If you have checked out my blog you probably have noticed that I am a small batch home brewer. I love it and it works perfectly for me and my situation. Small batch home brewing has really taken off and offers so much for the new home brewer and experienced brewer alike. It also fits the needs of those with limited space that want to brew their own beer or even make their own hard cider. Recipe and starter equipment kits are available from the majority of the online home brewing retailers such as Williams, Austin Home Brew, Northern Brewer, Homebrewstuff and Midwest Supplies as well as the company that really pushed small batch home brewing into the market, The Brooklyn Brewshop. Your local home brew shop should be able to help you get started as well and provide you with advice on brewing in general. I am a big advocate of supporting local home brew shops as they are small businesses that support the hobby. Many were there long before online ordering was around.
The process of brewing beer is the same for one gallon as it is for 5+ gallons. The equipment is a little different but only in regards to size. Any of the equipment used for brewing 5 gallon batches can be used to brew smaller batches but there are distinct advantages to using equipment sized for small batch brewing. For example the mini auto-siphon is so much easier to use in a one gallon jug than a standard auto-siphon, small fermenters allow for less headspace thus eliminating excessive exposure to oxygen but the best reason for smaller equipment is that it takes up less space.
All beer needs to be boiled as part of the beer making process, it kills bacteria and helps to utilize the bittering components of hops. Fortunately pretty much any kitchen stove will easily boil two to four gallons for small batches. This is a big advantage over five gallon batches which start with at least a 6 gallon pre-boil volume and that usually sends home brewers outside with a large propane burner.
What do you need to start? Well you can purchase a starter equipment kit but I compiled a list of what I have used on pretty much every batch I have ever made. This would be the minimum I would recommend and most of it is included in the better starter kits. Not a lot of money has to be spent for the basic necessities.
- Mini Auto-Siphon for 1 gallon jug/2 gallon bucket or Regular Auto-Siphon for 3 gallon carboy
- Hydrometer test jar
- Dial, floating or digital thermometer for mash temperature monitoring
- Bottle Brush
- Bottle filler wand
- Air Lock and drilled stopper to fit your fermenter
- Siphon Hose with Shut-off Clamp
- Sanitizer such as StarSan
- Cleaner such as PBW
- Hand capper
- Bottle caps
- 5 gallon bucket for soaking/sanitizing bottles/equipment and using as a bottling bucket and a place to store most of your equipment.
For boiling and mashing…
Generally speaking for Brew In A Bag (BIAB) style brewing you would want a kettle that is 2 to 2 ½ times as large as your recipe size to fit all the grains and the full volume of water. That rule of thumb is good for extract brewing also as it provides room for a full volume boil. So for 1 gallon batches you would want a kettle that is 12 quart, for 2 to 2 1/2 gallon batches a 20-24 quart and 32 quart for 3-4 gallon batches. Aluminum, stainless steel or graniteware are all acceptable. For folks wanting to try one gallon batches there is a pretty good chance you have a large enough pot/kettle in your cupboard already that you’ve been using for pasta or soups.
Based on your batch size these would be the recommendations for fermenters.
- 1 Gallon Glass Jug
- 2 Gallon Fermenting Bucket with Lid (great primary fermenter for one gallon batches also)
- 3 gallon carboy fermenter for larger 2 to 2 ½ gallon batches
- 5 gallon carboy or bucket fermenter for 2 ½ to 4 gallon batches
Any regular beer bottles that do not have the twist cap, 12/16/22 oz all work fine. You can get new or save your empties after enjoying a good craft beer variety. Swing top bottles are convenient and available in many sizes. I do not recommend bottling in glass growlers as they are not designed to handle the higher pressures that can occur during bottle conditioning, as opposed to just storing poured beer, and can become a bottle bomb. Some have successfully done it but it is not worth the risk. I also would stay away from plastic bottles such as 2 liter soda bottles as they can absorb oxygen over time which will adversely affect the beer if you wish to age it.
Kegging small batches? Yes you can!
If you are looking to keg instead of, or in addition to, bottling your beer you are in luck as there are several good options now for small batches. There is a greater initial cost to get started kegging but the equipment is reusable and will last for years.
There are two options that I will mention as they do serve the purpose but are getting harder to find and that is the Tap A Draft System and the Party Pig System. Both use a PET plastic bottle as the storage/dispensing vessel. 5 liter Mini Kegs are another option, but again, they are harder to come by and the kegs have a limited life as the lining of the kegs begins to breakdown with time and use. The best solution, as it follows the standards of current kegging systems, is the corny style kegs and CO2 tank and regulator. Several companies are now offering corny kegs in 1.75, 2.5 and 3 gallon sizes. They all use standard ball lock fittings so they have a lot of options for expanding and dispensing. Force carbonating is also possible with these systems.
Another option that I have recently discovered and like using (especially for one gallon batches) are the new mini keg style stainless growlers. They are available in 1/2 gallon and one gallon sizes. They can handle pressures of 25 psi, easy to clean/sanitize, don’t break and are very portable so you can take your home brew to a friend’s house and they fit in your kitchen refrigerator! You can bottle condition in them or force carbonate with the right CO2 attachment. There are even faucet taps available for these. Plus you can always get them filled with your favorite craft beer and keep it carbonated for more than a couple days. Many brewery taprooms sell them and they are also available on eBay along with matching tap/CO2 options.
CO2 tank and regulator options for these small systems range from disposable CO2 cartridges in different sizes to refillable paintball tanks that are inexpensive to purchase and easy/inexpensive to get refilled at most sporting goods stores that sell paint ball supplies. These smaller CO2 systems also easily fit in your fridge with the mini keg growlers or small corny kegs. Standard CO2 tanks and regulators are also an option with these. I like the paint ball tanks since I can get them refilled 7 days a week and late hours at local large chain sporting goods store for $3
Hopefully this has given current and prospective small batch brewers some information and food for thought.