We have all at least seen the Little Brown Keg (LBK) before. For most of us this was our first attempt at brewing. The simplicity of use, the variety of recipes, and the size were all very attractive. Not to sugar coat it: this vessel is home brewing's greatest gateway drug. Use it once and you are hooked destined for bigger vessels, all grain mashes, and complex recipes with far out ingredients.
What becomes of this noble introduction to brewing when we all move on to our brew keggles and induction heated 'drool-systems'? Sadly, most end up in yard sales with a sticker asking for a buck or two. This is a sad fate for our LBKs but what can we use them for? They only hold 2.5 gallons and have that obnoxious sticker on the front! Tear that sticker off and read on for ten good uses for our LBKs that don't involve the yard sale.
10. Sanitation Tank
With the LBK's wide top and spigot in the front it is a pretty ideal tank for mixing up and dispensing sanitation liquid. You can even soak many of your utensils, airlocks, and hydrometers in the tank itself. Doing this can free up your primary fermenter to the brewing process sooner and keep vital items in a sanitized chamber until ready to use.
Make a small batch of wine.
9. Small Batches of Wine
I'm predominantly a beer brewer. But I do enjoy making wine from time to time. It seems that I can manage to drink 5 gallons of beer a lot quicker than I can 5 gallons wine. So making a small 2.5 gallon batch of wine is perfect. Don't make your own wine? Well, now you can give it a shot on the small scale!
8. Dry Hopping Small Batches
Let's face it; the makers of the LBK had at least one thing right: the top opening. It is big enough to fit your arm through and scrub out any mess that could have been created while brewing. That nasty ring from dry hopping can easily frustrate any brewer when you use a traditional carboy, but doing it in the LBK? No problem, you can scrub until its squeaky clean which will probably be ten times faster than in your old carboy. This also works for any type of additive that will cause an unwanted layer of gunk to form in your brew vessel.
7. Blending Wine
Generally wine is blended with other wines to enhance the flavors of the original grape used. After conducting bench trials and deciding on a final blend the LBK can be a perfect vessel if you only want to make a few bottles (~12). It sanitizes quickly and thanks to the unique airlock fitting in the top will allow the wine to breathe as it marries before bottling. And as an added bonus the spout on the front will help to speed the bottling process along.
6. Blending Beer
Why not? This is a tried and true method for wines, most especially Reds. Why not blend a Stout with a Porter before bottling? I realize this may be one of the crazier suggestions, but think about it. A black and tan, snakebite and dark moon are all blended drafts. What would happen if you enhanced a nice flavor full IPA with the toasty aroma of a stout? No need to brew up a whole batch of IPA with a few dark grains thrown in. Do a few bench trials with different percentages of beer blended together, select your favorite, scale it up to the volume you want to bottle, and blend it in the LBK. There is a bonus feature here too- that spout on the front. It is perfect for bottling small batches, no need to sanitize additional equipment.
5. Sake Tank
Ever make sake or rice wine? Not only is it really easy (almost as easy as the original recipes made in the LBK) but it is very cheap and extremely tasty. The LBK provides an ideal option for making sake. The process involves a mesh bag with rice and a yeast component in it. The rice liquefies and sake is produced. The LBK allows you to fit and suspend your rice bag from the top opening. As fermentation progresses liquid will collect at the bottom of the container, it is easily dispensed by using the valve in the front of the LBK. There are numerous postings on making traditional rice wine or sake all over HomeBrewTalk. Look one up and give it a shot!
4. Brewing Small Batches of Beer
Why not use the LBK for what it was intended? It's not immoral to put other beer types or kits into the LBK, least not that I am aware. Take your prize winning batch and scale it down to fit in the LBK and save some money in the process. Perhaps you want to give a new recipe a try but a key ingredient is very expensive. Instead of buying $60 worth of grade 'B' maple syrup to make 5 gal of my Toasted Maple Porter I can cut that in half and make not only a smaller batch but, a bigger wallet too! How often do you ever save money by going to your local homebrew store?
Your LBK can go where carboys can't.
3. Saving Space in the Closet
If there is one thing the home brewer never has enough of it is either space or time. Leaving the flux-capacitor for another time lets address space. Your average carboy is tall, heavy, and prone to violent blow offs. Putting one on the top shelf of a closet is asking for trouble and beer soaked clothes (likely leading to an intervention). Your LBK is small, compact, light, and easy to handle. Anyone can quickly and easily cram four of these onto almost any space in their house. These miniature manageable carboys can boldly go where no carboy has gone before!
Do something Crazy!
2. Split Batches
So you brew 5 gallon batches now. Way too big for your LBK, huh? Go pick up a second one at a yard sale from some unsuspecting brewer and split your 5 gal batch into two batches. Why you say? Ever want to try brewing apricots or blueberries in to your favorite IPA recipe but, don't want to ruin the whole batch? Enter the LBK. Fill each with half your batch and add your additives. Now you can see which fruit is the perfect match for that IPA without making 10 gallons of beer and risking half of it to fate.
1. Having the Excuse to Brew more
What's worse than not making a batch of beer? Not making one because you don't have anywhere to brew it! Have a few of these around and you will always have an excuse and space- to brew up another batch.
So here's to the once cast off and outgrown LBK, no longer a discarded piece of our brewing youth. I hope you can find many more uses for this great piece of equipment. I'm not saying the LBK is like Abraham Lincoln riding a velociraptor shooting zombies with a rocket launcher while kicking terrorists in the head. What I am saying is the LBK is one of our most versatile and under appreciated pieces of home brewing gear. I hope this article inspires you to step up your game a bit and try something new with your old LBK.