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Processing smaller batches?

Hi folks, first post here so how ya doin’!

I’m having an issue with my brewing, in that I like brewing a lot more than I like drinking beer. Don’t get me wrong, I like drinking beer, but I can’t keep up with my supply. As a result, I’m thinking about reducing my batch size to 3 gallons instead of 5-6.

I’ve been brewing with extract for a number of years, but started all-grain single infusion/batch sparge a few months ago. I’m comfortable with modifying the recipe itself for the smaller volume, but I’m hoping for some suggestions on how to mash the smaller amount of grains. I mash in a 10 gallon cooler, so I’ll have a lot of empty space in there.

Should I go ahead and mash as normal in the cooler? Modify a 5-gallon cooler? Try no-sparge and use the full water amount to take up more room? I’ve been happy with how things have turned out so far, so I’m hoping to not take too many steps back in working through a new process.

Thanks in advance!

Your story is the same as mine. I brewed 5-gallon batches for a few years, then decided that was too much, went down to 3 gallons for a lot of years, still too much, then I went to 2.5 gallons for a few years, still too much! Now I brew 1.67 gallons, and I’m even considering going down to 1.25 gallons! Same reasons that you had. A few months ago, I had 12 cases of beer, wine, and cider on my shelves in the basement. 12 cases! And most of that is 2-4 years old! I just can’t drink it fast enough. I’ve made a concerted effort this summer and have now worked that down to 9 cases, but I figure I really should not brew anymore until I get down to like 5 cases or something like that. Some of the stronger ales like my barleywine and imperial stout, and the wine, can sit for a few more years. Most other beers cannot.

The very easy simple solution to your problem? Ditch your cooler and look into brewing in a bag (BIAB). It’s like making a big batch of tea, or a glorified steep. Crush your grains into a huge grain bag, do the mash for 40-60 minutes at 150-ish degrees in your kettle or in the cooler, then just yank the bag, and boil! Cheaper and easier than sparging. And you can incorporate a “sparge” if you like by heating some water on the side, and dunking your bag into the warm water for a couple minutes, then yank the bag again. Easy as that!

That’s what I do, 95% of the time these days… or at least, after I drink about 4 more cases of beer!


Thanks Dave, that’s a really good idea! I have a couple large fine-mesh bags from making wine, so I think I’ll throw the grain in there, mash in the unmodified 5-gallon cooler with an appropriate amount of water in the mesh bag, heat my sparge water on the stove during mashing, pull the bag and dunk it in the pot… and away we go!

I have 11 cases in my basement right now, all less than a year old, two 5-gallon carboys that need to get bottled in the next couple of weeks, a 5 gallon sour batch that’s about 6-months old, and 20 or so gallons of wine aging in glass that I started last fall.

I don’t have a drinking problem, I have a brewing problem…

I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental, but do you guys not give beer away? I have, on average, 1-2 beers per night (many times, zero, many times 3-4), and between give aways, growler fills for parties, entering comps, and beers I like to cellar, I sometimes wonder if I should go from 5 gallon to 10 gallon.

Again, I’m not trying to be snarky or anything, really just trying to do the math…

Oh my gosh… my friends all tell me that I have a drinking problem… I don’t drink enough!! Under most circumstances, I would rather drink a Coke than a beer. I have to be “in the mood” for a beer. But often when I have one, I can’t just have one, I’ll have like four. So it disappears in spurts. But that’s only once or twice a month.

Sounds like you, also, might need to quit brewing for a while. You and I both would also do well to give away a whole bunch of beverages to friends and family, if you can find any who will drink it. My friends all brew, so that doesn’t work – we trade. My family… they really don’t drink much, none of them.

EDIT: Guess I answered Pietro’s comment right there.

Also, I used to enter a ton of competitions. I did that for years. Now I haven’t entered any for several years. I could do that… but now that I’m making very small batches, I want to keep most of it for myself. My small batches disappear pretty fast. It’s all those old 3-gallon batches that are still lingering. I guess I get bored of a beer and stop drinking it for the most part. Also, I buy a ton of commercial beer and cider. Half the beer on my shelf is commercial. I’ve decided that I need to cut back on buying it as well.

