Barleypopmaker's Beer Blog

~I know you drank the beer, but did you experience it?

Barleypopmaker's Beer Blog - ~I know you drank the beer, but did you experience it?

Small Batch Brewing- Economical and perfect for the brewer with limited space

This is pretty much most of what you need for a small batch recipe. This is 3 pounds of grain, a small fermentation bucket, yeast, an ounce of hops, and aside from the kettle, that’s it. Total investment $20-$30 to get started in All Grain, including ingredients.

While the concept of brewing in batches smaller than 5 gallons is nothing new, it is becoming more popular and I wanted to give it try to see why someone would want to brew on such a small scale. I had some theories on it having to do with the economy, and if it could be the quickness and ease of the small batch. But no matter what the reason small batch brewing is gaining in popularity, it is still brewing so I thought I would take another look at brewing in small batches. We have a guy in our homebrew club who brews mostly in small batches. I never really saw the appeal because I generally went though a 5 gallon batch fast enough and felt brewing 1 or 2 gallons was hardly worth the time and effort. But after really examining why a person would want to brew small batches, I can see several benefits of small batch brewing.

The first is if you enjoy brewing, and you enjoy drinking good beer, but don’t really drink very often. Maybe you enjoy one or two beers week. After all, many craft beer lovers are not drinking to get drunk, but rather the enjoyment of good beer. If you have a hard time going through a full 5 gallon batch beer yourself, going through 1 or 2 gallons is not as intimidating.

The second reason is that the cost is considerably less. To get a 2 gallon fermentation bucket, will run you between $3 and $5. A one gallon glass jug can run you about $15 and a 3 gallon better bottle will run you about $25. You can also generally even brew an all grain batch (See below for my small batch brewing demonstration) on your kitchen stove with equipment you already own. You do not need a huge 7+ gallon pot. The average cost for ingredients on a 5 gallon batch will run you anywhere from $22 to upwards of $60 or more. The cost of ingredients for a small batch should not exceed $15 in most cases and not over $25 for really big beers. So if you are finding money tight, and you still love to brew. Moving to small batches can keep your passion alive.

The third major advantage is that it is a great way to experiment with new batches, varieties of hops, and differences in grain. With brewing software making it easier to scale between batches, you can design a 5 gallon recipe, scale it back to 1 or 2 gallons and brew it for less money. If it turns out as you expect, you can scale it back up to 5 gallons and brew it in full. That way your experimentation stage is costing you at least half as much.

Another advantage comes with brewing big beers. One complaint I hear from time to time is when brewing beers like barleywines or other really big beers. While many of them do get better, or at least change with age. Some people just are not into cellaring their beer and the thought of having 2 cases of barleywine taking up space for such a long time is not that appealing. With small batch you can brew a big old barleywine (for much less than full batch mind you) and only have 12 or so bottles of beer to age.

A disadvantage in average gravity beers can be an advantage in bigger beers. Since you cannot open vial or package of yeast and save it for your next batch (but you could brew 2 small batches and split the yeast between them), you are limited to adding the whole package or vial for only that small batch. The good news is that if you are making a beer of 1.060 or larger, there is no need for a starter. Most of the vials and packages are designed to be pitched without a starter in beers of about 1.050 and smaller. Since you are making about half the volume, the pitching of a whole vial into the small batch on those high gravity beers will be just fine. However, it is a waste of money in regular sized beers. You could use the small batch as an advanced starter, and just re-pitch the yeast into a 5 gallon or larger batch. Of course, if you are using dry yeast (which is my old standby for regular beers. I am a big fan of US-05), the cost is not as painful as dropping $7 or more on a vial for a 2 gallon batch. Again, you can just re-pitch the yeast with some planning.

There are other advantages, but these are the major ones I came up with. So with all that being said, let’s look at brewing a small all grain batch. This is an experimentation recipe making a Belgian Spiced Pale Ale. The hardest part is measuring out the hops, you use considerably less hops. I found it easier to measure in grams, then convert to ounces to use in beersmith.

The recipe (this is a first run experimental recipe)

Pale Half One Fifth- Spiced Belgian Pale Ale (2 gallon batch)

  • 1lb brewers malt 6 row (1.8L)
  • 1lb Breiss Munich 10L
  • 8oz Caramel 40L
  • 2oz of Carafa I ( just because I had some, you can leave it out if you wish)
  • 8oz Brewer’s malt 2 row (1.8L)
  • 4oz turbinado sugar
  • 3.5 grams (.123 oz) of Newport Hops (13.5AA) – First Wort Hops
  • 3.5 grams (.123 oz) of Newport Hops (13.5AA) -15 minutes
  • 3.5 grams (.123 oz) of Newport Hops (13.5AA) -5 minutes
  • Peeled Zest from 1 Minneola or orange
  • Fermentis T-58
  • Water 2.5 gallons

Equipment

After crushing the grains, heat the water to 159 degrees. Add the grain to heated water and allow it to equalize to 152 degrees. I figured the best and easiest way to brew this small batch as all grain, would be the brew in a bag method.

