Before getting into brewing, I had one goal: make a delicious replica of Bell’s Two Hearted IPA for half the price. It was all about price and quality for me, in that order. Is it possible to make a great tasting IPA for $5.00/six pack? $4.00? What is the greatest balance between price, quality, and simplicity? I began devouring books about homebrewing, starting with perhaps the best book of all: The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. I quickly became overwhelmed with all the different approaches: extract, partial mash, all-grain; gas, electric, RIMS, BIAB. I was even more overwhelmed by the amount of crap, stuff, gadgets: kettle, mash tun, hot liquor tank, primary fermenter, secondary fermenter, bottling bucket, racking cane; bottling gun, Starsan, kegs, tubing, kegerator, fermentation chamber, airlocks, grain mill. I thought: are you fucking kidding me? No way. I was right.
From day one, every single purchase I made was calculated and recorded. Every single receipt was literally stapled into my beer journal; and every few months I would calculate my cost. Total purchases, divided by number of beers, equals the price per beer; multiply by six – price per six pack.
A lot of brewers have the same story: start with extract, go crazy, buy a bunch of shit, go to all-grain, buy tons more shit. They end up with an epic system. At first, they brew a lot, pumping out huge batches. Then, one day they wake up and realize they have no beer in the fridge. To brew, it takes up to 8 hours. They have a garage full of equipment they don’t use. They have spent thousands of dollars. They don’t brew anymore because brewing has become a pain in the ass.
My story is a little different.
Extract: Simple but Costly
My first batch was a stove-top one gallon extract batch, using things I already had in my kitchen. I made an extract batch that tasted fine. But, I was using a 5 gallon plastic bottling bucket as the fermenter too, and this was before I knew about carbonation drops (see below). So, if you can imagine, I was stiring in priming sugar right before bottling! Let’s just say it wasn’t the clearest beer in the world, the bottles had a ton of sediment in them – pour very carefully. I brought one to a homebrew meeting once, and poured some guy a slurry IPA. He said, in the nicest way possible: “perhaps you should get a bottling bucket.” I did. However, the real lesson was this: although extract brewing is definitely the simplest method of brewing, it’s way too expensive. Also, while extract works with IPAs, it’s not so good with complex, malty beers (I’m told…that might be false now as extract varieties have grown).
Stove Top BIAB: Okay for Indoor Brewing
I moved to stove-top partial mash brewing. I borrowed a bigger, 5 gallon pot from a friend, bought a paint strainer bag ($3), and bought a bottling bucket with some tubing (~$20). So now I had essentially two bottling buckets w/spigots, one I used as a fermenter (I still recommend having a spigot on your fermenter; it makes transfering to bottling bucket easy). Here’s how it worked: I put 7 to 8 pounds of barley in the bag, which is placed in the pot, and soaked them in hot water (this is called “Brew in a Bag” and I still do it). Then, I took out the bag of grain and boiled the remaining liquid with hops and added extract (or sugar), cooled in bathtub, added to fermenter with yeast. I waited about two weeks (not only to ferment, but to allow the sediment to drop below the spigot), transferred to bottling bucket (video), and bottled with corn sugar. (To transfer, I used the spigot on the fermenter, some tubing, and gravity.)
This worked out pretty well for a while actually. It kept my costs down, especially since I barely had bought any equipment (the pot was borrowed). However, I could only use about 7 or 8 pounds of grains in my 5 gallon pot. So I had to use extract, which is expensive. Also, it takes forever to boil water on a stove. Also, I had to add a lot of cold water to the fermenter to make five gallons, which theoretically could infect your beer (it’s not boiled) and definitely alters hop bitterness. Also, brewing in your kitchen is convenient and a nuisance (depending on who you ask). I could see this being a viable option for smaller batches (3 gallons). And let’s face it: I got into brewing to make big ass mother fucking Imperial IPAs. I needed more volume, a slightly bigger system.
Turkey Fryer All Grain BIAB
Finally, I was at Lowes and saw a turkey fryer set for $70, which came with a burner, propane hookup, and 7.5 gallon stock pot. “That’s all?” I thought. I got a propane tank for $42, filled. Moderate investment up front, but this allowed me to put 12 pounds of grain in my bag. Add a little corn sugar, you got a Double IPA. Perfect. No extract needed.
Here’s how it worked: place bag in pot, fill pot with 6 gallons of water, heat to 150, add grains, soak for one hour, take out bag, put on strainer and let drain while getting water to a boil, boil with hops, cool in bathtub, add to fermenter, wait a week or so, transfer to bottling bucket, bottle with corn sugar. After about 20 batches, my cost per six pack was down to $4.50 (and still going down).
One Pot Brewing: A True Single Vessel BIAB System
Henry David Thoreau, writing from Walden pond, says “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” And Gandhi, after he died, had about as much material possessions as would fit in a shoe box. Drawing on that inspiration, my epiphany came after I started using carbonation drops, believe it or not, which allowed me to bottle directly from the spigot of my fermeter (remember, my fermenter was also a bottling bucket, because it had a spigot attached). I no longer had to transfer to a bottling bucket and stir in the corn sugar solution.
I thought: why not just attach a spigot onto my 7.5 gallon aluminum pot? Why have two vessels? Ultimately, carbonation drops would allow me to have the most simple and cost-effective system of all time: one pot for mashing, boiling, fermenting, and bottling. This is what prompted this blog and this experiment. I predict that this will be simplest, cheapest system that produces great tasting beer. We shall see.
You Can Do Better
If you learn from my mistakes, you could do much better than me. In other words, if you start with One Pot Brewing, your price per six pack will be much lower than mine ($4.16). See The Cost page. That is why I’m writing this blog.