Top 10 Tips for Apartment Brewing

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The brewing process comes in all shapes and sizes. Although there are many methods, ranging from simple extract brews to triple decocted lagers, at its core, the brewing process remains the same, each with their own set of unique challenges. Apartment-scale brewing is no different. Whether you're looking to start the hobby or setting up your first apartment brewery, consider the following tips as the finer points of the brewing process when practiced in an apartment or home with limited spaces.
1. Sizing the Boil Kettle to fit your Stove
The standard homebrew batch size is five gallons, and although your apartment may be able to ferment and store five gallons of beer, your stove may not. There are two main factors, both related to your stove's heating element, which may limit your batch size. The first limitation is structural integrity. A full boil for a five gallon batch (starting out with six gallons) is approximately 60 pounds, and although the stove may support this weight, your heating element may not. The second limitation is heating strength as your heating element may not be able to achieve a full six gallon boil. My apartment stove has a "fancy" large electric heating element that can bring nearly six gallons to a rolling boil, although waiting patiently, approximately 30 minutes to achieve it. If you suspect your apartment stove isn't up to snuff, consider partial boils for extract batches and small batch all-grain brewing. Alternatively, consider insulating your boil kettle for larger batch sizes.

Mash tun (left) and Boil Kettle (right)
2. Brewing the Batch that Fits your Apartment Size
Determining your batch size is directly related to your apartment's ability to appropriately store homebrew. A five gallon batch typically yields 48 bottles or two cases of beer, and depending on your brewing habits, may not suit your apartment lifestyle. Consider the key variables, such as available storage space, apartment temperatures, packaging techniques (bottles versus kegs), and brewing frequency, to judge an optimum batch size. When I started brewing, I quickly changed to three gallon batches simply because it allowed me to brew more often without taking up space when storing bottles.
3. Faucet Adapters are your Friend
A must have for useful brewing equipment such as jet blasters, wort chillers, and water hoses. I keep my faucet adapter permanently attached to my kitchen faucet.
4. Keep a Clean Kitchen
Before my brew day begins, my kitchen sees a good cleaning. It's relatively small size makes it a necessity. Any small clutter puts a damper in the brewing process. I make sure the countertop, sink, and stovetop are cleaned & cleared before I start the brew day.

5. Towels

Keep clean towels on hand and nearby. In my apartment brewing, brew days and kegging sessions are almost guaranteed to encounter some sort of mess. Typically, my kitchen floors sees Star San or PWB spills, and towels make quick work of the clean up before getting out of control. Big spills and boilovers are by far among the least fun parts of homebrewing; however, a ruined floor and an angry landlord are worse.

Towels cleaning up split PBW

6. Dishwashers as Drip Trays
A clean dishwasher can be a useful tool in the brewing process. The upper and lower racks can be used to hold sanitized brewing equipment, such as tubing and racking canes. Also, the trays can double as bottle trees to drip dry bottles. Additionally, bottling over a dishwasher lid captures any split beer with ease and makes for a quick clean up.
7. Using Underutilized Space
Identify underutilized space, such as under the bed & closet floors, for storing brewing equipment without having your apartment look like a small-scale brewery (unless that's what you're going for). I use my laundry closet to store grain, large carboys, and even my temperature-controlled chest freezer for fermentation.

