In the Issue 5 (February/March 2015) of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®, I advocated using off-the-shelf “department store” beer kits such as Mr. Beer and Coopers DIY Beer for small-batch experimental brewing. My online article on how to reuse old growler jugs is further evidence of a certain fondness I have for brewing in miniature.
That hasn’t always been the case. When I first ran across brewers who made only a gallon or two at a time, I wondered why anyone would ever bother with such a small volume. After all, the time commitment is almost the same, whether you brew one gallon or ten. But small-batch brewing does offer some distinct advantages, and I’ve come to appreciate some of the finer points of this approach to brewing.
Reason #1: Make beer instead of a starter.
This is one of my favorite reasons to brew small. In order to build up enough yeast cells to ensure healthy fermentation of, say, a Doppelbock or a barleywine, you may need to propagate up a single vial of yeast using as much as two gallons of wort. Rather than simply whipping up a malt extract-based yeast starter, sometimes I like to make a small batch of beer I can actually drink and then use the yeast cake to brew my favorite barleywine.
Reason #2: Make high-gravity beer without a starter.
This reason is the corollary to the previous point. A single vial of yeast might be insufficient to pitch directly into five gallons of imperial IPA wort, but it’ll do a really nice job on only two gallons. If you prefer dry yeast, those 11-gram sachets will get you even further.
Reason #3: Save space and ensure domestic tranquility.
I live in a 960-square-foot house with exactly two closets, so space is always at a premium. I am lucky that the person with whom I share this house doesn’t mind the handful of 5-gallon carboys scattered about our kitchen (it helps that she enjoys the beer). But full-sized carboys simply might not be suitable for apartment dwellers, couples with small children, and those whose significant other doesn’t share quite the same enthusiasm for beer as the brewer. Small fermentations can be neatly tucked away in places that full carboys could never go.
Reason #4: A full range of supplies.
There was a time when small-batch brewing meant scaling down your favorite recipes and repurposing kitchen equipment, but many homebrew supply stores now stock hardware and recipe kits that are specifically designed to turn out a gallon or two of delicious homebrew.
Sometimes the best things are the smallest. From the tiny house trend to increasingly lightweight cell phones and tablets, thin is in. And with small-batch brewing, you get full-flavored beer in a compact package that won’t get in your way.