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
- 1 four to five gallon pot $25
- 1 two gallon fermentation bucket or 3 gallon carboy with airlock $4 to $20
- 1 autosiphon and hose
- 1 fine nylon mesh bag (also can be used for brew in a bag full size batch)
- O2 aeration system or air pump aeration system(optional)
- 1 hop bag (optional)
- 1 scale capable of measuring down to hundredths of an ounce. This is the scale I have and it does the trick.
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.
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.