April 23, 2013

One gallon brewing, why the heck would you do that?

I've written for the past few years about my one gallon brewing set up with varied success. I feel like I finally have a good handle on the process and technique and it's about time I organize my thoughts along the same line as the sour mash/sour wort resources I put together a couple years ago. So this is the first step in trying to make everything look a little more organized (plus I think the new blog design lends itself well to a new writing project).

Why I started brewing one gallon batches

When I started brewing I was in law school, which meant I was drinking to relax at the end of the week but usually my "wild" drinking would be a few beers at home with my wife on Friday and Saturday night. Drinking a handful of beers each week makes a five gallon batch with about fifty bottles last for a long, long time. I wanted to brew more often than we could drink down our beer. So I started looking for ways to cut down on the size of a batch without having to give up quality or buy a lot of new equipment. This was before a lot of homebrew shops started selling kits for one gallon batches.

I started to scale down from five gallons to three gallons to two and a half gallons to two gallons before going as low as one gallon. While I tend to brew some two gallon batches these days a lot of my brewing is still in the one gallon batch basis. Out of a gallon you can get between eight and ten bottles, depending upon how much beer you are willing to leave behind to avoid trub in the bottles and how close to one gallon your post-boil volume actually is. At the time I had a little over thirty gallons of homebrew plus some commercial beer so with my wife and I going through eight to twelve beers per week we could drink several bottles of a one gallon batch plus some other beers and I could brew every few weeks. It made a lot of sense under the circumstances.

Now that I have a little more free time and our beer supply is about half what it was at the time I am brewing some two and three gallon batches but I am keeping the one gallon system in constant rotation. For my personal benefit, one gallon batches are still a good way to play with new recipes or try out a technique that I want to experiment with but not necessarily get stuck with several gallons. I also have really come to enjoy the value of very fresh beer and brewing those smaller batches allows me to always have a supply of fresh beer available without worrying that good beer is lingering in the bottle because I have too much beer on hand. I know, first world problems...

Why you might want to start brewing one gallon batches

You might have similar brewing preferences to mine that interest you in small batch brewing. You may have some other reasons why you would like to brew on a smaller system even if it's not as small as one gallon. Here are some reasons why you might want to adopt one gallon brewing:

  • You don't have the resources for brewing larger batches due to your home, finances, free time, etc.
  • You prefer to experiment and not have to commit to five gallons of an experiment that may or may not work out;
  • You want to work on a recipe or technique and don't want to brew large batches every time you want to tweak the recipe or process;
  • Your spouse/significant other told you that you can't take up the house with brewing stuff;
  • You don't drink that much beer but you want to brew;
  • You do drink a lot of beer but most of it is commercial beer but you would like to dabble in homebrewing to supplement what you buy and learn more about brewing;
  • Nobody will drink your homebrew but you;
  • Sometimes it's too cold or too hot to brew anywhere but on the stove;
  • You want to be more like me;
  • You want the challenge of learning a new brewing system but don't have the resources or desire to scale up to a larger size;
  • You don't want to make a big financial commitment to a hobby; 
  • Your free space at home is already filled with beer you bought;
  • It's just more convenient for you.

 What's the difference between one gallon brewing and five gallon brewing?

In my opinion there is no difference between one gallon and five gallon brewing except the size of the equipment and the volume of beer produced. Despite what you might initially think it is not any easier or less time consuming to brew one gallon than it is five gallons. Any shortcut or simplified process you can do with one gallon you can do with five or ten gallons. Your time savings brewing a smaller batch are marginal compared to five gallons. You spend a little less time milling grain, less time heating mash water, bringing wort to a boil, sparging and cooling the wort. You are really talking about shaving off maybe an hour at best if it takes you a long time to heat and/or cool on your brew days. If you don't mill your own grains and you can hit a boil on a five gallon system fairly quickly you may save much less time. For the hour you save you will spend essentially the same time mashing, boiling, cleaning, sanitizing, etc. It's actually more time efficient to brew on a larger scale.

