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