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Considering Small-Batch Brewing

Greetings,

I am considering switching to small-batch brewing, partly because I will shortly be moving into an apartment with minimal storage space, and partly because I would like to be able to experiment without running the risk of making 50 bottles of undrinkable sludge. But I have some questions first.

Perhaps most importantly, do recipes simply scale down? Or is there more to it than simple ingredient percentages and adjusting for batch sizes?

Will I be able to store leftover ingredients, such as malt extracts and grains, or do they go bad quickly?

How much yeast should I use, and if it’s less than a full tube/bag/whatever, can I store the remainder in the fridge until I need it again?

I won’t have any sort of basement area in which to store things. If I use the Northern Brewer small-brewing setup with the 1-gal. bottles and blowoff tubes, how likely am I to cause a catastrophic mess?

What does one use for bottling a small batch? I’m not sure it would make sense to use the same bottling bucket I have for 5-gal. batches, since waste would be such a problem.

Finally, if anyone has any general advice for me, or answers to questions I didn’t know enough to ask, I’d be most appreciative.

Thanks!

I have brewed nearly 100 small batches. Here’s my experience:

Recipes scale down just fine. For a 2.5-gallon batch, cut all the ingredients for a typical 5-gallon batch exactly in half and you’ll be fine. This includes yeast – if using a dry yeast, use half a pack. For liquid yeast, you should still make a starter, but it only needs to be half as big.

Properly stored leftover ingredients will keep for a year or so. Hop pellets keep for many years in the freezer. Dry yeast lasts for 2-3 years. Liquid yeast keeps for 8-9 months from date of manufacture or last feeding.

One-gallon batches are quite small especially if you only ferment in a one-gallon container because you will lose much of the beer to krausen foam. Better to have a fermenter bigger than you think you need. For my current 1.7-gallon batch size, I use 3-gallon fermenters. Then if I want to make a bigger 2.5-gallon batch I can still do that too. I wouldn’t recommend a batch much smaller than 1.3 gallons because that will get you roughly two 6-packs and I wouldn’t want any less than that for any one batch. But yeah… do what you want to do. Just be a little liberal with your fermenter size.

I still sometimes use 5-gallon buckets for bottling. They work fine.

Nice thing with small batches is that you don’t need any special equipment. You don’t need a cooler mash tun or turkey fryer or huge kettles or a chiller. Just mash in a bag (a.k.a., BIAB), boil on the stovetop in a standard soup kettle or two, and chill in the sink in a cold water bath. Piece of cake. Saves you time, too. I can knock out a 3-gallon batch in about 4 hours flat, and a smaller batch in 3.5 hours. And I’m talking all-grain. If you use extract, it’s very quick, less than an hour if you want.

The only downside to smaller batches is running out of the good beers a little too quick. But then… you can always make more and it’s a piece of cake! And it’s fun to brew so I really see no downsides at all personally.

One-gallon batches are quite small especially if you only ferment in a one-gallon container because you will lose much of the beer to krausen foam. Better to have a fermenter bigger than you think you need. For my current 1.7-gallon batch size, I use 3-gallon fermenters. Then if I want to make a bigger 2.5-gallon batch I can still do that too. I wouldn’t recommend a batch much smaller than 1.3 gallons because that will get you roughly two 6-packs and I wouldn’t want any less than that for any one batch. But yeah… do what you want to do. Just be a little liberal with your fermenter size.<<

I’m a real novice but this is great advice.
I learned quickly that 1 gallon in 1 gallon fermenter is too small.
The 1.7 would be a better small batch compromise if space/time is limited.
I’ve moved to 2.5 gallon batches and I’m happy with that size.

the only time I do 1 gal batches is if I have to much wort left over and it doesn’t fit in my other fermenters. I just experiment with it, side by side thing to see what temp, yeast, hops, differences do to it. I too think one gal at a time is a waste of time, go at least 2 gal and up.

First off, excellent advice – thank you! :slight_smile:

I’m probably opening another topic here, but I’ve never made a starter. When I’ve bought liquid yeast in the past, the instructions said to pitch the whole thing, so I did. Is that risky, and I’ve just been lucky so far?

That’s very good news, thanks!