What do you need to brew one gallon batches of homebrew?

Basically all the same equipment you need for any other size of brewing. The good news is that for one gallon brewing you already have most or all of the equipment you need around the house, especially if you are already brewing on a larger scale. If you are contemplating going right into one gallon brewing you can use items around the house instead of buying other equipment. For example, you probably already have a small stock pot in your kitchen as part of a pots and pan set even if you have never brewed before. Realistically you can use that 1.5 gallon stock pot for boiling most batches of beer. You can employ some other saucepans for other uses.

I don't know who first decided five gallons was a good amount of beer for a homebrewer but I strongly disbelieve that the amount was chosen for a reason other than convenience. Most of the equipment used for five gallon brewing already existed for other uses and five gallons was a convenient place where all that equipment could be used. There were already five and six gallon carboys used elsewhere. Large food grade buckets are easily obtainable. Turkey fryers are conveniently sized for brewing. Even an electric coil stove can eventually get six gallons of wort to a boil. Other small pieces like airlocks, thermometers, hydrometers, etc. were available for lab and kitchen purposes. I am most convinced the common size of glass carboys, once routinely used as secondary and often primary fermentation vessels, had the most to do with the batch size.

Similarly, one gallon brewing is easily accomplished using kitchen components readily available in most kitchens and easily acquired where they are not ready. Most homebrewing equipment can be used without modification. Like the five gallon batch, one gallon brewing is a convenient size due to available fermentors. While I have fermented one gallon of beer in as large of a fermentor as a 7.9 gallon bucket, smaller fermentors tend to be easier to work with. There are several small fermentation vessels available for one gallon brewing but the easiest to work with is a five liter wine jug. It fits more than a gallon so there is enough headspace to usually not need a blowoff tube. I'll address the necessary equipment in more detail in another post.

Fortunately for those of us that like to brew small batches, homebrew shops are beginning to make it easier to brew on a smaller basis. Even a year ago it could be challenging to find shops that would sell grain in single ounce quantities that you want for small batch brewing. Otherwise you end up with a library of grain at home that you may not need or want. Now many shops openly sell by the ounce and it's not uncommon to see one gallon brewing equipment kits for sale along with one gallon recipe kits. Brooklyn Brew Shop was the first that I know of to really push these products out there (although I think their products are severely overpriced) but now Northern Brewer proudly advertises similar products. I don't think you have to restrict yourself to buying either an equipment kit or recipe kit specifically made for one gallon brewing. In future posts I'll talk about putting together your own equipment and how to purchase ingredients and recipes for one gallon brewing.

4 comments:

  1. I started on a BBS kit, and still generally prefer to brew a single gallon at a time for all the reasons you said. It's odd, though, how that's almost offensive to other brewers. When I first started weaning myself off prepackaged kits and went to my HBS in Philly, the owner almost seemed to take personal offense at the notion that I'd only want to brew a gallon at a time. So, it's fitting to phrase it almost as a dirty secret: "Now many shops openly sell by the ounce..."

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  2. I am looking to do some split batches, as I bought gallon glass jugs for this purpose. How do you recommend bottling from? Do you pour/siphon into the bottling bucket? Do you use the small format siphon for this? Do you bottle directly from the fermentor? I would greatly appreciate any advice on this.

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  3. I siphon out of the jugs into a bottling bucket and bottle like normal. There is a shorter autosiphon on the market that is designed for these jugs. I have also drilled a two gallon bucket from Home Depot to use as a bottling bucket for these smaller batches and I am really liking it over the big 7.9 gallon bottling bucket I have. I am losing a lot less beer to dead space in the bottling bucket and I am getting a lot less oxidation during the bottling process.

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  4. I overshot a 5 gal batch by a gallon and the 5 gallon carboy would not take any more wort. So I put the 1 gallon extra in a 1 gallon custom fermentor and that is why you would do a 1 gallon.

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