If your numbers are off by a degree or two, don’t sweat it. It’s all good.

You will need a scale capable of measuring to tenths of a gram which the scale pictured can do. Or you need to be able to measure to hundredths of an ounce (.01 ounces). This scale can do this. Pictured is 3.5 grams of hops which is about .12 ounces. I chose some of my home grown newport hops. The average alpha acid is 13.5% but I have no way of knowing my actual acid percentages. Right after the mash, as you are bringing the wort to a boil, you add the first charge of hops. I chose to first wort hop this recipe instead of going with the traditional 60 minute addition.

Bring the beer to a boil (I used a hop bag which is visible in this picture) and add the rest of the ingredients according to the recipe.

With 10 minutes left in the boil, add the peeled zest from 1 minneola or medium sized orange. This is the spice addition for the spiced Belgian Pale Ale.

The batch is so small that an ice bath is more than sufficient to cool the wort in 15 minutes or less. You could use an immersion chiller, counterflow chiller, or plate chiller if you choose. But I cooled this 2 gallon batch in about 10 minutes.

 

Just siphoning the wort from the cooled pot into a 2 gallon fermentation bucket.

If you have a means to aerate the wort, you still should do so even with a small batch. Just be sure to reduce your time accordingly if you have a pure Oxygen system.

 

It’s a little blurry, but I am running the pure O2 system here before pitching.

Another blurry one, but the pitching of the yeast (fermentis T-58). There is a lot of yeast here, and I actually saw solid fermentation in about 3 hours.

The little 2 gallon bucket tucks away easily anywhere you want. This fit right under the cabinets. Small batch brewing would be perfect for those in small apartment buildings or other spaces with limited to no outdoor space for brewing.

So in the end how much beer do you end up with? I ended up with 10 of the twelve ounce bottles and 4 of the sixteen ounce bottles, plus a glass to taste. So after trub loss and my glass to drink I had about 1.5 gallons of finished product. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Here is the finished batch of beer.

My final verdict? While you will not fill a keg (unless you go with the smaller 3 gallon kegging systems), and you do not produce as much beer. There is a lot of value in small batch brewing. If you are a brewer, or potential brewer, who has very limited space and you want to go all grain, small batch is the perfect answer. You can brew all grain right on your stove-top, and you will still end up with just shy of one case of beer. The time it took for the brewday from start to finish, including cleanup was just shy of 3 hours. Heating and bringing that small volume of wort to a boil was fairly quick. The cost of ingredients will cost you $8-$15 per batch and that is still well below the cost of good craft beer per bottle. The final cost is under $1 per bottle. The startup cost is also minimal. If you have no equipment at all, it will run about $30 to get everything, if you already are a brewer, it will only cost you the amount of the bucket or small carboy. So while brewing 5 gallon batches in the summer will be my main brewing process, in winter when I have my brewhouse closed up, I can still brew in my kitchen in small batches and keep my brewing fire roaring. I can also brew big beers very easily without a starter. My eyes have been opened and I now see great value in small batch brewing. I still don’t like the idea of just 1 gallon, but 2 gallons seems about right. Below you will find all the equipment you need to get started in small batch brewing, except for 5/16″ vinyl tubing.

Free Brewing Software Review of Brewtarget


Without a doubt, I think that Beersmith 2 is the best brewing software on the market at this time. Also, if you recall I did a review of several brewing software packages including Beersmith Version 1 (I did the review before the release of Beersmith 2), Beer Tools Pro, Pro Mash,  and Strangebrew. You can view both part 1 and part 2 by clicking the links here (part 1part 2). Also since I have done those reviews Beersmith 2 has come out and I have also heard of a new player in the brewing software arena, BrewTrax. Since there is not a free trial I will not be reviewing BrewTrax but if you are interested there are videos on the webpage. It carries a $32 price tag.  However, I do understand that in today’s economy perhaps paying an extra $28-$35 for software is not in your budget. So don’t think you are being left out. There are a few free alternatives out there. Granted they are not as feature rich as the pay versions, but there are some out there. Upon some searches I came across 2 recommendations from many places. One was Qbrew, which I was disappointed in, and below you will see why, the second one is called BrewTarget. When looking at BrewTarget’s Page, it looked like it had some promise. You also have the option of using various brewing spreadsheets, such as the one here, but there are many many spreadsheets out there to pick. You can also use a search engine and find some online software as well. But I will focus on software with an interface that you can install on your computer since that seems to be what most people are looking for.