Now, this I had not considered. Are the bottles and kits for small-batch brewing sold by Northern Brewer not a good idea, then? I know I wouldn’t get a huge amount of beer, but how much would be lost to krausen and yeast sludge? Space is really going to be a problem for me soon. I’ll be heading back to college, and probably living in on-campus housing. It won’t be as cramped as a dorm room, but the grad student apartments are still rather tiny. I’ll probably have to put the fermenters in a plastic tub against a wall, and hope I don’t trip over them too often. Given your experience with small-batch brewing and the space required, do you think the one- or three-gallon setup makes more sense?

The time and equipment required are two big reasons I’m leaning in this direction. I’ll be rather busy soon, and won’t be able to spend an entire day brewing. That an extract brew can be done in an hour or so is extraordinarily good news. I’m also curious now about how you handle all-grain brewing. I tried that a while back. I found instructions online for making a mash tun out of a cheap cooler (not the round cooler most people use, but a less expensive rectangular one), came up with a couple of recipes… and it didn’t work out entirely well. Not a total loss, but not as good as I was hoping. I had trouble controlling the mash temperature, and it took forever to cool the wort, and it wasted an incredible amount of water. After that, I wrote off all-grain brewing until some future time at which I can afford better equipment.

I did think of this. :slight_smile: But I think the positives outweigh the negatives, by far. I can’t wait to start experimenting! And I won’t have to fear the horror currently lurking in my folks’ basement – 44 bottles of undrinkable foulness that was supposed to be a spruce beer (it was 49 bottles, but I keep testing it as it ages in the vain hope that it will somehow stop being disgusting).

Again, thank you very much for the advice!

I guess it all depends on how big of a boil his stove can handle. If you’re going to go small, you might as well do a size where you can do a full volume boil.
I brew 4 gallon batches inside on my stove. I used to do 5.5 gallon batches outside on a turkey fryer, but moved to a duplex where I couldn’t brew in a garage anymore and decided to move the operation inside. I’m glad I did. 4 gallons is a good size, but I’ve brewed smaller batches and really enjoy it. If I didn’t already have a sweet kegging setup, I’d probably be brewing 2.5 gallon batches and bottling away. I like to brew, so brewing smaller and at least once a week is very appealing to me. Plus, not relying on having to get co2 tanks filled and having all the equipment is appealing as well. But thus, here I am, with a sweet kegging setup. I guess I’ll manage. On the flip side of that, I really enjoy opening a bottle of beer. There’s a certain satisfaction to it. I may have to start brewing the occasional small batch just for that. Plus, bottles are essentially free if you ever buy beer…which I do.

But whatever your stove can handle, I’d go with that. At least 2 gallon batches is a good start. Or bigger. You could do 2.5 gallon brew in a bag batches in a 5 gallon kettle no problem. But, those grad student apartments might have pretty dinky little stoves…so, you’ll have to see about that.

With smaller batches, you don’t necessarily need to make a starter, as long as you’ve got fresh yeast (made within the past ~2 months or the expiration date is still 2-3 months away). Just pitch the entire pack to be on the safe side, and keep some dry yeast on hand for emergencies. As long as you can see signs of fermentation within the first 36 hours, you’re fine. If not, you need to add more yeast at about the 36-hour mark. Dry yeast makes fermentation a certainty, as a backup plan. It’s still always best to make a starter with liquid yeast if you can find the extra day or two to do that. Or else just stick with dry yeast as much as possible. I try to use dry whenever possible. Lots of great dry yeasts on the market today, including Belgians, wheat yeasts, lager yeasts, saison… dang near everything! It’s something worth thinking about.

If you want to do small batches, I would go with 3-gallon fermenters. Then you can brew anything from 1 to 2.5 gallons. Otherwise with a 1.0-gallon fermenter, you could be limited to 0.75-gallon batches, which is only a 6-pack – not very much beer! You’ll lose a high percentage of volume to krausen and yeast sludge. A 3-gallon fermenter does not take up a lot more space than 1 gallon. It’s worth it.

You should Google “brew in a bag” and “BIAB”. It’s a glorified steeping of the grains. Get a decent sized grain bag, and steep your grains at 150 F for at least 40 minutes, then pull the grain bag and brew as normal. You can rinse the bag with some warm water for a sparge if you want, or skip it. Either way you’ll make awesome beer, and it’s really a piece of cake, doesn’t take up any extra space for equipment, and dirt-cheap!

