When I first started brewing beer at home, I was a five-gallon girl — much like most new homebrewers. It's just what you do. But there were drawbacks almost immediately. Brewing this much beer meant clearing out a precious coat closet for storing carboys and bottles, always having a buddy on hand to help lift the heavy (and hot!) pot on and off the stove, and drinking my way through a lot of beer — which might not seem like a bad thing at first, but can get tiresome if your beer proves less than stellar. Trust me.
And then I discovered one-gallon batches. Like a lightning strike to my brew pot, my life as a homebrewer was transformed overnight. Here's why I may never brew another five-gallon batch of beer again.
Fewer Upfront Expenses
The bill can quickly add up with five-gallon batches, not only in terms of buying grain and hops, but also when you start adding things like wort chillers, bigger pots, and fancier doodads to your brewing set-up. With one-gallon batches, you can start brewing with the pasta pot your mom gave you after college, a strainer, and an empty gallon-sized glass jug.
Shorter, Easier Brew Days
Heating and cooling happens so much faster when you're talking about one to two gallons of liquid as opposed to five gallons (or more) of it. Also, controlling all those little factors, like the heat of the mash and the strength of the boil, is much easier to manage on this small scale — not to mention things like lifting the pot of hot beer wort and transferring it to the fermentation bucket. When you scale down, the whole process becomes a lot more manageable and less stressful.
Go All-Grain Right Away
Beers made with all-grain recipes are what all the cool homebrewers are up to — brewing with wort extract makes tasty brews for sure, but you get so much more from all-grain; more flavor, better color, and better quality. But brewing five gallons of all-grain beer means investing in a bunch of new, expensive, and often quite bulky brewing equipment — a big detractor for new brewers and folks living in small apartments. By contrast, brewing one-gallon batches of all-grain beer is easy. Seriously easy. Easy enough that I've started recommending one-gallon all-grain batches to new brewers (even if their end goal is still five-gallon batches), and it's what we'll be learning to brew in The Kitchn's Beer School.
Better Quality, Better Tasting Homebrews
I noticed a significant improvement in my beers as soon as I started brewing one-gallon batches. Partly this was because I was now brewing all-grain, which just gives beer more complex and interesting flavors. But the small batch size also means much better control throughout the brewing process: easier to keep things sanitized, better temperature regulation of the mash, a full rolling boil during the hop additions, and quicker cool-down before pitching the yeast. This all leads to a better beer.
Freedom to Experiment
At first I was bummed that a one-gallon batch made only 10 or so bottles of beer. Sure, working my way through the 54 bottles from a five-gallon batch got tedious after a while, but 10 bottles just seemed skimpy. But when I realized how much easier it was to brew one-gallon batches, I also realized that meant I could brew a lot more often. Once I got into the rhythm of more frequent brewing, my fridge was just as full as before, but now I had many different kinds of homebrew to choose from. Let the brewing experiments begin! (Plus it's much easier to part with one gallon of failed homebrew than with five gallons.)
One More Point
I would also add that I am a lady of small stature, and brewing a five-gallon batch on my own was impossible. I love that I can brew and bottle a one-gallon batch on my own. I still like having company on a brew day, for sure, but it means a lot that I don't have to wait for my husband or a friend to be available for help lifting, pouring, and moving big buckets and jugs — especially when I was developing all the recipes for my brewing books, True Brews and Brew Better Beer!
Small Batches Can Be a Step to Bigger Batches
If five-gallon batches are your ultimate goal, I still think it's worthwhile to start with one-gallon batches. These one-gallon batches are a great stepping stone — they're more satisfying than brewing extract beers and they teach you all the fundamental steps you'll need to up your game to five-gallon batches. Also, it's easier to experiment with a one-gallon batch to get a beer where you like it, and then you can scale it up to five gallons with confidence in the result.
Will I really never brew another five-gallon batch? Okay, that might a bit extreme! But I definitely think one-gallon batches are where I'll be staying for quite some time.
What about you? Are you a one-gallon brewer? Do you think it's better to brew five gallons?
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(Image credits: Melissa Ryan; Henry Chen)