Homebrewing can be a bit of an investment. Making good beer requires time, money, space, and effort. There are many ways to brew great beer, some easier than others. Small batch brewing is one of the most straightforward and enjoyable homebrewing methods.
Small Batch Brewing is brewing 1 to 3 gallons per batch instead of 5+ gallons. It can make you a better brewer and open the door to some creative homebrew experiments. Homebrewing in small batches is a fun and rewarding experience. Not only is the brew day a lot more manageable, stress-free, and tidy, you’ll end up making some outstanding beer.
Small batch brewing is an excellent entry into homebrewing. But even for seasoned brewers, there are many advantages to smaller volume brews. Let’s dive into the finer details of small-batch brewing.
What Is Small Batch Brewing?
In the homebrewing world, the “standard” batch volume is 5 gallons or about 19 liters. The majority of homebrew kits, fermenters, and brewing systems are all based around that magic 5-gallon number. Not only that, most recipes you’ll find online are for 5 gallons.
Not everyone has the time, space, or budget to brew 5 gallons (or more) of beer each brew day. Opting for a smaller batch can be a great solution.
Small batch brewing usually refers to making batches between 1 to 3 gallons.
How is it different from regular homebrewing?
Small batch brewing is the same as other types of homebrewing, just at a smaller size. Whether you’re brewing all-grain or extract, the techniques and processes are all very similar.
You can scale down most recipes and procedures with excellent results.
The most significant difference is the flexibility in your brewing equipment and your brew space. Brewing a small batch can be done in the kitchen of even the tiniest apartments -- trust me! Handling smaller equipment, fewer ingredients, and a lower brew volume is also a lot easier for people with mobility issues.
What Equipment Do I Need
You can get started with a lot of equipment you probably already have. For the rest, your local homebrew store will have everything you need and more.
There are also many great starter kits available. We’d recommend any kit by Brooklyn Brew Shop. Their kits come with the ingredients and most of the equipment to get you through your first batch.
Even if you go for a kit, you may still want to follow our advice below for recommended extra equipment and specific techniques.
- 15 qt pot: Any material -- stainless steel, aluminum, or enamelware -- will work. If you’re buying a brand new pot specifically for brewing, we’d recommend choosing stainless steel. You can get by with a smaller volume, but a bigger pot makes the process easier.
- Brew bag: A nylon, fine-mesh bag used during the mashing step -- at least 24″ diameter. You’ll need to go to your local homebrew store for this. Alternatively, you can use a paint strainer bag from the hardware store.
- Mash paddle: A sturdy wooden spoon or spatula.
- Colander: To fit on top of the brew pot when draining the wort.
- Fermenter: 1-gallon glass apple cider jugs are the standard for small-batch brewing. Otherwise, there are lots of alternatives like mini-carboys and food-grade buckets.
- Thermometer: Most meat thermometers work great for homebrewing. You’ll need one to check your mash temperature.
- Sanitizer: To keep your fermentation clean. See our guide on cleaners and sanitizers.
- Airlock and bung: To seal your fermenter during fermentation.
- Mini Auto-Siphon: An auto-siphon lets you transfer (rack) the beer out of the fermenter for bottling. For small-batch brewing, buy the “mini” version, which makes transferring a breeze.
- Tubing: You’ll need a few feet of food-grade vinyl tubing to rack the beer
- Spring tip bottle filler: To quickly fill bottles without overflowing or spilling.
- Bottle capper: A winged capper will be the most economical type.
- Bottle caps
- 12oz bottles (pry-offs): For 1 gallon of beer, you’ll need ten clean bottles.
Nice to have
Some equipment helps make your brew a lot easier and a lot more precise.
- Hydrometer: Not essential, but we strongly recommend using one. This tool will help you know your beer’s alcohol content and know when it’s done fermenting.
- Kitchen scale: Precisely measure hops and grain as well as priming sugar.
- Grain mill: If you end up brewing a lot, it’s good to buy a small grain mill to crush your grain.
What are the advantages of small-batch brewing
Many brewers wonder if it’s worth the effort to brew small batches when you can get 5 gallons in almost the same amount of time. The reality is, brewing 5 gallons requires a lot more investment in time, money, and effort. Small batch brewing has many advantages.
