The Beginner Brewer: Experimenting with Small-Batch Brewing: Equipment

Monday, 22 July 2013

Experimenting with Small-Batch Brewing: Equipment

If there is one aspect of homebrewing that is less than ideal, it's the time factor. As in the time it takes to brew a full batch of beer. Since it can often take four to five hours, brewing is for most of us, a weekend hobby. But what if you don't have the time? Or, you want to brew more frequently, and so would like to get your brew on during the week?
Pictured: What most homebrewers don't have enough of

Small-batch brewing is the answer. I like to think of small batch brewing as experimental: it's quick and small enough to allow you to experiment (even wildly) without too much risk if things go wrong. While you might think twice about sticking those lavender stalks into your 19 liter batch in case it goes south, doing so with a 3 liter batch seems a far safer bet!

Another advantage of small-batch experimentation is that it allows you to brew several quick batches with slight variations to really get to grips with your ingredients and brewing skills. And you might recall from previous posts, that brewing the same recipe, but with small tweaks, is one of the ways to rapidly improve your homebrewing kung-fu.

Small-batch brewing is also relatively light on equipment needs, but there are a few odds and ends that will make brewing small batches of beer far easier, so here they are:

The Brew Kettle

Small-batch brewing is stove-top brewing, and since your average batch size is around 3-5 liters (that's a six-pack of 500ml bottles), your brew pot needn't be that big. 

If you've got a stock pot in the kitchen that is between 5-10 liters capacity, you're golden.

The Fermenter

Again, since your batch sizes are so much tinier, you can get really creative with fermenters. 5 Litre plastic buckets are good for 3-4 liter batches; Really big glass jars, or 9 liter corny kegs are also viable alternatives. 

As long as it's food grade and can be sealed with a stopper and an airlock, you can use it!

A Good Scale

This is not the scale you're looking for
You're going to be working with tiny quantities of ingredients when brewing small batches of beer. That means you'll need an accurate, reliable way of measuring those ingredients. 

So, if you haven't yet invested in a good electronic scale, now is the time to get one.

Second prize is a scale that is sensitive to 1 gram. 

First prize is one that can measure in increments/fractions of a gram, similar to those used by certain entrepreneurs in the informal pharmaceutical industry..

Nice-To-Have: Refractometer

only homebrew Jedis
 can construct their own..
There is one distinct disadvantage to small-batch brewing: Measuring the specific gravity of your brew with a hydrometer becomes difficult and potentially counterproductive if you're sampling 50-100 mls of beer from a 3 liter batch. 

That's a significant portion of your total batch size, especially after 2-3 samples! 

And not measuring is not an option. The alternative? Invest in a refractometer. This nifty device (that looks sort of like a light saber, don't you think?) can measure the gravity of your beer with minute samples (a few drops actually). 

Now if that doesn't make your beer geek heart skip a beat, you're a little dead inside.

Next Time: We'll be looking at some small-batch recipes that are guaranteed to make your experiments with beer all the more exciting and satisfying. Until then!


{Picture credit: Time by Toni Verdu}
{Picture credit: Scale by Alex Proimos}
{Picture credit: Refractometer by Pawtucket Patriot}


  1. What do you do for a small mash tun? BIAB?

    1. Hi Kevin! Thanks for the question. For full-grain, I'd recommend either a BIAB method, or you can use a standard kitchen colander and spoon the mash into the colander and then sparge--this latter method may need some experimenting, since not all colanders are created equal. Hope that helps!

  2. I have found that using a little cotton brew bag is ideal for this - keeps all the grains together and allows for a simple sparge with a colander.

  3. Hi there, sorry if this is a silly question, but how do you calculate a small batch recipe? Are there formulas you use that take gravities etc. into account or can I just plainly divide all the ingredients of a normal 23L recipe down to a small batch size?
    I can't wait to try small batch brewing, this will make experimenting so much easier!

    1. Hi Natascha. Thanks for the question! An easy way to calculate smaller batch recipes is to multiply the original recipe ingredient by the new, smaller size, and then divide by the original recipe total volume. So, if the 19 liter recipe called for 28g of hops, then to convert it for a 5 liter recipe, you'd do the following: 28 x 5 / 19 = 7.4g. Hope that helps!


What's on your mind?