5 Tips For the Apartment Brewer

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Brewing Space can be limited in apartments.
When I first started homebrewing two years ago, I was browsing all sorts of brewing websites doing my research before I bought any equipment. Almost every picture I saw showed three-tier stands in nice big garages, or fancy basement electric breweries. This scared me. I was twenty-one years old and wanted to brew my own beer. I lived in a very small apartment, with one bedroom and hardly any room to move. I was unable to use propane, and had a small apartment-sized electric stove. I doubted my ability to brew good beer like that produced by these larger setups. I went ahead and bought a Brewer’s Best kit anyways. It is definitely a challenge if you have a small space, but it is far from impossible!
Find a place for a wort chiller no matter what.
I recently moved into a larger apartment. Space is still very tight, but I now have a gas stove and I am able to boil a full 6.5 gallons of wort. I still don’t have a fancy three-tier setup as mentioned earlier, but I am doing all-grain brews just fine in my small space. Here are the five most important things that I have learned along the way:
1. Find a place for a wort chiller.
I went through at least fifteen batches using the “no chill” method because I didn’t think my faucets would unscrew to hook up a wort chiller. Check every faucet to see if it will unscrew, and don’t assume like I did. If you have a washer in your apartment, you should have a hook up behind it, or even try taking off your shower head. If there is absolutely no place for a wort chiller, fill your bathtub up with cold water and ice.
2. Temperature control is critical to good beer.
This goes for any kind of brewing, not just in your apartment. In an apartment, you may not have room for a fridge or any sort of temperature controlled environment. I invested in the Cool Brewing Insulated Fermentation Bag, and consequently am able to ferment in my closet. Just by swapping out a frozen two-liter water bottle every day, my temperature stays right around 65°F; just where I want it!
3. Split boils are possible!
Use the Full Boil method on a gas stove, or a split boil method if your stove can't handle a full boil.
Now that I have moved into an apartment with a gas stove, I can boil all of my wort in one pot if I set it across two burners. Before I did that, I was doing all grain and doing a split boil. I had 3.5 gallons of wort in one pot, and the rest of the wort in another. I brewed a pale ale using the split boil method, and it ended up scoring 41 in a local competition and brought home a medal. If you don't want to do a split boil, you can look into getting a heat stick suitable for your stove to help push your wort to a full boil.
4. Scale your recipes.
If you love to brew, it can be tricky to find space for fifty bottles of beer if you don’t have room to keg. Don’t be afraid to scale a recipe to the size that works for you. There is nothing wrong with scaling a five-gallon batch down to a one or two gallon batch. If you prefer not to scale, but still have issues with storage, go ahead and buy a cheap armoire and put it in your bedroom. I have one for storing all of my equipment and bottles, and it looks really nice and you can’t even tell what’s inside!
5. Prepare for a mess.
Every time I brew, I line my floor with towels and rags. Since a lot of the brewing process is cleaning, I make a huge mess. Prepare for this ahead of time.
A great pint of beer after a cramped day of homebrewing
That stove looks WAY too clean. I don't think you brew enough on it
I think you must be using my super secret Baking Soda & Hydrogen per-oxide paste. Oops. The secret is out.
Yeah, Just make a paste out of baking soda and just enough Hydrogen peroxide to make it a spreadable paste. Let it sit a minute and scrub scrub scrub. Works insanely well. Source: indoor Apartment brewer for 3 years. SO happy to be outdoors now.
Wort chiller alternative: Get the smallest fountain pump, about $20 and put in in your sink. Fill the sink part way and use the pump to circulate the water. Dump the ice tray in at the end for quicker finish if ground water is too warm.
That, sir, is a really good idea. You can go to the hardware store and purchase a barbed male hose fitting for your chiller hose attachment - also the hose and clamps you will need.
I started on the stove as well, but went outdoors on a burner after only a few batches...I only miss the stove when it's really cold out!
Cool to see where the Honey Ginger IPA will be brewed!
I brewed all grain 5-6 gallon in an apartment for about 2 years (full boil and all), using a 16 gallon pot. I would have to use two burners on the electric stove to get it to boil, and it would take a full hour sometimes to get it up to boiling. The hilarity ensued when I would burn out the connectors on my electric stove and would call the apartment complex to get it repaired. Probably burned through 3 coils in those 2 years.
I also bought a grainfather a few weeks ago so the honey ginger will probably be brewed on that ;) thanks for reading!
