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After getting started with a few kits, I'd like to start experimenting a little bit. I'd like to start off with 1-gallon batches on anything I'm not sure about, though. I have a growler that I'm considering trying to fit an airlock into, and I've also seen some people mention using the 2-gallon fermenter from the Mr. Beer kit for small batches. Are there any other good options?

EDIT: You can buy the fermenter that comes with the Mr. Beer kit by itself for $15 (but it's on sale for $10 at the moment). Very tempting: http://www.mrbeer.com/product-exec/product_id/377

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The issue I have with the Mr. Beer fermenter is that it's not really airlocked or otherwise airtight. I KNOW - bubbles are not a sign of fermentation, but they do make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You won't get that with Mr. Beer. –  Ell Nov 15 '11 at 20:31
    
Is there more risk of contamination with a Mr. Beer fermenter? –  Jarett Millard Nov 18 '11 at 17:44
    
Mr Beer's fermenter has worked well for me--it's not ideal but I've never had an infected batch. It's approximately 2.5 gallons and has a spout which you can bottle from directly. Overall it's a decent, inexpensive option--however I use my 3 gallon carboys much more often. –  STW Nov 21 '11 at 20:10
    
@Ell and you could modify the Mr Beer fermenter to use an airlock. Personally I just place the whole kit inside a medium-sized cooler; which allows you to keep all light out and cool the fermenter using 20oz bottles of frozen water. It's quite effective. –  STW Nov 21 '11 at 20:12
    
@STW - I don't think you could modify it to use an airlock - it doesn't seal, which is why it doesn't use an airlock. I suppose if you found another lid which fits the hole precisely. The temp control is an interesting benefit I didn't think of... –  Ell Nov 28 '11 at 14:31

8 Answers 8

Most homebrew supply shops sell a two-gallon bucket, which is ideal for one-gallon batches. Midwest Supplies currently includes a drilled lid with grommet for the same price as other HBS charge for just the bucket. But I found that their silk-screened volume markings are sometimes off, so check them yourself.

For anything larger than one-gallon, I use a 4-gallon PET water bottle from Menard's (recycling symbol #1), which runs about $4-6, water included, with a medium, rubber universal carboy stopper. The drawback is that it doesn't fit on standard-height shelves with the airlock.

@baka's advice on 3-gallon Better Bottles is spot on, because the fermenter should fit on shelving units, is a nice form factor, and is the perfect size for either small batches or for splitting a 5-gallon batch.

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I use a 5 Litre PET water bottle which you can get in most supermarkets - I buy mine from an online source (http://www.brewuk.co.uk/store/containers/demi-johns/5-litre-pet-demi-john.html) but it's the same as water bottles. I put 4 litres in a use a whole packet of dry or wet yeast and always have a blow off. If you don't dry hop and are careful you can get 12 330ml bottles from it. It's not cheap but it's a pretty quick way of making beer.

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primo water stationGo to the grocery store and pick-up a 3 gallon Primo water bottle for about $8. Use the clean-tasting water in your brew, then put your normal carboy topper and airlock on it to ferment. Or you can buy a rubber stopper, drill it, and mod the blue cap that comes on the primo bottle to accept the stopper.

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Or, if you don't care to see bubbles, just put some aluminum foil over the top with a rubber band (you really don't need an air lock unless you get a charge off seeing bubbles). –  Dale Feb 22 '12 at 21:41
    
I advise against using the current Primo Water Bottle. You should only use plastic that has a resin identification code (the recycling symbol) of "1" or "2". "1" is PETE or PET, which is used in Better Bottles. "2" is HDPE, which is used in food-grade plastic buckets. Other resin identification codes are safe for neutral water, but wort is acidic; for example, most water bottles are "6" or "7". (continued...) –  Chino Brews Dec 18 '13 at 16:56
    
