evening.  Personally, I’m sticking with the 5-gallon standard.

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