Nov 5, V1.00
Feb 11, V01.00, Added introduction

After a couple of failures using traditional homebrewing methods, I developed a 2.5 gal, mini-brewing system that minimizes contamination problems, improves beer quality, saves labor, and saves energy. The key is using 2.5 gal plastic water bottles sold at supermarkets as a disposable, primary fermenter. The water that comes in them is more consistent than that from the tap and ozone sanitized which allows use of a partial-boil. Since everything else is small enough to fit in a microwave safe container, they are steam sterilized which combined with good yeast pitching procedures all but eliminates contamination. When the batch is done, the plastic water bottle goes in the trash.

The half-sized batches are perfectly sized for brewing all-malt beer from canned extracts, no sugar extenders are needed. This gives a full-flavored beer. Also, small lots make experimentation easy by holding one element constant, say the extract, and trying different yeast or hop schedules.

It is a lot easier to move 2.5 gal, ~20 lbs., around the kitchen than the 5 gal buckets. Doing a partial boil, only possible with a sanitized water source, cuts down on the size and weight of the pans and the kitchen does not get quite so hot.


Going over the materials from left to right, the used olive bottle holds my yeast starter solution, a 3.3 lb. box of Northwestern unhopped extract, a dry, beer yeast leaning on a microwave safe container, a 20 inch long plastic hose with single stopper, and funnel. In front of the yeast is a dark bag of cluster hops and a nylon hopping bag. Behind the funnel is 2.5 gal. of ozone purified water.

Getting Started

Scrub your hands and wipe-down the cabinets before starting to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination. Especially keep any cheese, yogurt, or other fermented products out of the area.

For a yeast starter solution, dissolve a tablespoon of honey (or corn syrup) in a cup of water and boil it in the microwave. Rest, DO NOT TIGHTEN, the lid on the jar so it is sterilized by the steam. Taking care not to get scalded or explode the bottle, gently remove the super-heated jar and close the top. Keeping it away from water that might crack the jar, let it cool for a couple of hours to room temperature. Do this in the morning before going to work and it will be ready in the evening.

Once the starter solution has cooled, add the yeast and shake it up so the yeast to get a head-start on any airborne bacteria. Liquid yeast can be used but it usually needs 12+ hours to reach high klausen (i.e., very active bubbling).

Preparing the Wort

Remove the valve assembly from the water bottle. A clean pair of pliers makes this a cinch. Do not make an "air hole" since this will be your primary fermenter.

Pour a couple of quarts of water in a big pan (i.e., about 1/3 of the container). The water will come out in spurts so I do this over the sink. Don't worry about spillage since we need to discard enough water to equal the volume of extract. Bring the pan of water to a boil.

The magic begins by snipping a corner of the extract bag and pouring in the thick and syrup. Turn down the heat to avoid scorching.

Use all of the extract . . . yummmm yummmm.

Sanitize the Air-trap and Funnel

While the wort is heating, put the air-trap hose and stopper along with the funnel in the microwave safe container with an inch of water. Cover but don't seal the container and zap it until the water boils. The steam will sterilize the trap and funnel. Keep them covered until ready to use.

Check the Yeast

Check the yeast to make sure it is active. If the yeast fails, put everything in the refrigerator until you get a fresh, vigorous yeast.

Boil the Wort

Stir the wort frequently while chanting,"Boil, boil, toil and trouble. Bugs be gone when caldron bubbles." Ok, Ok, make up your own chant.

Beers are hopped to taste which is like making tea. Hops are a bittering and preserving agent that can mask some yeast flavors or complement the malt. There are many wonderfully complex ways to "hop" the wort. For our purposes, taste the wort and continue mashing the hops until it tastes like a sweet version of the beverage you want. Don't let it boil over and make a mess.

Finish the Wort

Empty enough water from the bottle to equal the volume of extract and then put it in the sink. Without touching the inner funnel surface, put it in the opening with a paper clip on the edge to let the air escape.

Carefully, pour the boiling hot wort into the cold water. The cold water and hot wort will mix and almost instantly achieve perfect yeast pitching temperature. If the container feels warmer than a baby's bottle, cover the funnel with clean wax paper, plastic wrap, or a plastic bag. Then use a cold water bath to bring the temperature down. Finally, add the yeast and insert the air-trap tube.

Let the Magic Begin

Put the beer-to-be in a corner and insert the loose end of the air-trap into a bottle half filled with a saturated baking soda solution. In about 2-3 weeks, it will stop bubbling and you are ready to bottle or keg the beer. Throw out the plastic container and keep the air-trap.