Three Gallon Batch Process

Brewing small batches has its advantages – it’s quick (I can normally knock out a batch in about 3 hours flat), it’s great for experimenting and not worrying about wasting too much time/resources if things don’t turn out well (most of my early sours were small batches), and it’s more manageable for brewing indoors for me at least. Here’s my standard process for making a 3-gallon batch.

Recipe Design

Using brewing software I usually design the recipe for slightly higher volume (3.5 gallons) but with target gravity IBU/color/OG that I want. I’ll lose about 1/2 gallon to trub and i’ll be diluting the wort slightly with ice (more on this later).

Mash

I use the brew-in-a-bag method in a 4 gallon stock pot. Mash-in like normal, usually around 1.5 to 1.75 qt/lb, calculating such that you’ll have around 3 gallons of pre-boil wort. I realize this seems low for a 3-gallon batch, but hear me out.  Rest the mash for however long you want – around 45 minutes works for me. I usually don’t do step mashes; it’s more work and I’m usually focused on speed for small batches. Mash-out if desired, making sure to consistently stir while you heat since there’s no pump for recirculation. The mash near the base of the pot will get significantly hotter than the surface otherwise.

Sparge

Lift the grain bag out of the pot and then use a pasta strainer to hold up the bag over the pot and let it finish draining. I have a nice metal one with the handles of the strainer wide enough such that it’ll just rest on the edges of the pot, suspended above the hot wort. To sparge, I’ll either pre-heat some water in a side pot, or, if you’re super lazy like me, use an electric tea kettle to heat up water in small batches and then drizzle it over the suspended grain bag, making sure to wet all parts of the bag evenly. It’s super effective, and I usually get pretty good efficiency in the 75% range. The tea kettle only holds about 1.5 liters, so i usually do two rounds of water to get my pre-boil volume up to about 3 gallons. The tea kettle is design to boil the water, so just watch it witha thermometer until it gets to 170F and then you’re good. While you’re sparging, start bringing the wort to a boil.

Boil

Boil like you normally would, just watch closely for boil-over.

Chilling

I don’t have a good way to use a wort chiller indoors on my kitchen sink, so I use a less-than-ideal but still very practical way of chilling down to pitching temperature. Ice. Just dump as much ice as your freezer can hold directly into the hot wort. Yes, this will dilute the wort, and yes you’re adding unsterilized water to the batch. Don’t worry – it turns out great every time.

The amount of ice you add will affect how low the temperature gets. Mine usually only gets down to around 110F to 120F. At this point, if it’s cold outside, I’ll sit the kettle outside (covered) until the next morning and it’ll usually be around 60F. Or, if you have room in a refrigerator, that’ll work too.

After the wort chilled to pitching temperature, use a funnel to pour it straight from the pot into your fermentor. I use regular 5 gallon glass carboys. There will be a good layer of trub that has settled to the bottom of the kettle – it’s up to you whether you transfer this to the fermentor, but I usually stop pouring as soon as i hit the trub and discard the rest. You do lose about 1/2 gallon or wort, so be sure to factor that into your water volumes.

Yeast

I usually don’t make a starter since the volume of wort is less. That being said I usually feel way more confident about the fermentation quality if I use a starter, regardless of whether it truly makes a difference in flavor. If it’s a stronger beer (>1060) I’ll make one regardless.

Summary

This all may seem a little hacky, but it’s easy and effective. It took me a couple batches to hit my numbers, so don’t be discouraged if you go through this and wind up with only 2.5 gallons rather than 3, or 1045 wort instead of 1050. Just adjust accordingly for the next batch and it’ll work out fine. Good luck!

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2 Comments

Filed under All-grain, Process, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Three Gallon Batch Process

  1. Daniel Eng

    Alex
    This is an absolutely fantastic write-up, I really appreciate it!

    For my 3 gallon batches I’ve currently been using a 5-gallon Home Depot cooler for mashing and batch sparging. I haven’t done BIAB yet, but maybe something to consider. My efficiencies have not been great when compared to the more traditional 5.5gallon recipes everyone seems to adore. (question below…).

    Boiling is just as you described, not much to comment on there.

    So cooling…..I’ve typically just done this in the sink adding cooler water as needed. I love the idea of ice, and I’m not as paranoid as some regarding contamination (honestly haven’t had spoiled batch of beer in 5 years of brewing….).

    Fermentation: I typically just do a primary in a 6.5 gallon bucket (which brings another question below).

    Finally, yes, I still bottle. Just don’t have the resources for kegging, maybe someday!

    Ok, so first I’m curious if BIAB might have better efficiencies, from your experience, in efficiency on small batches? It seems like mash thickness may be an issue for these smaller batches when using traditional free online calculators that are probably designed for 5.5 gallons.

    Second, do you have any reason to believe I should be using a smaller fermentation vessel for these smaller batches? The reason I ask is most of the “bigger” beers I’ve made with this method have unfortunately tasted somewhat oxidized (cardboard’ish). These of course have been in the fermenter longer. Just curious if you think the larger headspace may have contributed.

    Again, really appreciate your website and advice!

    Dan

    • No problem! Usually batch-sparging efficiency is less than fly-sparging, but it all depends on your mash tun/manifold geometry. The method I use with BIAB and the teakettle is kind of like manual fly-sparging, and my efficiency seems to always be decent. I use this calculator (http://www.brew365.com/mash_sparge_water_calculator.php) and always just adjust my mash thickness such that i’ll have around 3 to 3.5 gallons pre-boil, having used about 1 gallon sparge water. It’s a minimal sparge but works well for me.

      Too much headspace in a fermentor probably will have oxidation effects if you let the beer sit for a long time. If I long-term age a clean beer (not sour) I usually try to fill up the carboy almost all the way to the neck of the carboy to minimize air-contact. But for a quick (< 1 week) primary fermentation, I'd say you're fine with a half-full carboy.

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