New homebrewers often like to dip their toes in the water. It’s not too difficult to get ahold of a one-gallon glass jug – apple juice and cider are regularly packaged in them these days. Airlocks are cheap. Little auto-siphons are pretty easy to pick up as well. However, over time, you can sink a lot of money into a setup specifically catered to brewing micro-batches. But there are some distinct –and glaring– disadvantages to structuring your entire brew setup around one-gallon quantities. And for these reasons, I implore you to start with five-gallon batches:
One gallon is just hard to work with
Don’t get me wrong – we do micro-batches as recipe experiments from time-to-time. So I’m fully aware of the challenges with such small quantities. The most significant issues have been:
- The jug tipping over during racking due to the weight of the racking system (because the jug is on an incline on a book)
- The loss of a significant portion of the product when racking off the lees
- Finding a place that a jug with a bubbler airlock can fit under (see our article on silicone bungs!)
- Math to do recipe conversions – more on this later
A five-gallon batch may be burdensome to move around, but the weight and quantity are more an asset than a detriment. And if you’re already going to be struggling to find a place to stick it while it ferments and ages, you might as well go all the way and dedicate a closet floor. Life is simple in the five-gallon world.
More to Love
When I’ve brew one-gallon batches, they disappear almost as fast as I bottle them. Within a month or two, there’s none left to enjoy. And that’s part of the fun – tasting it every week or two to see how it changes. But a one-gallon batch will net you four wine bottles worth (if you’re careful on racking). It takes a lot of self-control to age one of so few bottles for any meaningful amount of time. With a five-gallon batch, this concern disappears. Even if you drink a bottle a week, you’ll have enough to last for a couple of years! Tracking the change of your product over such a breadth of time is incredibly rewarding and means so much more for your self-improvement as a brewer.
It’s a lot easier to deal with fruit
Home vintners and mazers (mead-makers) often love experimenting with fruit additions. But let’s be real – putting fruit into a one-gallon jug is a real pain. It’s also a pain to put it in a carboy – but the wider neck is advantageous for getting it all back out. Even better, five-gallon fermentation buckets work great for both primary and secondary fruit additions. Then you can rack into a five-gallon carboy for aging and fining. Some one-gallon brewers will use small food-grade icing pails for the primary. These pails are not ideal for this purpose – they’re flimsy and don’t have pre-bored holes. For the cost of boring a hole and seating an O-ring grommet, why not just start with an inexpensive bucket made for this purpose? Better yet – I’ve done primary for one-gallon batches in a five-gallon bucket with no adverse effects. It’s versatile, inexpensive, and smart.
It’s the standard
Since homebrewers settled on glass carboys for fermentation, five-gallon batches have become the standard for most recipes and additives. Yeasts and fining agents are typically sold in portions for treating five to six gallons. Equipment and recipes are most commonly made for five-gallon batches. So, when brewing in one-gallon batches, this may require all sorts of math to convert proportions for 1/5 the volume. It may also need some non-standard equipment and practices to achieve good results. Because of this standard, five-gallon brewing is much simpler for the beginner brewer.
Micro-batches have their place – especially when playing around with recipes and experiments. But for your tried-and-true brews, make the switch to five. You’ll have a simpler time and plenty more to enjoy. Invest!