You can brew in 1-gallon batches? Oh yes, small batch brewing is awesome.
Read just about any intro to home brewing book, however, and you’ll find yourself walking the same path I did when I took up this awesome pursuit: buying all the requisite equipment and ingredients for 5-gallon brewing. It was the easiest way to get started. All the recipes I had access to were scaled for 5 gallon brewing, and since I was so new to brewing, I had no clue I had a choice in the matter. I simply assumed all home brewers were brewing in 5 gallon batches and proceeded accordingly.
I got all the equipment and ingredients needed to brew my first beer (Palilalia IPA from Charlie Papazian’s Complete Joy of Home Brewing) and off I went for years without giving the batch size any thought. But after pouring two consecutive botched brews down the drain, I started asking myself if there was a better way. If you’ve ever poured that much beer down a drain, you know the feeling. I can’t imagine how the pros feel when they have to do the same, at much larger scale!
Oh, and I was also moving to a much, much, smaller house, and as a kitchen brewer who would find himself in a home with no storage space (our three kids got first dibs with all their toys and clothes), I knew I’d need to take a different approach. So, now that I’ve sufficiently foreshadowed what comes next, here’s the comprehensive list:
Six Reasons I switched to small batch brewing
Reason #1: It’s faster than 5-gallon brewing
I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it was the first time I cooled to cool 1.25 gallons of hot wort in an ice bath. I got the wort down to pitching temperature more quickly than I ever could 5 gallons with a fancy and expensive wort chiller. On average, it takes me 20 minutes to chill the wort down to 20ºC (68ºF) and I don’t have to stress about potentially contaminating my beer with a wort chiller if I somehow failed to sanitize it properly. It’s one more variable taken out of the equation. Transferring to the fermentor is also quicker, as is all the clean-up. Sure, I’m not saving hours, but there’s no doubt that small batch brewing is a more efficient process on brew day. The real time-saver, of course, comes on bottling day. When you’re bottling 6 bottles instead of 38 (500ml), you feel the difference right away. Not to mention the fact that you’re not lugging around or cleaning a massive carboy.
Reason #2: It’s great for small spaces
As I mentioned earlier, I had to move to a small house. We’re a family of five, on two floors, with a combined square footage of about 1100 sq. ft. The kitchen is only large enough to fit one person comfortably. We have no basement access, which means we really have no storage. Convincing my wife to make room in our closets for all my gear and bottles was a lost cause from the beginning. I thought about brewing off-site, but that would mean I’d be gone for half-days on weekends, which is when my wife expects me to give her a break with the kids. So, I needed a third way. Small batch brewing was it. I can brew on a weeknight without it being much of an imposition. The beer ferments in 1-gallon jugs that fit on my countertop. My wife finds them to be cute (score!). I usually have 2-3 going at any given time, and they really take up little space. Get rid of that crock pot or food processor you never use, and you’ll suddenly discover you have room too.
Reason #3: It’s an easy way to start all-grain brewing
I suspect most of us all started home brewing the same way: using either full extract or partial mash. Either way, you’re relying on a lot of extract. Of course, one of the advantages with extract brewing is that it can be much more forgiving. Plus when you’re starting out, you don’t want to be stressing out about the intensive, precise method that all-grain brewing calls for at those volumes. But eventually, you can’t help yourself. You want to try your hand at going all-grain. But the cost alone (plus all the extra space you need) for new equipment can be daunting. The beauty with small-batch brewing is that you can get going with all-grain from the beginning and build your confidence quickly. It’s so easy. Really easy. I’ve likened to telling friends that if they can bring water to boil or make chicken stock, they can make beer. And with small batch brewing, the concept is spot on. You can brew with the stock pot you already own.
Reason #4: Brew much more often
I now brew, on average, every two weeks. If it wasn’t for lack of storage in our small house, I’d brew beer every week. Now that all-grain brewing is more accessible to me, I brew more often. Because small batch brewing is quicker, and somewhat low-maintenance, brew days are not all encompassing like they were when I was brewing 5-gallon partial mash brews. I let the grains steep at the right temperature for an hour, which requires little, if any oversight. Strain, and bring to a boil, add hops carry on. Cool, strain, drain to a fermentor. Seal the carboy and we’re off. Throughout most of this process, I can do other things—usually work, since I’m brewing at night. It’s less encompassing, which means I brew more. Who doesn’t want to brew more?
Reason #5: You can afford to experiment
It will happen. One day, you will brew a bad batch of beer. We’ve all done it. Every time it happens, it’s a learning moment. But that doesn’t make it any less painful when you see your hard work being poured down a drain! You can avoid tears before bedtime with small batch brewing though. If you’re brewing more often (see reason #4), and in smaller quantities, the pain will be minimal. This is obviously good for two reasons:
- You stay motivated, even when you produce a bad brew, and
- You can try crazy ideas, knowing that if they fail, you’re only losing 1 gallon of beer. (After three attempts, I still can’t make curry leaves work in my beer, but that’s not going to stop me from trying my hand a fourth time!)
Reason #6: Get started with less equipment
You should see the number of times I get a surprised reaction when I tell people I brew beer in my kitchen. I think most people have this image of homebrewers camped out in the backyard or garage with a dozen burners, test tubes, buckets, and all sorts of gear that would make it impossible to brew beer as easily as you can make chicken stock.
And in a way, you can’t blame them. Your average 5-gallon starter kit will run you around $200. That includes a 5-8 gallon brew kettle, 6.5-gallon primary fermenter, 5 gallon glass carboy, hydrometer with sample tube, racking cane, rubber stopper or cap, siphon hose, 6.5 gallon bottling bucket, 50 12oz (355ml) bottles, bottle filler, bottle caps, and bottle capper. You could of course deck out your brew house some more, but those cover off your basics.
A 1-gallon starter kit, by comparison, will run you $50 or so. If you’ve never brewed beer before, and you’ve been wanting to give it a try without having to fork out a fortune on gear you’re not willing to commit to, than small batch brewing is the perfect way to get started. And once you get started, you may decide it’s the only way to go!
What do you think? Have you tried your hand at 1-gallon brewing? Do you have any more reasons we could add to this list?