Author Topic: Small batch brewing  (Read 9877 times)

Offline cmbrougham

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Small batch brewing
« on: October 23, 2013, 07:08:38 PM »
I've always done 5 gallon batches, and though I have a hankering to fill up every last nook and cranny of my house with brew, I don't think that's going to fly :) For both financial and familial reasons, I'm considering brewing half/smaller batches.

This also stems from my desire to experiment, lessening the possibility of creating a large amount of undrinkable stuff. What my plan is is to brew a couple 10 gallon batches of session ales that will be the house brews. The smaller batches will round out my desire to brew regularly, and yet be controllable; I work from home, so the idea of brewing a batch in the background at indoor-friendly sizes is appealing.

To that end, I'm trying to decide how to proceed. I'd considered building a smaller mash tun that would allow me to brew up to medium-high-gravity beer in 2.5-3 gallon sizes. I've already got a 7.5 gallon boil kettle that I've designed a few different filtering mechanisms for, and my range is a decently-powered LP model. I might need a couple smaller fermenters (or just use 5 gallon carboys for primary), but other than that, I'm set.

I've been out of the game for awhile, and so I became quite interested in the "brew-in-a-bag" technique that has taken off in recent years. Seems pretty easy, and really all I need is the bag. This makes a lot of sense to me--I could dough-in just before I take my kid to school, and be starting the boil shortly after I get back. By 10am, I'd be all wrapped up--not bad at all.

So, does anyone have any thoughts about small batch brewing? Anybody do this for experimental sessions or just a regular brew session? Is there a particular approach that yields the best results?

Thanks!

Offline grathan

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2013, 07:00:17 AM »
Are you gonna mash in a cooler then? If your planning on mashing in the brew pot, how will you maintain temperature while taking the kid to school? 


I am thinking of checking out the crock pot and plugging that into a controller for smaller batches this winter.

Offline cmbrougham

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2013, 07:50:02 AM »
That's what I'm trying to decide; the cooler-nee-mash tun will hold temps better, as-is, but then involves lautering and getting the wort into a kettle. However, I've watched some demonstrations online about BIAB using a pot/kettle, and many of the demos involved getting the mash water to temp in the kettle, doughing in, and then simply wrapping the kettle in some sort of insulator. When the mash is converted, you simply remove the grain bag and the insulator and start boiling. With a smaller amount of mash, I suppose I'd have to be conscious of the density of the mash compared to the volume of the container--I wish I understood thermodynamics better :)

I've also considered sort of a hybrid system: I'd get something like a 5-gallon beverage cooler, possibly outfit it with a valve, and then simply use the mashing bag inside the cooler. Then, I could simply drain from the cooler to the boil kettle, in what would more or less be a no-sparge technique. This would probably be the best all-around approach for what I want to do, with the only consideration being that I have at least one more vessel to clean :D

Offline Oginme

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2013, 07:57:19 AM »
My standard batch size is 2.5 gallons.  I can easily do it on the gas stove in the kitchen using BIAB technique with a batch sparge.  I have two boil pots, a 5-gal for the sparge and boil and a 3-gal for the mashing.  I start by bringing the 3-gal pot up to temperature with the appropriate amount of water and mashing in.  While the water is coming up to temperature, I preheat the gas oven on the lowest setting (warm) which is about 160 F.  After mashing in, I cover the mash kettle and put it in the oven.  Then I start heating the balance of the water in the 5-gal pot for the sparge.

The oven will hold the heat for quite some time.  I have found a one degree decrease at the higher mash temperatures (154F to 156F) and a 1 to maybe 2 degree increase at the very low end (148F).  A lot depends upon the size of the grain bill (total thermal mass). 

Once the mashing is done, I take the 3-gal pot out of the oven, slowly lift the bag into a colander after dunking it up and down a few times and allow it to drain for about 5 minutes with some pressure to squeeze out much of the free water.  Then I transfer it to the 170F sparge water in the 5-gal pot.  I allow it to soak in the 5-gal pot for about 20 minutes, which gives me the chance to check the gravity and volume of the first wort.   I repeat the removal from the 5-gal pot, drain, squeeze a bit more to get most of the water out and then put aside the grain for my goats.  I then check the volume and gravity of the 'second runnings', add the first wort to it and proceed to boil.

