I’m brewing a big batch of beer right now, which is taking up my whole day, but I have a few minutes of down time while the mighty enzymes break down the protein strains and starches from the grain, and turn them into beautiful grain sugars. I’d like to take this respite from my brew day to talk about small batch brewing. I have been working on a yeast project for over a year now, keeping a strain of yeast alive by brewing small batches almost every week. My house yeast strain is a hybrid of a Wyeast Belgian Witbier strain and a yeast I propagated from the bottom of a Trappist Orval bottle. I blended them together and keep them in a growler. When I told Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing about the project, he told me I created a Solera. I feed the yeast the day before I need to use it by making a small amount of wort (unfermented beer) and adding it to the yeast growler. The next day I brew a small batch consisting of six pints of water and about a cup of malt extract. I don’t even need to boil this stuff for longer than 5 minutes because I don’t want this beer to be bitter, just floral. I do add lots of hops, but basically no bittering hops for this particular style. I have experimented using dry malt extract vs the liquid goo you can purchase in bulk at Arctic Brewing Supply. I found that although the liquid goo is annoying to work with, it is more affordable than doing everything with the dry powder. You do have to use a little more, and it likes to go everywhere. I cool down the wort and put it in a gallon glass jug, add about a pint of my yeast slurry and cap it with an airlock. A week later I dry hop it with about 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of pellet hops. I have used all kinds of different hop varieties but the one that consistently tastes the best with this yeast is Citra — a very fruity hop in an orange/grapefruit kind of way. I then let it sit another week before I bottle it, adding 4 charging tablets to each 11 oz bottle. I get between 5-7 bottles in a three weeks cycle. If I brew weekly that makes about a six-pack a week, which is just enough home brew to keep myself stocked and to have a few to share with friends.
I found that it is really fun to experiment this way. I don’t take too many notes, so this is more like an art project than science. Dates and hops are about all I record, but I have a really good feel for what this yeast will do and how it will taste after making about 30 batches. Small batch brewing requires less time but you also get less beer. I spend about 90 minutes a week to make my six-pack, mostly bottling time and wort chilling. It is my fun kitchen time, and I enjoy it thoroughly. The best part is sharing it with friends in 3-4 oz tasters, and comparing the different batches. Well, I have to attend to my mash so that the West Anchorage ’98 high school reunion has some of my homebrew to drink. “Peace, Love, Happiness!” That is my brewery’s name, and motto.