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I'd like to try homebrewing, and I've read a great deal about the process, but I will have more time than money (I'm about to graduate from college).

It seems like most people buy a lot of equipment and then start with 5-gallon extract kits. The reasoning behind this seems to be that extract kits are easier and take less time to brew (and have fewer opportunities to make mistakes), and most recipes are calibrated for 5-gallon batches.

However, I've also read that it's perfectly possible to brew smaller quantities. For me, this would be cheaper (I don't have to buy a huge kettle or propane burner, and I can ferment in wine or apple juice jugs), and when I inevitably screw something up I don't have to drink two cases of bad beer. Also, I can try more different things at once (since one-gallon fermenters are smaller and cheaper).

And it seems that buying grain is much cheaper than buying extract, while the BIAB process makes mashing relatively easy.

Does this sound manageable for a first-time brewer, or are there good reasons why everyone seems to start with $100+ worth of equipment and a five-gallon extract kit?

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5 Answers

if you are on a budget and you don't want to buy a ton of equipment for something you don't know if you will like or not then I suggest checking out the Brooklyn Brew Shop (http://brooklynbrewshop.com/). The make a 1 gallon kit with all equipment necessary to brew a batch and it is designed for people on a budget and people who don't have a ton of space, or for people who just want to try it. They sell the equipment kit and whole bunch of recipes for it. for $40 you get the equipment and you first recipe kit and recipes are just $15. You should already have a brew pot big enough to boil 1 gallon of wort.

And, after you try it and realize you like it, you haven't invested a lot of money into equipment you wont use again because the 1 gallon 'carboy' fermenter would be well suited to using to make yeast starters in the future.

Edit: Sorry, realized I only addressed the budget part of the question, not the BIAB part. I don't see why you couldn't scale any recipe down from 5 or 10 gallons to do a 1 gallon batch for brew in a bag.

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I actually just picked up one of the BBS kits this weekend, and I'm going to BIAB sometime this week. As far as I can tell, all I need to do is put the grains in a bag and then drop that bag into five quarts of water. Mash for about an hour at 152, remove the bag, then boil as directed. Certainly seems easy enough, hopefully everything works out. –  TMN Jul 23 '12 at 17:03
    
I knew I'd seen one-gallon kits somewhere ! I might check my local homebrew shop for the ingredients, though, since shipping seems a bit steep. –  user505255 Jul 24 '12 at 3:29
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Oh, forgot to put it in my answer, Whole Foods sells these kits and ingredient kits (at least they do in Boston). If you have a local Whole Foods I would check it out. Or check out the locator to find stores that sell it here: brooklynbrewshop.com/locator –  tomcocca Jul 24 '12 at 12:03
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This sounds perfectly manageable to me. BIAB is especially easy with small batch sizes.

However, keep in mind that there's nothing magical about 5 gallons. Sure, you get two cases of beer in return, but you can scale any 5 gallon recipe to a 1 gallon recipe by simply dividing all ingredients by 5.

I would suggest you get your feet wet with a 1 gallon extract and steeping grains batch. This would be faster and easier than BIAB, and it would be a great way to try out brewing. At this scale, the cost difference between extract and grain is pretty low (remember: 1 pound of grain has less sugars than 1 pound of extract). If you like brewing, BIAB would only be a bag away, and you could start this on your very next batch.

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This is a good idea - I might as well make sure I can get the extract batch right first, and I can probably buy extract in any quantity at my local homebrew shop. –  user505255 Jul 24 '12 at 3:31
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Brew in a bag is perfectly manageable for a first time brewer. It's pretty straightforward, and if you already have the equipment for a small batch that's perfect.

I started with a 5 gallon kit and then wondered why, once I discovered brew in a bag.

There are a couple of things to watch out for though, because in my experience if the batch is too small it becomes difficult to control.

Bear in mind that a lot of water is lost in the brew process. It evaporates off during the boil, is soaked up by the grains, and also by the trub (hop and yeast debris in the fermenter). For some reason these losses, especially to evaporation, seem to be exaggerated in small brews.

To end up with 1 gallon of beer you may need to start with 1.5, or more. I once tried to make a 3 litre batch (0.8 gallons), but bottled just 1 pint. If you stop the boil from getting too vigorous that should help.

Also, small differences in quantity of ingredients have a bigger percentage effect on the flavour than they would in a bigger brew.

To match a particular recipe, or brew a successful beer again, you'll need some fairly accurate scales.

Good luck!

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Thanks - I had not considered the extra-water issue. I had seen that there might be issues with hop utilization, but it seemed to be the opposite problem - hop utilization increasing as batch size decreased. –  user505255 Jul 24 '12 at 3:28
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When I started I did a bunch of 3 gallon batches for the same reasons you mention. Now I have transitioned into 5 gallon batches and 2 gallon batches.