Primo switched to #7, which is "other". #1 and #2 plastics are deterined to be safe for food and beverage contact by the FDA. PET has the added advantage of being hydrophobic, so it cleans easily and actually repels water and water-containing substances (like krausen). #7 is a catchall designation, so you have no idea what you are getting. A few water bottles still use #1 plastic, including the 4-gallon ones available at Menard's. I use those for brewing with no problems, as a cheaper better bottle. –  Chino Brews Dec 18 '13 at 16:57
    
If Primo is allowed to sell water in that plastic, then I'd say its fine for any human consumable liquid! Primo wants the bottles back, so they wouldn't be motivated to make it easy to recycle them. They also say use for water only, but I think you could get away with Kool-Aid or Iced Tea. –  Dale Dec 28 '13 at 22:43
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That is a valid point. But I am considering that the pH of the Primo water is going to be 7, and the pH of finished beer will likely be less than 4.5 (fairly acidic). Also, I am not so sure that "allowed to sell" means all that much considering that the FDA takes a mostly hands-off approach on this. I found that the 4-gallon water bottle sold by Menard's is #1 PET, same as Better Bottle. I use these in in lieu of Better Bottles. –  Chino Brews Dec 29 '13 at 20:59

An option I've used for small ferments is Utz pretzel canisters. They're #1 PET plastic, have a wide mouth with a screw top, and are just over 1 gallon. Perfect for test batches. Just drill the lid for an airlock (or use plastic wrap over the mouth) and Bob's your uncle.

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I like this idea a lot because you'll have pretzels to eat with the beer. –  Jarett Millard Nov 18 '11 at 17:43

I'm currently using a 1 gallon jug (link below), and it's working great. Best of all, it was $5.

http://www.midwestsupplies.com/1-gallon-glass-jug.html

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That's actually just like a jug I already have. How much head space do you need to leave in it? –  Jarett Millard Nov 17 '11 at 19:43
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Depends on the brew, I guess. I currently have a ~8% batch going in there. I used a blow off for the first few days then put an airlock on there and I didn't have any problems. I started my wart with 1.5 gallons of water, and what went into the jug filled it to about 2 inches below the bottom of the handle. Plenty of space. –  Matthew Nov 17 '11 at 21:14
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I find I lose a lot of beer to blowoff in one-gallon jugs, and one gallon is my personal minimum threshold, so I have been using larger fermenters even for one-gallon batches. –  Chino Brews Dec 18 '13 at 16:59

I have one of the Speidel tanks.

http://www.homebrewfinds.com/2011/10/speidel-plastic-fermenters-from-more.html

The 12L Size would be great for small batches.

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I've got a 3 gallon better bottle that has worked nicely for a sour beer experiment. I also bought a few 1-gallon glass jugs for a mead experiment. The mead was fermented in a bucket, and then the various fruit and spice additions were added in secondary in the 1-gallon jugs.

I did find with the 3-gallon batch that it takes about as much effort to brew a small batch as a 5-10 gallon batch. It just takes longer to heat/chill the water/wort for the larger batch.

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If you want the finished batch size to be 1 gal. you'll need to start with a container larger than that. If that's not much of an issue, you could use a glass gal. jug from wine or apple juice. You can certainly make a 1 gal. batch in a 5 gal. fermenter, too, but due to the headspace you have to be more careful about air getting to it after fermentation is complete.

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I think even a one gallon ferment will generate ample Co2 to displace all the O2 even in a 5 gallon fermentor. So I am not sure headspace will really matter much in relation to oxidation. –  brewchez Nov 15 '11 at 2:56
    
The CO2 is heavier than air, so it should stay in a 5-gallon bucket as long as you don't open it. And a 1.060 OG wort will generate approximately 25x its volume in CO2 at standard temperature and pressure, so fermenter size is not initially relevant. But If you plan to open it and possibly mix in oxygen, then late-stage fermentation will not generate enough CO2 to fill a huge airspace, so you may want to keep less headspace and use a narrow-mouth fermenter. –  Chino Brews Dec 18 '13 at 17:02

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