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I was wondering if, for the sake of testing, it was a good idea to do very small batches of beer. I almost always see batches of 5, 6 gallons. I would like to make tests, and I don't want them to take 46 bottles of 500ml! :)

I wanted to know what are the possible bad things about brewing small quantities of beer. And by small I mean down to 1 gallon.

I read once that bigger batches are better. If this is true, could anyone explain why it is?

Thanks a lot!

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Your question is sort of already answered here, but I will elaborate on my experience in the answers. –  Chino Brews Oct 31 '13 at 3:48
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up vote 10 down vote accepted

I have been brewing 1-gallon batches at home, and 5-gallon batches at a friend's house, so I have some knowledge on this point. To me, these are the pros and cons with small batches:

Pros:

  • My spaghetti pot is large enough to do a full boil.
  • It takes very little room, all of my equipment stores in a small plastic bin, and I can easily ferment anywhere in my house that is my desired temperature.
  • I can do full boils on my kitchen stove.
  • Boil times on one-gallon recipe kits are only 45 min.
  • I never have to make a starter.
  • It will be easy and cheap for me to experiment with all-grain ("mini-mash"), using my spaghetti pot and colander, or my $10 2-gallon beverage cooler with a small paint-strainer bag, for mashing.
  • I have the option to do a partial boil 2- or 3-gallon batch, split it between jugs, and experiment with different yeasts, fermenting temperatures, different dry hopping or spices, etc.
  • Bottling is quick.
  • I can chill in an ice bath in my kitchen sink in 5-10 minutes.
  • Cleaning 1-gal. equipment is easy because it is small and light.
  • I am not stuck drinking 48-52 bottles of my lesser product.

Cons:

  • It takes almost the same amount of work and time to make as a 5-gallon batch.
  • It is harder to find 1-gallon recipe kits, and the selection less diverse. Northern Brewer has a good selection of extract kits. Midwest Supplies has a few all-grain kits (Micro Bru), and Brooklyn Brew Shop has a decent selection.
  • Fermenting in 1-gallon jugs, there is little head space, so I lose about a bottle through the blowoff tube.
  • The yield is only about eight 12-oz. bottles, so after sharing I will end up with around four bottles.
  • There is not enough beer to sample as it ages.
  • It seems like evaporation loss during boil is higher.
  • The batch is too small to take a hydrometer reading, unless you don't mind either losing 10-12% of your beer per sample or dumping the sample tube contents back into the rest of the beer (use great sanitizing processes!) So I invested in a refractometer.
  • It is not cost-efficient to use liquid yeast, so I am limited to dry yeasts (not that this is a problem for the basic styles that I have brewed or plan to brew in the near future).
  • Swings in indoor temperature affect a 1-gal. jug a lot quicker (probably due to lower thermal mass, and greater surface area/volume ratio).
  • Mixing small batches of Star-San requires a syringe.
  • I am not going to be kegging 1-gallon batches (although some people have been kegging in 1.5L mini-kegs).

Note: I bought 5-gal. equipment and propane burner this week, and have a larger kettle, and am considering brewing primarily 5-gal. batches due to the yield issue. The guys on Basic Brewing Radio/Video do a lot of experimentation using 1-gallon batches, so you may wish to check out their archives. Also check out this article they wrote in BYO magazine.

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Great list of pros and cons! Thanks! Considering I'm doing all-grain, I shouldn't have trouble finding well-sized recipes :) So there's no such thing as having a lesser quality product with smaller batches? –  Simon Lapointe Oct 31 '13 at 12:40
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I do all-grain 1-gallon batches, and I would not say that my product is of a lesser quality at all. –  object88 Oct 31 '13 at 16:13
    
I brew 2 gallon batches every once in a while (all-grain BIAB), sometimes as a small test batch or just to scratch the brewing itch. These often end up in a 5L keg, which fits in my fridge. I recommend the book "Beer Craft"; it's an intro-to-homebrewing type book but the recipes and techniques are for 1 gallon batches and small apartment brewing. amazon.com/Beer-Craft-Simple-Guide-Making/dp/1605291331 –  Galapagos Jim Oct 31 '13 at 20:43
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