This method has consistently achieved between 86% to 86.5% efficiency over the last four batches (starting from when I got and set up my grain mill which allowed me to grind more consistently and a bit finer than my LHBS).  I've been pretty strict on taking the gravity and volume measurements to dial in BeerSmith.  After the first couple of batches, I have been just about spot on for both gravity and volume the last two times I followed this method.
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Offline MaltLicker

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2013, 08:07:37 AM »
I did much the same as Oginme, but without the bag.  I used a stacked pasta-strainer set of pots to mash grains, put them in oven, and then lautered with hot water manually.    It's great experience for learning the all-grain process, and being able to brew often and try different styles.   And it taught me the pitfalls in all-grain that really mattered to me so I could design the larger AG system that suited my priorities. 

Offline cmbrougham

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2013, 08:31:51 AM »
Thanks for the insight, guys!

Oginme: I like the sounds of what you're describing. With your two-pot technique--and realizing that the volumes will change a bit depending on grain bill--how much water are you mashing and "dip sparging" with? The BIAB techniques I'd read basically used the entire volume of water in one kettle, so I'm assuming you've developed some sort of hybrid mash profile that keeps the strike/mash water more in line with traditional mashing methods. Am I on the right track?

Those efficiencies are terrific, and much better than I get with my full-sized kit, so this sounds even better. With the mash in the oven, do you turn off the heat or leave it set low? I have firebrick that I've placed in my oven as a baking deck for pizza and bread, and so my guess would be that if I preheat with those bad boys in there, that will allow me to shut the oven off and retain a lot of heat as they slowly (and I mean slowly) cool.

I do have a spare small picnic-sized cooler lying around, so I may just end up using that (need to check with the boss--learned my lesson the hard way on such things ;)) for the mash step, but employ the sparge-and-boil kettle as you've done.

Cool on the goats! My first batch back after a long brewing hiatus used hops that came from a local farm where I get goat milk, and the yeast came from our local nanobrewery which is called Beards Brewery. As such, I'm calling the first batch Goat Beard Brew :P Sadly, I think an infection got into the batch; I'm in secondary right now, dry hopping, still slowly bubbling, and my gravity is about 1.004 down from a 1.051 OG--and I mashed high and used a fair bit of crystal. It definitely has a boozy kick. No funk growing on top and the beer is clearing, but fermentation took almost 48 hours to kick off and the slowly proceeded for a solid 5 days beyond that. I dunno--maybe the yeast were just extra hungry!

Thanks again, guys.

Offline Oginme

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #6 on: October 24, 2013, 09:10:21 AM »
I should have been more clear on the use of the oven.  I preheat it and then turn it off.  If I left it on, the temperature would gradually equalize at the warming temperature of the oven.

As far as the water volumes, I treat the equipment profile as a single infusion with batch sparge at 1.5 qt of water per lb of grain.  This sets the water volumes.  I turn the 'adjust temperature for equipment' off, because the pots are already being raised to the water temperature.  Once I reach temperature, I turn the heat off and take the lid off the pot and stir it well to make sure the temperature is stable.  By the time I get the bag in and the grains ready, the water temperature is down by about a degree or so, which pretty much accounts for the thermal capacity of the pot.

I didn't really try for such high efficiency, I really wanted to get it consistent.  Previous to adopting this technique and obtaining a grain mill, my efficiency ranged from 63% to 78% which drove me nuts.  Because I do a BIAB, I can do a bit finer crush on the grains, which helps the efficiency.  My mill is a corona type, which I have modified.  By conditioning the grains with a light spray of water and storing in the refrigerator overnight, I get a good crush with mostly intact hulls, fractured but not fine pieces. 

The goats are great therapy.  They keep me grounded with a set routine and milking time is a great time for meditation and thinking.  If I step out of line they let me know it.  They have me trained well.  And they love the spent grain and hops when I bring them out.  Recycling at it's finest!

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Offline cmbrougham

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #7 on: October 24, 2013, 09:19:58 AM »
Excellent, and thank you--I appreciate the added information. I see some small batches in my near future!

