Author Topic: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing  (Read 4132 times)

Offline kgs

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Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« on: September 27, 2011, 07:07:01 PM »
After briefly returning to extract brewing (and making a perfectly decent beer that way--hard to tell from the AG version), I have a hypothesis.

What makes my brew day easiest and most pleasant is sticking to small batches (2 - 3 gallons) of trustworthy all-grain recipes I can brew on the "power burner" of our range, especially recipes I've done before; using a checklist; being fully prepared for the brew day; and having enough "around the house" stuff to keep me multitasking but near the brewing action.

Extract brewing doesn't really save me time, assuming I have any grains to mash, because I'll go all perfectionist on that process.

I'm wagering the time saved in bringing half as much liquid to a boil (for mashing, sparging, and then boiling) and in cooling wort rapidly, plus the easier prep and cleanup of smaller equipment, is equal to or greater than the time saved by doing an extract batch. Plus if I'm going to brew bad beer, as does happen, I'd rather brew smaller batches of it.

I have my SP10, and when the weather's right it's very pleasant to brew out on the deck. But I've also had to drag in the wort and do a split boil when an unexpected wind kicked up. And above 3.5 gallons, I run into lifting issues that aren't easily addressed.

I had also forgotten about the magic cement-like properties of extract. I am still finding traces of it in my kitchen. And possibly on our cats.

It's all personal, and it's a hobby, but I think the LHBS that sells newbies 1-gallon AG batch kits is on to something.
K.G. Schneider
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Offline beersk

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2011, 09:16:08 PM »
I brew 3 gallon all grain batches on the stovetop, it's great.  Ferment in 5 gallon carboys, keg in cornies.  Simple, easy, clean, compact. 
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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2011, 09:46:13 PM »
I saw a think in BYO a few years back where Chris Colby made a counter top partial mash batch sparge cooler that would work really good for what you are talking about. Might need a slightly bigger cooler for a 2-3 gallon batch.

Regardless, do what gives you the most joy. For me the joy in homebrewing was right around 10 gallons. I personally felt that anything less than that was a waste of time and anything more than that was a PITA. Like you said, it's a hobby. If its no fun then there's no point.

Offline kgs

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2011, 10:15:28 PM »
I saw a think in BYO a few years back where Chris Colby made a counter top partial mash batch sparge cooler that would work really good for what you are talking about. Might need a slightly bigger cooler for a 2-3 gallon batch.

Regardless, do what gives you the most joy. For me the joy in homebrewing was right around 10 gallons. I personally felt that anything less than that was a waste of time and anything more than that was a PITA. Like you said, it's a hobby. If its no fun then there's no point.

Exactly--find what makes you happy. I have a 5-gallon mash tun and a 2-gallon (the latter left over from early partial-mash days). The 5-gallon is perfect for most 3-gallon batches, and it's not too big or awkward. I had to sneak in a little extract to get my barleywine to the right gravity, but other than that it holds the grain and doesn't lose heat. (The strainer is interchangeable -- 2- and 5-gallon coolers have the same outlets.) Like beersk, I ferment in 5-gallon carboys.

I still wonder about the logic of the typical homebrew learning curve. But not enough to keep me up at night  ;)
K.G. Schneider
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Offline euge

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2011, 10:36:37 PM »
I have had great success with concentrated extract boils. Sure you take a hit in utilization, but that is easily compensated by using a bit more hops. Then have a couple gallons of cold water ready for a top-up after you've chilled the gallon or two of wort in the sink.

Takes less time to bring to a boil and less to cool. This can be done in a couple of hours. Also starting the bittering additions at 45 instead of 60 helps shave off a few minutes.

I don't necessarily recommend this for really light beers but darker extract like amber works really well.
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Offline dmtaylor

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2011, 02:54:01 AM »
I brewed 3-gallon all-grain batches on the stovetop for years, and then recently reduced my standard batch size to 2.5 gallons because I found with 3-gallon batches I wasn't letting myself brew as often as I'd like.  2.5 gallons is enough volume for me, and the small batch size does make the day go faster and easier.  It would still be even faster and easier to do extract, but I'm just so rarely impressed at the quality and variety of extract beers that I can't help but stick with all-grain for maximum control over the recipe, especially considering fermentability.  And yeah, it's so easy to squirt out 2.5 gallons of all-grain, why screw up a good thing.

Of course, other efficiencies can also be gained to save time, such as by cutting mash time down to 40 minutes, cutting boil time back to 45 to 60 minutes, brewing in a bag and thereby skipping a sparge, etc.

