Brewing in Small Spaces
For this blog, we teamed up with our friend and avid small space homebrewer Billy. This guy brews like an absolute mad man, and does it all in a tiny, 782 square foot apartment! We wanted Billy for this project because he’s got this thing down, and it seems like more and more people who don’t have giant houses and garages to brew in but still want to try their hand at making craft beer. The small space seems like a limitation, but it doesn’t have to be! We felt that tons of people could benefit from Billy’s organization and process, which he has generously outlined below, whether or not you do gallon batches or full size 5 gallon batches.
So move the coffee table out of the way, set up your brew room, fire up your mash tun, and see how you can make your square footage work for you!
Billy also did a killer video to show you, in person, how his small space brewing works! We'll post it up right here when it's ready to go!
Brewing in Small Spaces
by Billy West
To brew great beer, you don’t need a huge, elaborate area with all kinds of stands, sinks, hoses and space. When I started, my options for brewing were limited, as I lived in a 495 Sq Ft apartment in downtown. Now, I upgraded to a hugely spacious [sarcasm] 782 Sq Ft apartment, also in downtown. I’ve been brewing in small spaces for about 5 years, and while I’m still far from any kind of expert, I enjoy the hell out of brewing beer AND living in the heart of the city. Not wanting to sacrifice one or the other, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks so your apartment--in my case a studio apartment--doesn’t get wrecked each and every brew day (only once in a while to keep things interesting).
The Main Takeaway of This Post: Don’t Let a Lack of Space Keep You From Homebrewing.
Most of my home brew friends have garages in which to brew, and it’s fun going over there and being sloppy and glutenous within all that luxurious open space. I can toss an empty pot over to the side and it’s not a threat to land on their, say, bed or living room couch. When they come over to my apartment to brew, things are different. For instance, I ask them to guard the bed and living room couch because I like tossing around empty pots I guess, see example above.
Brewing in small spaces can be done easily--and even a little drunkenly--if you’re intentional in a few key areas, which I’ll get into now and stop wasting your time (just watch the video if you’re in such a rush).
Start With the Boring: Out-of-the-Way Storing
If space was limitless, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So, having a dedicated closet, cabinet or storage locker can keep your place tidy and not have you tripping over your brew kettle when you walk the seven feet from your kitchen to your bed. I’ve acquired equipment that nests inside of other equipment. This way, I can keep all of my gear, extra ingredients, spare CO2 tanks and tools in one cabinet, which you’ll see in the video. It’s nothing fancy, in fact I bought it on Facebook Marketplace, but once I figured out how everything fits in there like Tetris, it wasn’t a pain anymore to collect all of the necessary brew-goodies each time I prepped to brew.
Stay Organized. No One Likes a Slob
When I brew, I have a few “stations” set up before I start, all of which I made up some names for just now for my own entertainment:
- Mash & Boil Corner
- Ingredient Island
- Cooldown Cove
- Fermentation Station
- Night-in-the-Keg Country
- Hockey Heaven (Optional, Go Flyers!)
Mash & Boil Corner
My small-space brewing became so much easier when I got one of these integrated systems from the dudes at BrewChatter (thanks fellas!). Before, I was bringing 5 gallons of water to boil on my stovetop, which is directly underneath my microwave, causing the electronics on the microwave to malfunction due to the prolonged exposure to steam. I don’t have much clearance between the two and I knew I needed to make life a little easier. Now, on brew day, I set my Mash & Boil system next to an outlet at the side of my kitchen. I toss a towel underneath it (not so much because I want to protect my wood floors, but more so because sometimes I get sucked into Hockey Heaven and it boils over (stupid stupid stupid, don’t be that guy, aka me). It’s also just out of the way so I don’t kick it over like a clutz, and it’s pulled away from the wall so I don’t abuse the same patch of paint with steaming wort every brew day.
This is, as you’ll see in the video, just my kitchen island where I have my scale, the day’s ingredients, my recipe notebook (it’s not a diary!), snacks, and a framed picture of my brewing guardian angel, Prince. I like having everything set out and accounted for in one place so I don’t realize mid-boil that I forgot hops (or snacks).
My apartment doesn’t have the correct faucet head, compatible plumbing or non-lazy owner (me) who is willing to rig up a chiller coil at the end of a hose, so my cooldown area is an ice bath in my kitchen sink. I’ve never had an issue, and I’m pretty diligent about aggressively stir-stir-stirring to get the wort cooled down to yeast-pitching level in 30 mins or less. Tip: I don’t enjoy buying ice from the store every time, as it’s just one more thing to forget. So, I use all that is in the ice maker at the time, plus I save those big ice packs that come in meal kits like Our Local Basket or Blue Apron. Even if you don’t subscribe to a meal-delivery service, you know a friend that does and I’m sure they toss them out anyway.
This is just a space in my closet. Nothing to see here.
I bought a kegerator that holds 2 five-gallon kegs (I also store the kegs in there even if they are empty … they are never empty). The kegerator I went with sits flush against the height of my kitchen counter and is conveniently accessible from Hockey Heaven (Go Flyers!).
Some people multitask with other entertainment / distractions when they are brewing--I even know a guy who talks to his wife while he brews, no thanks, I’ll stick with the hockey, Go Flyers!
Whelp, that just about takes you from storing your equipment, through brew day and deep into Night-in-the-Keg Country. In the brief video I also show a few other small tricks to help you brew in your apartment, condo, tree house or hotel room. None of these quick-and-dirty tips will likely blow your hair back or allow you to walk on brew-water, but you might find out where to dump your bucket of sanitizing solution when you aren’t able to pour it down your kitchen sink because you have a pot of chilling wort in there. Hint: it’s the shower, Cosmo Kramer style.
Now go enjoy a big beer in your small space, big guy.
Whether you're using malt extract in a small batch brewing in a 1 gallon pot or larger batches using all grain on an electric brew system like Billy, just remember all of his tips, get organized, and make your space work for YOU!