Maybe you have been small batch brewing for awhile, or perhaps you are just getting started, either way, you will benefit from these 10 tips for making small batch brewing easier! In this article, I would like to share some tips that I wish I had known earlier in my homebrewing career!
1. Keep the Kitchen Clean
I know this tip sounds simple and silly, but this will not only lead to cleaner brew days but will also decrease stress and make family, friends, or roommates happier. If during and after brew days, the kitchen is the cleanest they’ve seen it and years, they’ll want you to brew all the time! If you can make your friends and family enjoy the hobby almost as much as you do, it’ll be much easier to continue!
Keeping the area clean will also significantly decrease risk of contamination and keep you organized throughout your brew day.
I highly recommend cleaning off stovetop as soon as possible when any wort spills on it (say, from a boil-over). This wort, when exposed to heat, will caramelize very quickly and will be much harder to remove later on.
2. The Ice Bath
There is nothing more simple and effective than an ice bath when cooling small batches. There is no reason to mess with immersion chillers or plate chillers and have to worry about cleaning them afterwards.
However, it is very important to make sure that you have enough ice. I have found that ice packs are not very effective. I like to get either two smaller bags of ice or one larger bag of ice from the gas station for a 1-2 gallon batch.
3. Star-San in a Spray Bottle
Keeping Star-San or similar acid-based sanitizer in a spray bottle is a must-do for any homebrewer. There are going to be multiple occasions on either brew day or bottling/packaging day that you need to quickly sanitize an item.
Having a spray bottle full of sanitizer makes this a breeze. For example, simply spray your yeast packet and scissors prior to pitching yeast, these are items that you don’t need to soak in sanitizer.
4. Establish Relationship with Local Homebrew Shop Staff
If you are lucky enough to have a homebrew shop in your area, I would highly recommend establishing a good relationship with them early on. The relationship I have established with the local homebrew shop owner has been invaluable to my brewing experience.
Especially when starting out, knowledgable homebrew staff can help you go through your recipe, make sure you have calculated everything correctly, and find replacements for any grain/hops they may not carry.
I have learned a great deal from talking with my local homebrew shop owner, and I believe you will too!
They can often share resources for taking your brew game to the next level, which brings me to the next tip.
5. Join Local Homebrew Club
For Pete’s sake, join your local homebrew club!
I definitely understand wanting to only brew for yourself and your friends. However, I have to say that joining your local homebrew club will increase your brewing knowledge and skill exponentially.
You will be discussing homebrewing methods with folks who have been brewing since our man, Jimmy Carter, made it legal!
Our local homebrew club does monthly competitions in which everybody brews the same BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style, and we go through and do a single-blind tasting of the style. All participants are blind to who brewed each beer until the very end. This leads to very healthy and constructive conversations about the beers, especially as people pick things up so differently on their individual palettes.
6. Get a Digital Scale
Getting an accurate and precise digital scale is a fairly inexpensive way to increase your quality control while brewing.
While brewing small batches, your hop additions are often only 0.1-0.2oz of hops at a time. These small weights are very hard to accurately measure without a precise scale.
An adequate scale can be had for less than $15, such as this one here.
I have found that with cheaper scales (like the one I started with), they don’t like to measure small weights as precisely starting from zero. What I mean by this is that small changes in weight are detected less sensitively by the scale when it has been tared to zero vs. when there is, say, 1oz already on the scale.
How I get around the above issue is by not taring (zeroing) the scale after placing the measuring glass on it. Then add your hops, grain, sugar, etc. to the measuring glass and do some simple math.
7. Get the Correct Size Colander
This one seems too simple, but it makes a huge difference!
During small batch BIAB (brew in a bag) brewing, a colander is used during the sparging process. If the colander is not the correct size, when a heavy bag of wet grain is placed inside, it can (and WILL) fall into the sticky wort.
This is a frustrating situation for both the brewer and whoever else lives with them due to the sticky mess that this creates.
Do yourself a favor and measure your kettle diameter and get a colander that fits like a glove with your kettle. There are a great variety of colander sizes available these days, this is the one that I found to fit perfectly in my kettle.
Spend the money on the right size colander right off the bat, and you will be happy you did!
This is another tip that will save you and your roommates, wife, husband, parents, etc. a significant of frustration with brewing messes!
FermCap-S has two main purposes. The first is reducing the risk of boilovers during the brewing process. Boil-overs are especially an issue with extract brewing, but they can still happen with all-grain brewing. The second purpose is to reduce krausen formation during fermentation, and thus, reducing the chance of airlocks clogging.
How Does FermCap-S Work?
FermCap-S is a silicone based liquid that works by reducing surface tension. It is very similar to an over-the-counter medication many of us are familiar with: Gas-X (simethicone) which helps to reduce bloating. FermCap naturally drops out during fermentation, and actually increases head retention!
9. Extract Batches Generally Come Out Darker than Predicted
This is a fact that I wish I would’ve known sooner.
I remember trying to brew my first blonde stout. Everything looked good according to my lovibond (measure of color during brewing) calculations, but for some reason, the beer came out looking like a dirty blonde stout, meaning much darker than I predicted!
I went back through my process to try to figure out at what point things might have gone wrong.
This brings us back to tip #4, while talking to my local homebrew shop owner, I learned that extract batches generally come out darker than predicted.
This occurs due to two main reasons.
The first being that malt extract can become darker over time, due to oxidation and heat-exposure. To counteract this, try to use the freshest extract that you can! Dry malt extract (DME) generally suffers from these issues less than liquid malt extract (LME).
The second reason is from caramelization or scorching of the extract in the boil kettle. If the malt extract comes into contact with the hotter parts of the kettle, ie the bottom of the kettle, it can become scorched or caramelized. To counteract this, always remove the kettle from the heat source prior to adding malt extract. You can also space out your extract additions, and instead add some additions later on, ie with 15 minutes left in the boil vs all at 60 minutes.
Even when you do everything right, I have still found that extract batches come out darker that predicted. Account for this when doing your recipe calculations, and as long as the flavor profile sees fit, for example substitute some pilsen light extract instead of golden light to bring lovibond down.
10. READ READ READ
They say save the best for last, right?
This tip I think has done more for my brewing game than any of the other tips on this list.
The year that I won homebrewer of the year with my local club, I read a book on each of the twelve styles while developing the respective recipe. There is currently so much great literature on brewing history, methodology, and recipe development. For most of the styles out there, there is a book dedicated to teaching you about the aforementioned parts of that specific beer.
While reading, you will likely not fully understand a given part of the brewing method right away. However, after repeated exposure to the method, especially as it is expressed in different ways by a variety of authors, things will start to become very clear!
I cannot recommend reading as much as you can on this wonderful topic!
Thank you very much for your time in reading this article! If there is anything that you think I missed, or tips that you have, please feel free to let me know!
I will do my best to continue to get quality content on the brewing process out to you all on regular basis!
I would also like to throw down a special shoutout to my favorite homebrew shop owner, Adam Harrington of High Altitude Homebrew Supply! As stated above, he has increased my brewing knowledge more than any other person out there! Thank you very much for what you do, sir!