Qbrew

First let’s look at QBrew. What I don’t like about Qbrew is that you cannot figure out our mash or come up with a brew process There are very little options for customization. This is pretty much a calculator. I must add that the database selection seems very outdated and dismal. You can always edit and enter your own ingredients, but what’s the point of taking the time if you cannot adjust mash entries and so on. This will tell you your Gravity, ABV estimates, IBU’s, and color. But aside from tweaking your ingredients, you are pretty much stuck. You cannot figure in mash temperatures, adjust water volumes, and so on. So for a practical replacement for Beersmith, Beer Tools Pro, or Pro Mash, this is NOT a viable option in my opinion so don’t waste your time if you are looking for something similar to Beersmith. Below are some quick screenshots for anyone still interested, if you are not, skip down to the BrewTarget review.

The Qbrew Interface

Qbrew Options

What it looks like after you have entered all your data.

Brewtarget

Now Brewtarget showed some promise, and I have to say that after I played with it a bit, I was very impressed for 100% freeware. I highly recommend it. The database selections for ingredients was up to date and the selection of ingredients was outstanding. For example many malts that are add-ons in Beersmith 2, like Breiss and Rhar are in the grain database on Brewtarget. They also have newer varieties of Hops like Citra, Glacier, and Palisade included in the hop database. As far as the yeast selection goes, I looked for White Labs WLP401 which is a new variety and is a seasonal offering, it was in there. So the database options in my opinion are outstanding.

The second thing I like about Brewtarget is you can import and export to Beer XML. So if you have a friend who has one of the other programs, they all can import or export to XML as well. So you can share recipes without having to enter each piece of data one by one.

Some other key features I noticed was you can scale a recipe, it has mash and hop addition timers, and various calculators and conversion tools that many people use in Beersmith and Beer Tools. You can set your volume preferences, mash preferences, and so on. So I thought the best way to gauge it would be to take a recipe from my Beersmith 2 library and manually enter it into Brewtarget and see how easy it is to use without spending a lot of time setting it up, and how close the numbers reflect my numbers I got in Beersmith. I will lay that all out below. But if you want to jump right into the software, you can find it here. http://brewtarget.sourceforge.net/ It is free and open source.

So below is the Brewtarget interface. It may not have as many options nor be as pretty as Beersmith 2, but it has everything you need. I will lay that out below. Below was the final results I got for the recipe with very little tweaking of the options to fit my beersmith profile. In the end, I will show you my beersmith stats for the same recipe.

So Below you can see I am formulating the recipe. I have not done it yet, but I think at this point all I had left to do was select the correct style for the beer I was making. I was making an APA. But below you can get a good feel for recipe formulation. You select the style, batch size, efficiency, your grains, hops, additives, yeast, and mash profile.

To me the only part of the software that was a bit “clunky” was the mash tool. It got the job done, but I sort of like Beersmith’s options (Medium body, batch sparge for example). But to use this tool you first add your step, name it, give the quart/lb ratio of the grain, target mash temp, then you can just hit Mash Wiz and it will calculate your water volumes based on the recipe.

Here are the options laid out in the tools menu. Here you can adjust your options, set timers, scale and convert recipes. It’s pretty nice for free software.

You can adjust the default units and formulas for consistent results.

Under file options you can export or import recipes, print sheets for your brewday and more.

One cool feature was to show instructions right in the software instead of printing a brewsheet. I am showing that below.

I did want to show you the timers, this is a tool in Beersmith I use a lot, and I was very happy to see it here.

So in the end I have to say that for free software this is a great tool. I only breezed over the software quickly to get this review up and I am very happy with the end result of the output. I highly suggest if you don’t have beersmith, you give brewtarget a try. I am very happy people have a  free option. I mean, you don’t have all the features that make beersmith worth the money, but if you were to strip down beersmith 2 to what a brewer would NEED to get the job done. Brewtarget brings you that plus a few extras, like the timers. Below you can compare my dialed in beersmith results with my quickly thrown together Brewtarget results for the same recipe. You can see the numbers are very close.

Beersmith results

Brewtarget Results

 


Get a little bit more from your propane burner (Turkey Fryer)

This will be short and simple post. I use a turkey fryer to do my boils outside. We have noticed that you get a lot of heat loss to the sides of the burner and one of our homebrew club members (Brian Lesperance) came up with an idea on how to get just a little bit extra from your propane burner. I have finally gotten around to making the brewing ring that he made and I can say I have gone from a decent boil, to a vigorous boil. Not only is the boil more intense, but it comes a lot faster as well. All you need is either some aluminum flashing or in my case, 2 pieces of 18″ X 24″ sheet metal. The sheet metal I got was in the heating duct section of my local Lowes and one edge had folded over grooves which I used to place the other end into. I folded the straight edge over onto itself and inserted it into the grooves on the prefabricated side and hammered them in together. Below is the result of my half hours worth of labor. You do have to cut a slot into the ring for your propane hose.

The Brewing Ring, it's a simple concept but does wonders for the boil!

 

Brewing Ring with Keggle on it.