In any case, I definitely agree that each brewer needs to do whatever he needs to do to make him happy.  If you've been making 5-gallon batches and following all the rules, but growing tired of it, or you're annoyed at certain parts of the process, ask yourself if there's something you could do different.  The end result will most likely be the same -- you'll still be making good beer.
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Offline kgs

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2011, 01:14:45 PM »
the other advantage to 2.5 gallons is the scaling. generally half a recipe :-)

going to small-batch brewing almost demands recipe software. but that's part of the joy for me as well. I like tinkering with the adjustments.
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Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2011, 03:08:43 PM »
I have had great success with concentrated extract boils. Sure you take a hit in utilization, but that is easily compensated by using a bit more hops. Then have a couple gallons of cold water ready for a top-up after you've chilled the gallon or two of wort in the sink.

Takes less time to bring to a boil and less to cool. This can be done in a couple of hours. Also starting the bittering additions at 45 instead of 60 helps shave off a few minutes.

I don't necessarily recommend this for really light beers but darker extract like amber works really well.

Say what you will about Alton Brown's brewing episode, his idea about doing a concentrated boil and adding to a bucket with 6 lbs of ice and a gallon of cold water is great. If you buy the ice at the store it is sterile (UV sterilization) and it chils your whole batch down more or less instantly. When I did all grain this is what I would do. You get a lot of cold break in the fermenter but that's not been a problem for me.

**EDIT** make that 'when I did extract' rather than 'All Grain'
« Last Edit: September 29, 2011, 04:43:46 AM by morticaixavier »
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Offline beersk

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2011, 10:07:35 PM »
I have had great success with concentrated extract boils. Sure you take a hit in utilization, but that is easily compensated by using a bit more hops. Then have a couple gallons of cold water ready for a top-up after you've chilled the gallon or two of wort in the sink.

Takes less time to bring to a boil and less to cool. This can be done in a couple of hours. Also starting the bittering additions at 45 instead of 60 helps shave off a few minutes.

I don't necessarily recommend this for really light beers but darker extract like amber works really well.

Say what you will about Alton Brown's brewing episode, his idea about doing a concentrated boil and adding to a bucket with 6 lbs of ice and a gallon of cold water is great. If you buy the ice at the store it is sterile (UV sterilization) and it chils your whole batch down more or less instantly. When I did all grain this is what I would do. You get a lot of cold break in the fermenter but that's not been a problem for me.

Really?  It is?  I wouldn't trust it.  And you have to consider the possibility of hot side aeration, if it exists.
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Jesse

Offline euge

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2011, 04:25:34 AM »
I recall a few years back we discussed AB's batch of beeron beer site X.  Didn't he boil some of the grains? Anyway someone tried to replicate it and said it wasn't half bad.

I don't know about HSA being a problem with a short extract batch. There shouldn't be any splashing until the beer is cooled.  AFAIK it really isn't a concern at our level and I usually don't keep beer longer than a couple months. So I wouldn't know about long term effects.
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Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2011, 04:44:34 AM »
I recall a few years back we discussed AB's batch of beeron beer site X.  Didn't he boil some of the grains? Anyway someone tried to replicate it and said it wasn't half bad.

I don't know about HSA being a problem with a short extract batch. There shouldn't be any splashing until the beer is cooled.  AFAIK it really isn't a concern at our level and I usually don't keep beer longer than a couple months. So I wouldn't know about long term effects.

No grain boiling that I remember. It was the first batch of beer I ever brewed as it happens.
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Offline euge

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2011, 05:27:22 AM »
Aaaand?
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

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Offline morticaixavier

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2011, 09:00:55 PM »
Aaaand?

and it was fine. nothing special. course at the time I was all smiling and giggling like a little girl 'I made beer hehehehehehehehe' probably got really drunk to. don't remember. Used the ice method for a couple of years and never got an infected batch.
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Offline euge

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #13 on: September 29, 2011, 10:50:05 PM »
Lol if you don't remember then it must have been good!
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman

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Offline James Lorden

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Re: Small-batch brewing versus extract brewing
« Reply #14 on: September 30, 2011, 03:49:37 PM »
I have done 10 gallon all-grain batches for years.  Lately I have been doing 5 gallon partial mash batches because of both time constraints and as a way to test out new ingredients and formulate new recipes that I don't feel like brewing 10 gallons of if I don't like them.  To the last point I have been thinking about going even smaller like 2.5 gallons and brewing a few batches of the same thing and only changing 1 or 2 variables in each one.

Still, I have more fun going big!  (when I have the time)
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