Best of luck to you.

Last winter when it was too cold for the garage, I pulled out an old grain bag that fit in my 5 gal water cooler. Scaled down one of my 5 gal recipes to 2 1/2 gal, mashed in the cooler, pulled the bag, poured the wort in my 7 gal pot on the stove, put the bag back in, sparged, then poured that in the pot. Boiled on the stove, put my chiller in the pot, then cooled right at the sink. Was done in 3 hrs instead of 4. Fermented in a small carboy. Never left the kitchen. First time I have done it this way.
Half batch tasted pretty much the same, really couldn’t tell any difference.

I forgot to say I poured mash and boiled wort thru paint strainer bags for the sludge.

That makes sense. It’s the same way with baking bread: you can still find yeast sold in cakes, but for reliable results you want the “instant” dry stuff. It keeps forever, and comes with each bit of yeast wrapped in its own little food supply, so there’s no risk of the yeast failing, and no need for a starter.

Then I shall purchase the three-gallon carboys. I hadn’t realized there would be so much lost from the one-gallon jugs. If I could get nine or ten bottles that way, it might be worth it, but only just. Six is definitely too little return for the work and the investment. Thanks for saving me from a major mistake!

[quote]You should Google “brew in a bag” and “BIAB”. It’s a glorified steeping of the grains. Get a decent sized grain bag, and steep your grains at 150 F for at least 40 minutes, then pull the grain bag and brew as normal. You can rinse the bag with some warm water for a sparge if you want, or skip it. Either way you’ll make awesome beer, and it’s really a piece of cake, doesn’t take up any extra space for equipment, and dirt-cheap!

Best of luck to you.[/quote]

OK, I really like this brew-in-a-bag thing. :slight_smile: I loved the idea of all-grain brewing (more complex = more interesting), but I found the actual experience rather daunting. This puts it back within my reach.

I really can’t thank you enough for all your good advice. I’ll begin planning my new brewing setup straight away! :slight_smile:

[quote=“dmtaylo2”]

The only downside to smaller batches is running out of the good beers a little too quick. But then… you can always make more and it’s a piece of cake! And it’s fun to brew so I really see no downsides at all personally.[/quote]

I agree. I was surprised and disappointed when my Scottish ale keg blew last week, but then I realized I could just brew up another batch (with a couple tweaks) and I was pumped. Small batches allow for faster turnaround if you’re trying to refine some recipes and have a variety of beer styles on hand. Even a great beer gets kind of old for me at the bottom of 5 gallons.

[quote]Then I shall purchase the three-gallon carboys. I hadn’t realized there would be so much lost from the one-gallon jugs. If I could get nine or ten bottles that way, it might be worth it, but only just. Six is definitely too little return for the work and the investment. Thanks for saving me from a major mistake!

[/quote]

I brew using the NB Small Batch kit, if you go this route get a larger primary fermenter and use the carboy you get in the kit as a secndary.

I’ve adjusted the recipies so that I get 1.5 gal into the fermenter, this allow me to get a OG, a FG and 8 bottles from each batch. YMMV.

I have brewed nearly 100 small batches. Here’s my experience:

Recipes scale down just fine. For a 2.5-gallon batch, cut all the ingredients for a typical 5-gallon batch exactly in half and you’ll be fine. This includes yeast – if using a dry yeast, use half a pack. For liquid yeast, you should still make a starter, but it only needs to be half as big.

Properly stored leftover ingredients will keep for a year or so. Hop pellets keep for many years in the freezer. Dry yeast lasts for 2-3 years. Liquid yeast keeps for 8-9 months from date of manufacture or last feeding.

All really welcome advice. Thanks for sharing, Master Brewer,

Another question related to small-batch brewing has occurred to me. Given that the batch size will be smaller than the carboy’s volume, is it necessary to use a blowoff tube or will an airlock suffice?

No blowoff tube required. Another advantage!

Excellent! Even for 2.5-gallon batches? I’m liking this even more – less mess, less chance of contamination, better everything, at least for me. :slight_smile: Time to work on a couple of recipes.

Thanks again!

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