Minimal Start-up Cost
Brewing can be quite a financial investment. Starting with smaller batches lessens the blow. Besides, if you ever want to scale up to 5 or 10 gallons, you’ll still be using a lot of the small-batch equipment.
Setting-up and cleaning are way faster when using smaller sized equipment. Everything is smaller, lighter, and easier to clean and put away. Not only that, but bottling is also a lot quicker since you only need to worry about ten bottles rather than 48 for large batches.
If you have been putting off starting to brew due to lack of time, consider starting with small batches.
Probably the biggest advantage to small-batch brewing: space. You can store all of your equipment in a single cupboard! Try that with a 5-gallon system. Not only that, but you also have a lot more flexibility where to ferment your beer.
Apartment brewers can easily brew a small batch right on their stove-top and ferment it in a closet or cupboard.
Have you been meaning to try out an experimental brew idea, but don’t want to commit to a full batch? Smaller batches are a great way to test out new ideas, new ingredients, or new techniques.
For experienced homebrewers, you will also see value in harvesting yeast from small-batch brews. Instead of a yeast starter, why not make a gallon of beer you can bottle and drink?
Sample Recipe and Process
To illustrate our streamlined and straightforward small batch process, we’ve included a sample recipe below. We have used a brewing calculator to determine our mash temperatures and water volume.
If you’re brewing a small batch for the first time, you don’t know how efficient your process will be. Efficiency refers to how much of the potential sugars you extract from the grain. We’ll assume a 65% efficiency to start. After a batch or two, you’ll have a good idea of your exact efficiency -- it will end up somewhere between 65-75%.
Here’s a great recipe for a 1 gallon batch of a SMASH (single malt and single hop) beer made with Maris Otter malt and Cascade hops.
This recipe will be a familiar take on an American pale ale. The Maris Otter provides a nice round malt base, without being sticky or cloying. The late hop addition will carry over all those citrus and piney flavors that made Cascade famous.
Note: This recipe works great for extract brewing as well, check out our guide for those steps. Instead of the crushed grain, use 1.25 lbs of dry malt extract.
Classic Small Batch Cascade Pale Ale
|Final Volume:||Original Gravity:||Final Gravity:||ABV:||IBU:||SRM:|
|Strike Volume||1.94 gallons (7.76 qts)|
|2 lb||Maris Otter Pale Ale (Crushed)||38||2.65|
|0.25 oz||Cascade||7%||Boil||60 min||42|
Half a pack of Fermentis US-05
Use bottled or filtered water for the best flavor.
Small Batch Brewing Process
- Start by heating your strike water to the strike temperature. For our pale ale, that’s 1.94 gallons of water to 154F.
- Turn off the heat.
- Line your pot with the grain bag and add the crushed grain. Stir the grain for a few minutes to ensure there are no dough balls or dry spots. You have to make sure all of the grain is wet to extract all of the fermentable sugars.
- The temperature of the mash should have dropped to 150F. If it’s a bit low, add boiling water to raise the mash temperature a few degrees. If high, you can add cold water.
- Cover the pot and let it rest for one hour. Wrapping the pot in a towel or two helps provide insulation to maintain the mash temperature.
- After an hour, the mash is over. During this time, enzymes in the grain have converted most of the starch to sugar, which is food for the yeast.
- Carefully lift the bag, letting it drip into the pot. Place a sturdy colander on the pot and rest the grain bag in the strainer to finish draining. Gently press down on the grain bag to squeeze out as much liquid as you can. You can use a plate or metal bowl to help press down on the hot grain bag. Throw out the grain in the compost.
- At this point, you should have your entire pre-boil volume, about 1.5 gallons. Now it’s time to bring the wort to a boil.
- Turn the pot on high heat and bring to a boil. Watch closely for boil overs. If you see the wort start to pillow and rise, remove it from the heat immediately and lower the flame. Boil overs are a sticky mess and should be avoided at all costs.
- Once the wort is boiling, add the first hop addition. In this case, it’s only a scant 0.25oz of Cascade. Careful when you add the hops as this is another point where a boil over can occur.