I tried 1 gallon batches but its far to little beer, and way too hard to control the final amount of liquid obtained, as well as measure everything in such small amounts. I also enjoy tasting the beer after 3 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, etc. And see how it ages and changes. There is not enough beer in a 1 gallon batch to really do this to much. These are the reasons I moved to 2 gallon batches.

I would recommend doing 2 gallons at a time for the reasons I mentioned above.


Heres what I would recommend equipment wise and why.

Buy an 8 gallon stainless brew pot. This will allow you to do an occasional 5 gallon batch should you like a recipe, as well as when you are ready to move up you will already have it, it still works great for 2 gallons (not for 1 though, its too wide). This will be the most expensive thing you have to get.

Buy the biggest, strongest BIAB bag you can find. I like the ones from austin homebrew but there are many others. 1 large bag is enough for 15lbs of grain so again it will work for your 2 gallon batch or a 5 gallon batch.

Get a small ice chest. This is where I modified my BIAB routine. I still keep the grains in the bag but I mash inside a small ice chest because it keeps the heat for a full hour. The taller ones work best for small batches, and its nice to have the whole to drain out of into your pot. You probably already have this.

You will need something to ferment in. The best way to get 1 gallon glass jars is buying sangria at your local grocery store. I can usually get a gallon of it in a glass jar for $9. A 1 gallon empty from the brew store is $6. You will want 2-3 of them. (The third is just in case you overshoot your quantity a little, or want to ferment multiple batches)

you will also want an auto siphon, funnel, stir stick, 3 piece air locks and stoppers (6.5 size fits those 1 gallon jugs, if I remember right). Then 1 or 2 liter/20 oz soda bottles make great cheap bottling items. All of these items are needed for any size batch.

It sounds like a bit of equipment but you may already have some, and it should be fairly inexpensive to get them all.


Some other tips for such small batches.

  1. Boil 3 gallons of water in your pot for an hour on the same stove you are going to use. How much water did you lose? I need to start with 3 gallons to end up with something like 1.8 gallons after mashing and boiling.

  2. Do you have a scale to measure your hops? At such small amounts slight mis measures make a larger difference.

  3. 1 gallon batches is VERY hard to get the same amount of water at the end of boil. How vigorous you boiled makes a much bigger difference is such a small amount of wort. This is the biggest reason why I moved up to 2 gallons.

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Thanks for this - the funny thing is, I live next to a church and they often put their wine jugs in our recycling bin, so 1-gallon jugs are pretty easy to get for me. I was going to ask about maintaining the mash temp as well. I'll probably accept this answer. ...I was thinking about using IKEA curtains for a grain bag too, but the Austin Homebrew ones look pretty cheap, so that could save me a trip (and some sewing). anyway, thanks for this excellent answer. –  user505255 Jul 25 '12 at 3:52
    
also, just checked prices on 8-gallon brew kettles - wow. Over $100 for a plain steel pot, that's kind of crazy. Maybe I can find one at a thrift store or something... –  user505255 Jul 25 '12 at 3:58
    
I got one of mine from a local Asian food restaurant that was closing down. It was a 12 gallon commercial grade stainless steel thick pot, for only 30 bucks. People are always putting them on craigslist as turkey frying pots. –  corymathews Jul 25 '12 at 13:07
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Your brew kettle doesn't have to be stainless, aluminium works just as well and is often cheaper. See if you have a restaurant supply store in your area. You can also use paint strainer bags for a grain bag ($3 for 3 bags at a home center). –  TMN Jul 25 '12 at 16:54
    
+1 for aluminum pots. You can get a 10 gal. (38 L) aluminum stockpot for as little as US$33 on Amazon as of today (US$18 for the lid). –  Chino Brews Nov 22 '13 at 15:42
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Brooklyn Brew Shop is a cool startup company that exclusively sells 1 gallon all-grain kits. They are basically BIAB, though they use a strainer in their demo video because it's not a lot of grain. They are very popular and the company is doing well. They have some great videos on their site showing the process. The equipment included is a one gallon glass jug, a screw top topper and airlock, tubing, clamps, racking cane and sanitizer. You can get all this stuff from any online homebrew store and most local shops as well. The ingredients include milled grains, hops, dry yeast and sometimes extras (spices). The kits with equipment are $40 and ingredient kits are $15. You would still need a 2-3 gallon pot. Again, their instructions have you use a metal strainer for sparging, though you could easily do this with a mesh grain bag (or skip the sparge). You may be better off buying hops and yeast locally, they will be refrigerated and likely more fresh.

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