I used to do the double kettle BIAB on a newer electric stove. It worked out for the most part. Mash in two kettles and then transfer it all into one for the boil. I pulled that for about 2 years before buying a propane burner for my balcony. No yard or garage here either. Cool brew bags are essential. I have the one with the cooler, pump, and jacket attachment that circulates the cool water when fermentation goes above the desired temp. It takes up a small corner and I can get it down into the 50's, maybe further, if necessary. Great article!
Guess we're all upgrading some! The Fruitcake Old Ale will be one of the first (probably not *the* first) brew on the new Blichman Top Tier burner that is on its way to my house :ban:
NIce article! I live in an apartment. I mainly brew 5 gallon AG recipes under 10Lbs of grain or do a partial mash or extract if the recipe calls for more than 10lbs. My problem is I really want to do a full boil in one kettle. The grain bill over 10lbs makes my boil volume too large for my 8 gal kettle. The sparge volume is too much.
I have two balconies. I could do my keggle and banjo burn on either deck, but the problem comes with boil overs. The risk of a boil over on the 3rd floor is not worth the thought of burning a person below because I was going to get a beer or take a piss. If it starts to happen its difficult to stop. That said I use a foam control to prevent boil overs. What if I forget to add the foam control?
Send me an email via the website and we will certainly hook you up with some special pricing :)
That's fantastic. i was brewing in a small apartment as well. Had two dorm fridges as bedside tables. One for fermentation temperature control and the other one for a keg fridge. Worked out so well that all the neighbors asked when the next batch would be tapped. Bought smaller glasses so it would last longer. I'm always amazed at the ingenuity brewers display. Brew on.
Oh man. Right now, my wife, very soon to be 2 year old and myself live in a small one bed one bath. This really hits home. Before that I was brewing in a studio that only had a small shower and a small 2 burner stove. Kitchen was too small for an oven even. In august we're moving into a bigger 2 bed 2 bath apartment or a townhouse. I already started assembling my AG set up and I just look at it like "Holy crap, we can actually use the kitchen and we can finally have a dinner on a Sunday that doesn't look thrown together at the last minute." This article is memory lane for me, but I'll always remember my days of playing tetris with 5 gallons of boiling wort
Exactly my issue! I have a balcony since I'm on the 2nd floor but the guy below me has small children and I am always very careful, but it's not a risk worth taking.
I have all the space that I could ever want, and I still use a small Harbor Freight fountain pump and a cooler filled with ice/water. Texas tap water is too warm to sufficiently chill near-boiling wort without considerable waste.
I chilled my wort in the kitchen sink with ice, and skipped the wort chiller. One less thing to clean :)
Also, although the smell didn't bother me, in an apartment you may have neighbors who don't like the delicious smell of wort boiling. Boiling outside, when possible, may be considerate. My wife is not a fan of me "stinking up" the place. I use a Coleman 2 burner camp stove, propped up on sawhorses and a board. One mini can of propane gets me through a brew session easily. Have a 2nd on hand just in case. Or get an adapter and use a big tank of propane if you have a grill.
I used to boil on the gas stove in the kitchen when I lived in a 2-up 2-down (till just over two years ago). Instead of chilling with any fancy equipment I used to carry the pot into the bathtub. A trick that helped was to boil about 5 gallons and then top up to 5.5 gallons at the end of the boil in the fermenter.
Another trick that helped was using a small proportion of LME or DME (even if just two pounds) to cut down on the size of the equipment you need: smaller kettle, smaller mash tun, etc.
I also have an 8 gallon pot for apartment brewing. I'll do BIAB if it can all fit in my pot, but otherwise I'll do my mash in my 75qt chest cooler (a remnant from before I live in an apartment).
For the boil, I do it on an electric stove with a canning element (bumps up the heat quite a bit and holds the pot better) and a 2,000 watt heat stick. Once it hits boil, the heat stick alone can keep it at a roiling boil. If I boil over, mess stays in the kitchen. Just a thought.
I used to brew in a small apartment too. Something I did for chilling water via the sink was build a little "adaptor" that has a rubber fitting that just slides over the faucet. It stays snug with a hose clamp. I found all the supplies at ACE. And, If you want to avoid doing a bucket brigade, attach the water out line to a garden hose adaptor, and run the hose to the tub in the bathroom!
Nice article, Jordan. Apartment brewing can be a pain, but quality but can definitely be made as stated! Still waiting to brew with you....
I can second covering everything with towels. My junk/car towels cover the floor while dish towels cover the counter tops. For me, 2.5 gallon batches work well with a 3 gallon carboy while using a 5 gallon bucket full of water to keep it cool (while swapping out ice packs). I can fit this in a low cupboard so it's completely out of the way during fermentation.