Most people start brewing beer by jumping right in to a 5 gallon system with 5 gallon kits but most of us simply can’t afford that type of investment and with 1 gallon producing about 10 bottles that would easily equal 50 bottles, I simply can’t commit to 50 of any one beverage. If you think about most craft beer drinkers we love to try new things and can you even imagine filling your fridge with 50 of the exact same thing, I would enjoy the first 10 and then from there I think I would dread knowing I had 40 more to go. My personal recommendation for any new brewer is to do everything in small 1 gallon batches which will yield you 8 to 10 bottles per batch. This makes it easy, affordable and fun as you get to experiment a great deal and if you are lucky enough to make a beer that you absolutely love and may want to share with friends and family then go for it and brew a big 5 gallon batch at that point. Justifying the cost of equipment needed to brew a 5 gallon batch make a lot more sense once you know what you are doing and have a few or even several dozen small 1 gallon batches under your belt.
Here are a few of the 1 gallon kits currently available on the Internet although if you have a local Brew Supply shop please check with them as it is always a great thing to support your local small business owners:
Midwest Supplies LINK – This kit is my personal favorite which includes more than most kits for the money and the only thing you need to supply are the bottles which if you are making beer for the first time I can only guess you have been drinking it and can save up 10 bottles for your first batch. Of course you will need a pot or two but if you don’t have those you can easily buy one locally or from Midwest Supplies at the same time. This kit even includes your first recipe kit, an American wheat. A newer kit from them that I would suspect has all of the same items but a different Recipe Kit, an American IPA LINK
Northern Brewer Homebrew Supply LINK – Another great kit as it is what I consider a complete kit as it gives you everything you need to do your first batch and even allows you to pick the style you want to do as you first brew but please note a lot of the choices are not 100% all grain and many include extract malts. I do think the most people should brew something simple for the first brew like an American Wheat, IPA, Pale, Hefeweizen, Blonde or like brew. Please remember this kit will also need you to supply your own bottles and kettle but those are items you will probably already have. They also have a few special kits like this White House Kit with only two choices of “honey” type beers LINK. They also have a Wil Wheaton VandelEyes kit LINK but as you will notice in the picture they are using extract malts instead of 100% all grain but it is still a nice starting point if you must.
Brooklyn BrewShop LINK – This is my least favorite kit as I feel they charge more for a lot less as the kit is $10 less than the kits listed above and they do have a nice selection but you don’t get an auto-siphon, spring tip bottle filler, bottle caps and capper like the all the other kits above include. They will sell you the capper and caps for an extra $20 but you are still left with a manual siphon and no spring tip bottle filler which helps to reduce the amount of oxygen that gets into your bottles. Plus their kits don’t appear to include the normal brewing socks included by most other kits including those from Midwest Supplies and most likely Northern Brewer Homebrew Supplies. As all kits don’t include bottles or a kettle you will need those plus either a really fine mesh strainer that can hold up to 2 lbs worth of grain or brew socks other fine mesh bag to help complete your brewing process. I do not recommend this kit for a beginner as it simply isn’t a good value compared to the ones listed above and for a first time experience I personally feel it could be very difficult to do by yourself if someone with experience isn’t assisting you.
Mini Monster Bookshelf Brewery LINK – These look like great kits also but sadly I would rank them with Brooklyn BrewShop kits as they are missing the finer things that can be found in the Midwest Supplies and Northern Brew Homebrew Supply kits. IPA version LINK
Remember to keep it simple and learn as you go.
Here are some photos of what it looks like to prepare, brew and then setup your 1 gallon bottle for fermenting:
Always sterilize your and then layout everything you will need to complete the job, as you will notice I also like to put everything on fresh paper towels just to play things on the safe side of cleanliness.
First question everyone asks is why brew your own beer? Although it would seem obvious to some people this answer really can depend on the person. As a hobby it can be very relaxing and fun from the challenge of your first brew to the endless experimenting of 100th brew. I personally find it relaxing to a degree as it can be a lot of work but between my experimenting and the ultimate completion where I am able to let friends sample my many works of art and get their feedback is very rewarding to me. Think of your favorite beer or maybe you don’t have one as you wish someone would brew a certain type of beer with a very distinct flavor, well what is stopping you from making your own favorite brew either on your first attempt or it could become a long term trail and error to perfection. Second question you maybe asking yourself “Why All Grain Brewing?” compared to dry or liquid malts which are advertised as easy and recommended for novice brewers. In my opinion based on everything I’ve read before I began brewing and since is that the only reason anyone should choose to do dry or liquid malts are to save time during the brew process. The other reason I hear is that all grain brewing is hard which is a load of crap, all grain brewing simply takes a little more patience and time of course. From everything I’ve read from people with a great deal more experience brewing compared to myself, is that there is no comparison to all grain brewing when it comes to the final product, a quality crafted beer. When you think about all the major brewers I can’t think of one that has ever mentioned using extracts in their beers. Extract brewing usually takes about 2 hours from start to finish while all grain brewing can take 3 to 4 hours but honestly when you think about the time you will need from initial brewing to bottling or kegging that extra hour or two is really nothing in the big picture of a quality crafted beer. Remember the goal is to learn something new and the best way if you are going to devote time to learning, you might as well learn to do it the best way possible.
The Bitter Reality of brewing all grain beer is that it is really easy! If you can brew tea or make a simple meal you can brew beer, I promise. Brewing beer really can be very simple and straight forward or it can be as complex as you wish to make it. I strongly recommend jumping in head first doing 1 gallon small batch brews as it is inexpensive and carries a low commitment level so if you screw up the lose is low but if you do a great job you will be left with 8 to 10 – 12 ounce bottles of bliss. Brewing beer is not only easy but it is a great learning experience for everyone involved from beginning to enjoying the finished product. It really can be as easy as Water, Malted Grains, Hops and Yeast but each of those can really have a huge impact on the final product more than most people realize.
The hardest part of brewing beer is keeping everything clean and sterile so if you can handle that you can brew beer. Think how great it would be to first learn how to make beer and then perfect it to a level where you can make the exact beer you’ve always wanted to try or even enjoy on a regular basis. Once you are able to make beer you love it is really easy to duplicate that same beer in larger quantities as long as you can learn to take good notes. The key is keeping everything you do simple but keeping it all clean and documenting every step and the amount of time between them so that you can easily reproduce the same beer again if you find it to be something you want to brew again over and over and of course in large quantities.
One thing I have found that almost no one thinks about until they start brewing beer themselves is just how much you will learn both about beer and about yourself plus a few friends that you allow to be part of this journey. When I first started brewing beer I knew I liked a few styles from Ambers, IPA and Reds but once I began experimenting I quickly discovered I loved Wits, Hefeweizen, Dunkels, low ABV Oatmeal Stouts and Rye everything. The thing most people don’t seem to get is that something as minor as ABV can really make a difference in the taste of beer or even something as simple as a certain grain or yeast can make a huge impact on the taste and complexity of a beer. A great example would be two people brewing the exact same Hefeweizen but while one is fermented at just over 70 F and the other is fermented at just under 70 F one will carry a great deal of banana esters based on warmth of the yeast while the other will lean towards clove esters based on how cool the yeast was kept during fermentation. Witbiers can be a ton of fun too as they are the perfect beer for adding citrus flavorings and other complimentary flavors like coriander and even peppercorns. Even IPAs can be an endless journey with so many flavors from different hops from around the world which can also be influenced by how much is added and when it is added during the process even if you used the exact same grains and yeast in every IPA you’d be shocked at the differences and complexity created based on timings.
I will try to share everything I learn on my journey to hopefully help you in your journey.