When I first started brewing beer at home, I was a 5-gallon girl — much like most new homebrewers. It's just what you do. But there were drawbacks almost immediately. Brewing this much beer at once 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 may 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 1-gallon batches. Like a lightning strike to my brew pot, my life as a homebrewer was transformed overnight, and I ultimately developed all the recipes in my new book True Brews to be 1 gallon or less. Here's why I may never brew another 5-gallon batch of beer again.
1. Less Overhead: The bill can quickly add up with 5-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 do-dads to your brewing set-up. With 1-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.
2. Go All-Grain Right Away: All-grain homebrews are what all the cool kids are up to. But 5-gallons of all-grain mean investing in a bunch of new and often quite large brewing equipment — a big detractor for new brewers and folks living in small apartments. By contrast, brewing 1-gallon batches of all-grain beer is easy. Seriously easy. Easy enough that I've started recommending 1-gallon all-grain batches to new brewers even if their end goal is still 5-gallon batches.
3. Shorter Brew Sessions: Heating and cooling happens so much faster when you're talking about 1 to 2 gallons of liquid as opposed to 5 gallons (or more) of it. Brew on a weeknight? Oh yes!
4. Better Beer: I noticed a significant improvement in my beers as soon as I started brewing 1-gallon batches. Partly this was because I was now brewing all-grain — brewing with wort extract makes tasty brews for sure, but I think you get so much more from all-grain. Also, the small batch size 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 better.
5. Freedom to Experiment: At first I was bummed that a 1-gallon batch made only 10 or so bottles of beer. Sure, working my way through the 54 bottles from a 5-gallon batch got tedious after a while, but 10 bottles just seemed skimpy. But when I realized how much easier it was to brew 1-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 more kinds of homebrew to choose from. Let the brewing experiments begin! (Plus it's much easier to part with 1 gallon of failed homebrew than with 5 gallons.)
One More Point: I would also add that I am a lady of small stature, and brewing a 5-gallon batch on my own was impossible. I love that I can brew and bottle a 1-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 True Brews!
If 5-gallon batches are your ultimate goal, I still think it's worthwhile to start with 1-gallon batches. These 1-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 5-gallon batches. Also, it's easier to experiment with a 1-gallon batch to get a beer where you like it, and then you can scale it up to 5-gallons with confidence in the result.
Will I really never brew another 5-gallon batch? Ok, that might a bit extreme! But I definitely think 1-gallons are where I'll be staying for quite some time.
What about you? Are you a 1-gallon brewer? Do you think it's better to brew 5 gallons?
→ True Brews is out now! Find Emma's book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home by Emma Christensen
→ Read more about True Brews at Emma's personal blog: emmaelizabethchristensen. blogspot.com
(Top image: Paige Green for Ten Speed Press/True Brews; Bottom image: Emma Christensen)