No worries, Pietro… I’ve given away some of my AG beers, but I don’t know too many people that are interested in it. Since the arrival of kids, we tend to be shut-ins more often than not unfortunately. I’m looking to joint a brew club in my area, so that might change.

Many of the cases in my basement are extract, and I’ve noticed some quality differences between them and my recent AG batches. They aren’t something I’d be proud to give away. My interest in smaller batches is in letting me practice and try new things more often, but not have quite so much volume to deal with in the long run. I have 5 or 6 brews that I want to do in the not-too-distant future, but with what I have on hand I can’t justify adding this many more gallons.

good call, thats probably part of the difference too, I rarely buy beer unless it is a crazy deal and/or something special.

I constantly go between the idea of brewing bigger and brewing smaller. I currently brew 4 gallon batches and keg in 5 gallon kegs. It ends up being about 3.5 gallons final volume in the keg. I wish I could fill them all the way up. I also contemplate going down to 3 gallon batches to get a final volume of about a case of beer and bottle. I’ve been called capricious in the past… I still am… always changing my mind about something. I’ve done brew in a bag, mash in a cooler, mash in a bag in a cooler, ferment in brew kettle, kegs, carboys… It’s exhausting sometimes! But, it’s a learning process and it’s fun.
So experiment, find what works best for you. Try brew in a bag, straight in your brew kettle if you have a big enough kettle. Simplifies the process. Just don’t add heat if you can help it. If you add too much to keep the mash temp stable, it will denature enzymes and you’ll end up with beers stopping at 1.020 every time. Ask me how I know that… :roll:

Hey, thanks for the feedback, guys. I think I’ll try mashing in a bag in my smaller cooler, and that way I can keep everything else pretty much the same once I cut everything in half. I use an old corona mill and have been fighting stuck sparges anyways, so this’ll be one less thing to worry about for the next couple of batches. I’m going to start playing around with some English-style beers for the fall. I was going for 3 gallon batches, too, to have just about a case of bottles from each batch.

It’s a little bit of a bummer to have only half as much beer for nearly the same amount of work, but at this point I don’t need the volume as much as I’d like the variety. Plus, I figure I can get away with using a smack pack and skipping the starter, depending on the recipe. Just one less thing to worry about before brew day.

Yep, there’s tons of advantages to smaller batches… tons.

Well I tried this out this weekend with a half-batch of irish stout. It was so simple and straight-forward that it was hardly more effort than extract with steeping grains! Ok, that might be an overstatement, but it was by far my most relaxing AG brew-day yet. At this point, I’m all about low-effort brewing. I forgot to account for the lack of dead space in the mash tun, so I ended up with about 3 1/2 gallons instead of 3, but it doesn’t seem to have drastically affected the numbers.

I’m sure I’ll be kicking myself it it turns out as well as I hope. I should have a nice yeast cake in two weeks for brewing an irish red, and now the hard part will be to decide if I do another half batch or scale up to a regular batch since the yeast cake will be plenty sufficient for a 5-gallon batch.

Good read. I have been thinking about doing some smaller batches of test recipes. Things I may or may not want 5 gallons of. Have been kind of looking into doing the BIAB thing for this.

I have been doing 2 gal test batches (easy to scale up to my usual 10 gal) and I LOVE it. If its no good you aren’t throwing away a bunch of ingredients. Plus it is nice to have a little batch to try in addition to regular brews.

I did a 2.5 gal BIAB for the first time last winter. Mashed, boiled, and chilled in the kitchen.

Didn’t have to go through 14" of snow to get to the garage.

Not a big deal for alot of you, but NOT normal for Salem, OR.

What I really liked about it was how easy it was to brew with three young children around. Doing a larger batch requires a lot more attention to the process, along with more heating time, cooling time, etc. This was easy to do in the kitchen with the kids helping a little, and I didn’t have to take 5 or 6 hours away from the family on a weekend. I still boiled outside to keep the heat out of the house, but come winter it’ll be nice to stay indoors the whole time!

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