Offline durrettd

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #8 on: October 24, 2013, 11:58:45 AM »
In addition to the excellent ideas described by others, consider Denny Conn's system at dennybrew.com.

Offline cmbrougham

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #9 on: October 24, 2013, 01:58:05 PM »
Thanks! My current system is pretty much identical, though my cooler MLT uses a custom-made manifold and I fly sparge. Made many a good brew back in the day, and my setup is fairly simple, but I'm looking to simplify and streamline even more.

Offline Scott Ickes

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2013, 10:33:12 PM »
I use two 48 quart coolers for MLT's.  I use one if I'm doing a 5 gallon batch.  I use both if I'm doing really high gravity or 10+ batches. 

I tried once using a smaller cooler that was about 2-gallon to do a small mash.  Basically, I did a huge RIS in my 48 quart cooler and a smaller mash of similar grains in the small one.  I used everything out of the 48 quart cooler for my RIS.  I then poured the contents of the smaller cooler that had finished mashing on top of the spent grains from my RIS so that I could make a 1.048 dry stout with the second runnings.  I don't like adding DME to up my gravity when I parti-gyle, so I basically either cap my spent grains and remash or I do what I did that one time with the smaller cooler to save some time, since I'm mashing both simultaneously.

The problem I ran into was that I couldn't hold my mash temp in the smaller cooler.  I had to keep adding hot water to it to keep it up.  The smaller volume of grain and water just wouldn't hold enough heat in to keep my temperature where I wanted it.  It seemed to be losing about 3-4F every 15 minutes.  The dry stout turned out ok in the long run, but I was constantly tending to it!  It wasn't very enjoyable.  I've decided that from now on, based on that experience, that I'll stay away from small coolers.
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Offline cmbrougham

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2013, 07:20:30 PM »
Today, I did my first small batch and my first BIAB. It's a fairly straightforward brown ale, 2.5 gallon batch, following the mashing technique that was outlined by Oginme. I've got to say--I'm hooked. I've got a few things to tweak yet, but this was easily my best, most enjoyable brew day yet since my recent return to the sport.

My volumes were good, though I missed my target OG by about 6 points--I'm not going to get too tweaked about that, since this was a new technique, and I might have been a bit overzealous in my estimates of my efficiencies. That said, I hit about 75%, which is better than I've been doing previously with my more traditional technique. I'll either blame it on mash temps, which might have been a bit off, or the fact that I'm used pre-crushed malt, rather than milling myself. I'll be I could easily eke out another 5-8% simply by remilling--I'll do that next time.

I did learn something about my full batch brewery--I boil too hard! My full batch brewery is based around a converted keggle, even though I've only done 5 gallon batches to date. To boil those, I use a propane burner (turkey fryer) outside. I did this batch inside on my gas range, which is decent, but is nowhere near the rocking boils I can achieve with the turkey fryer. I suspect I've been boiling off way too much, combined with not being very exact with my water measurements (I actually weighed the water today and came in exactly where I wanted to be), as my last two 5 gallon batches were more like 4 gallon batches. This is a good lesson that I'll be able to apply to full sized batches going forward--though it's way nicer brewing indoors during the Michigan winter!

I did photo-document the entire process (my next one, I'd like to do with video--I do video production for a living). Would it be of interest to anyone to see a rough step-by-step with photos, presented as either a document or a simple video? I've watched a lot of brewing videos since I've been back to homebrewing--YouTube was just a baby when I was brewing last!--and I've been appalled by the quality of most videos. It's an occupational hazard, infringing on my "me" time :)

Thanks to all who offered their insights in this thread. I'm looking forward to many more brews this way!

Offline Mtnmangh

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2013, 07:26:27 PM »
I'd be interested to see the step by step pics.  Sounds kinda interesting to me. 
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Offline cmbrougham

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #13 on: November 13, 2013, 07:46:41 PM »
Cool, I'll work it up. I think I took about 50-60 pics  :o

Offline Slurk

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Re: Small batch brewing
« Reply #14 on: November 14, 2013, 01:52:40 AM »
Would it be of interest to anyone to see a rough step-by-step with photos, presented as either a document or a simple video?

Yes, please! I would be interested to see your approach, equipment etc. by either photo or video :)
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