Brew Tips: Small Batch Brewing

A few posts about bread in the bag, and now back to beer in a big way.  Err… small way.

There are some parts of brewing that are, well… kind of a pain.  And there is very little change in all of this based on batch size; you still need to clean everything, drag all of your buckets out, and so on.  So, it seems awfully counter-intuitive to make less beer for nearly the same effort.  You might be interested if you are in a small apartment.  But you should really be interested if you like to walk on the wild side with your brewing.

Some day perhaps I’ll tell everyone about my Chocolate Banana Stout- suffice it to say it was undrinkable.  Hell, I couldn’t even make bread out of the stuff (though I won’t sell myself short- it did taste like bananas, even the bread I made from it).  The upshot is, I now have about 50 bottles of undrinkable beer “aging” in my closet to see if, by some magic, it becomes tolerable (it won’t).  Having five gallons of awful swill is a much harder pill to swallow than a gallon or so.

Small batch brewing is great for experiments where you want to test the effect of many different yeasts, spices, etc, in a single wort.  You can make up a standard five gallon batch of wort, then split it to ferment.  It would make a great starter batch for a bigger beer without making five gallons of pale ale and over-pitching into a barleywine (yes, you can over-pitch).  You could even make up six gallons of wort and and ferment five as normal and use one for something crazy.  Possibilities abound.

Small batch brewing equipment

Small batch brewing equipment: Mr. Beer fermentor, one gallon jug and airlock, and small auto-siphon

So, what will you need?  One route is to get a one gallon glass jug for about $5 (USD)- it will make you about a 6 pack of beer.  You can use a standard bung drilled out for an airlock like you would for a glass carboy.  Another option is to use a Mr. Beer fermentor (*gasp!* I know, but really), about 2.5 gallons.  I don’t particularly care for it, as the spout always seems to be below the trub line and being so wide makes it hard to rack out as much of the beer.  But, if you have one around, it’ll get the job done.  And to be fair, I have only ever put beers with a 50% wheat and 50% rye grain bill in a Mr. Beer, so there was way more trub than normal.  You might also want a mini auto-siphon to rack your beer back out of the jug.  You can even use it to rack directly into bottles with a bottling wand- I like the ones with the spring-loaded tips.  You can mash directly in your kettle (the brew in a bag method works great for this) or make a mini mash tun out of a small igloo cooler if you like.  Somewhere there is a Basic Brewing videocast about this.

You’ll just want to keep in mind that you won’t be able to fill the jug completely, as you’ll want some head space to make room for the ferment like always.  So, go ahead and make a Chocolate Banana Stout or whatever you want.  Worst case is you toss a 6-pack worth of beer and are that much the wiser.  Best case, you love it and scale it up, but with the advantage of getting to tweak the recipe before you go big.

– Dennis,
Life, Fermented

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About Dennis
Home brewer, home chef, garage tinkerer. Author of Life Fermented blog.

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