5-gallon kettle (left), 8-gallon kettle (right)
IT ALLOWS FOR FULL-WORT BOILS
Years ago, after I bought an 8-gallon kettle that allowed for full-wort boils for a 5-gallon batch (6 gallons of boiling wort will result in approximately 5 gallons of finished beer, after accounting for vapor loss during the boil, hop absorption, yeast sludge, etc.), I noticed my homebrews improved drastically. There are many benefits of full-wort boiling, including better hop isomerization (i.e., it’s easier to attain more hop aromatics, flavor and bitterness). If you only have a 5-gallon kettle, you can do a full-wort boil for a 2- to 3-gallon batch.
IT’S LESS EXPENSIVE, WHICH MEANS LESS RISK
Smaller batches use less ingredients, which equates to less money. If something happens to go wrong (i.e., getting an infection, using a bad recipe, having some sort of accident, using too many spices, etc.) and you have to dump the batch, you’re not out as much money.
IT’S A GREAT WAY TO MAKE TEST BATCHES
Years ago, I really got the urge to make a mint chocolate stout, but I worried about spending $50 on ingredients and ending up with a drain pour. Eventually, I got the courage to make a 3-gallon batch, which was less of a financial commitment. Fortunately, I ended up loving the beer, so I brewed an additional 5-gallon batch of it. Keep this in mind whenever you make a small batch of beer that you really like: You can always scale it up to a larger batch. Or you can keep tweaking and refining small batches.
IT ALLOWS FOR VARIETY
I rarely drink the same beer, one after another, over the course of an evening. I like to bounce around from one brand or style to another. And homebrew is no different. I prefer to have a variety of homebrews available to drink and share at any given time. Additionally, for every batch of beer I brew, I think of two more that I want to brew. Small batches better accommodate these types of obsessions.
IT ALLOWS YOU TO BREW STRONGER
High-gravity (i.e., high alcohol) beers require huge malt bills, which exceed the capacity or at least push the limits of most 5-gallon-batch mash tuns. These big beers can also necessitate long boils in order to concentrate the wort through vapor loss. Thus, for many homebrewers, making a 5-gallon batch of 12% ABV barleywine just isn’t feasible. But making a 2- or 3-gallon batch is very doable.
IT PROVIDES YOU WITH MORE BREWING EXPERIENCE
If you view brewing as a chore, then homebrewing might not be the hobby for you. Alternately, if you only have one day per month or so to brew, then small-batch brewing probably isn’t for you, either. But if you’re like many homebrewers out there, you enjoy the process just as much as the product. Personally, I like formulating recipes just as much as I like actually brewing. Small-batch brewing can lead to more brewing sessions and more opportunities for experimentation, which in turn leads to more brewing experience and a quicker learning curve.
IT’S SLIGHTLY QUICKER
For the most part, making a 3-gallon batch of beer takes almost the same amount of time as a 10-gallon batch of beer, although smaller batches can take less time (especially if you use the BIAB method). Depending on the heat source, heating up a smaller amount of fluid can be quicker, and it can lead to a more vigorous boil. It’s also easier and quicker to chill 3 gallons of hot wort versus 10 gallons of hot wort, which means less lag time before pitching the yeast.
YOU WILL END UP WITH A MORE MANAGEABLE AMOUNT OF BEER
I usually brew 5-gallon batches, but when my hobby starts to get out of control and I end up with more beer than I can drink or give away, I dial things back with some smaller batches. With these smaller batches, I tend to take more risks with spice additions, adjuncts, bacteria, etc., which is always exciting.
CLEAN UP IS EASIER
Generally speaking, having less equipment and smaller equipment means less clean up. Small kettles, carboys and coolers are also easier to lift and wash in a normal kitchen sink, which is something you can’t do with a 15-gallon kettle.
PITCHING ENOUGH YEAST IS A NON-ISSUE
Most packets/vials of yeast (whether liquid or dry) say they provide enough yeast cells for a 5-gallon batch of 1.040 to 1.060 gravity wort. Thus, for 1- to 3-gallon batches, one packet/vial of yeast is more than enough, even if it’s a high-gravity wort. To add, small-batch brewers rarely have to worry about pitching rates or deal with the hassle of making yeast starters.