- Boil the wort for an hour. Then, cut the heat and add the flameout hop addition. Adding the hops at flameout is done to preserve more of the volatile hop oils that would otherwise be boiled off. This will help make the beer fruitier and more aromatic.
- Wort must be cooled down after boiling to near room temperature before adding the yeast. For most yeast strains, this is around 68F. For small-batch brewing, the easiest way is to set up an ice water bath in your kitchen sink. Plunge the brew pot in the bath and allow it to cool. Be careful not to get any of the bathwater into the kettle.
- Sanitize your fermenter and funnel.
- Pour the cooled wort into the fermenter. Try to leave behind the hops and other residue, called trub, in the pot. If you want, you can pour it through a sanitized sieve.
- Pitch half a pack of dry yeast. Seal the yeast pack with some tape and store it in the fridge for your next brew.
- Seal the fermenter with the airlock and bung. Use a bit of sanitizer solution to fill the airlock.
- Leave the fermenter in a warm, temperature-stable area for two weeks. You want to ferment around 68F. After a day or two, you’ll see lots of bubbling from the airlock and frothy foam, called a krausen, form on top of the beer. This is all perfectly normal and signs of healthy fermentation.
- Most beers are done fermenting after two weeks. The only sure way to verify is by checking the gravity with a hydrometer. Follow our guide for best practices using your hydrometer.
- Gather your brew pot, auto-siphon, tubing, bottle filler, bottle caps, capper, and ten clean bottles. Sanitize everything.
- Using the mini auto-siphon, transfer the beer from the fermenter to your brew pot. Be very careful not to disturb the yeast and sediment at the bottom of the fermenter. You only want to bottle clear beer.
- Measure the final volume of beer and use a priming sugar calculator to determine how much sugar is required for carbonating. Make a sugar solution by quickly boiling the sugar in half a cup of water. Then, add it gently to the beer, giving it a very light stir to mix.
- Connect your bottle filler and transfer the primed beer to each bottle.
- Cap the bottles using your bottle capper.
- Leave your bottles in a warm (68F) area, away from light, for two weeks. Try to be patient and give your beer at least two full weeks to carbonate. We know it’s tempting, but you might regret popping an under-carbonated bottle!
- And finally, chill the beer, standing upright in your fridge, for at least a few hours. Since the beer is bottle-conditioned, i.e., naturally carbonated in the bottle -- there will be a thin layer of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. Just like with Belgian beers, you want to leave that behind.
Small batch brewing is an excellent entry into the world of homebrewing. For craft beer lovers, it’s also an eye-opening experience that lets you see behind the curtain of the brewing process.
But brewing small batches isn’t just for beginners. If you’re an experienced brewer, try out a small batch in your kitchen. You might find it’s a relaxing and fun alternative to your typical brew day.
Brewing is a labor of love. It takes time, patience, and attention to detail. Keeping your batches small alleviates some pressure, letting you be as creative as you want without a considerable investment in dollars, time, and space.
Frequently Asked Questions
Start-up costs are very low for small-batch brewing. You can regularly find great deals on 15qt pots online or at your local hardware store if you don’t already have a pot. Including the other equipment, like the fermenter and bottling tools, you can easily start brewing for under $60. After that, each batch will cost you about $5 to $10 of ingredients per brew.
My first brew was over carbonated. Why?
For new brewers, usually, it comes down to one of two reasons:
- Final gravity not stable: Bottling before the beer is done fermenting causes over-carbonation. Ensure the final gravity (FG) of the beer is stable for three days before you bottle. You can check using a hydrometer.
- Too much priming sugar: Many kits come with a bag of priming sugar that is meant to carbonate a specific volume. Often, when brewing, you don’t end up with as much beer as you planned after fermentation. It’s always a good idea to rack the beer into a bottling bucket and measure the volume. Then use a priming sugar calculator to make sure you bottle your beer with the right amount of sugar needed.
We also recommend against bottle priming with honey, as is common in some small-batch beer kits. Instead, use a priming sugar calculator and ordinary sucrose (table sugar). Honey can cause inconsistent results even for experienced brewers.