Brewing equipment stored on a sturdy bookshelf

8. Storing Vertically
Sturdy shelves are a great way to store brewing equipment without sacrificing floor space. I store most of my brewing equipment, including several three gallon carboys, on a single bookshelf.
9. Apartment Temperature Control Strategies
Along with oxygenation and pitching rates, fermentation temperature is a key component to clean fermentation. Although the first two are easily handled, temperature control in an apartment setting can be difficult when space saving is considered. Since I live in Texas, my apartment temperature is greater than 75 F most of the year, making active temperature control using chest freezer technology a must. If this is not an option, consider passive forms of temperature control. Brewing with the seasons is a good option when your apartment hits the right temperatures. While living St. Louis, my kitchen ranged from 55-75 F throughout the year, ideal for lagers in the winter months and Belgians styles during the summer months. Other techniques such as evaporation cooling (wet t-shirt + fan) or heating belts are also good options for keeping things controlled.
10. Seek out other Apartment Brewers in your Region
Although the brewing literature is a great way to get started in the hobby, learning from experienced homebrewers can help accelerate the learning curve. This is especially useful when dealing with local brewing issues such as water chemistry and sourcing fresh brewing ingredients. Check out the AHA website to find a local homebrew club today!
What are some of your learning experiences from apartment brewing or brewing in limited spaces? Leave your hard-won experience in the comment section below. Cheers and happy brewing!
Daniel Ironside is the author of the brewing blog The Apartment Homebrewer. He specializes in small batch brewing and is an advocate for homebrewing in limited spaces. He is currently an active member of the Austin ZEALOTS homebrew club in Austin, Texas. To find out more about Daniel, visit theapthomebrewer.com or follow him on twitter @apthomebrewer.
 
All excellent advice.
I would add that if you have an electric stove that can't handle a full boil, you've also got the wiring capacity to build an electric boiling system more than capable, assuming you want to go that route. Or you can split boil. Plenty of ways around an underpowered electric stove and still doing a full boil on a 5 gallon batch.
 
Share equipment. I live in Boston where space is extremely limited, and ive gotten into the habit of sharing equipment with 1 more friend. we both store grain that we share, he bought a grain mill and a good pot. I harvest yeast and take care of wort cooling. we help each other with eauipment, which helps both in cost and space.
 
@Qhrumphf
This works well. My apartment has an electric stove that cannot do a full 6 gallon boil. I built a heatsink and its enought to bring it all to a boil perfectly.
 
You can also split the boil if you still want to do a 5 gallon batch. Before I bought my 10gallon Blichmann kettle that's what I did. I'd split the wort, and the hop additions. i wouldn't worry about it being even as they would be combined again.
 
Two suggestions to do full boils on an apartment stove:
1) Search for a canning element for your stove. I have a 2,600 watt element one I found on eBay that matched the model of my stove. Helps get extra BTUs into my pot, and it's also much sturdier for a 60lb pot.
2) Heat stick FTW! Lots of threads on here for how to build a good one. I built a 2,000 watt one that works on a 20 amp GFCI outlet in my kitchen just fine. Double check your breakers for the amperage!
Also for temp control, I douvle up my kegerator as both a beer dispenser as well as a fermentation chamber. Works great, but I'm always a bit sad to not have beer on tap while I have a ferm going. But that's what growlers are for right?
@Eugenio - I also liven in Boston! Small world, and small apartments!
 
I do all grain in our apt. When I was purchasing my pots I made sure they could fit inside each other when all the hardware is removed: 8gal for strike water, tall and slender 10gal for mlt, and short wide 10 gal as bk. the Bk is wide enough to straddle the two large burners on our stove so I can do up to 7 gal batches. When brew day is over most of the equipment fits in te 8gal.
 
I brew in an apartment in Chicago, and typically do 3.5 gallon batches. I use a 3 gallon cooler as an MLT and a 5 gallon tamale pot for my 4.5 gallon boils. I have a mini-fridge that perfectly fits a 5-gallon bucket for fermentation and temperature control. I typically get about 30 bottles which is perfect for me, my wife, and those lucky enough to try my beer.
 
Speaking from experience a split boil is possible but not ideal. Still living in somewhat small quarters getting an electric brewing setup saved me much headache. I can now make a 10gal batch in less time than a split boil 5 gal.
This is done with one electric pot and my other existing equipment. I use it for both the HLT for strike water and the kettle.
 
Small batch BIAB, and 5 gallon partial mash brewing is the way to go when brewing in an apartment. Especially in our 3rd floor, attic apartment with practically no storage space. Luckily the kitchen has just enough room for a mini-fridge, and there is a landing with space to store stuff.
 
I too live in an apartment and have a tip for microwaves mounted over there stove. When I was looking into getting a new kettle i was worried that I did not have enough height under the microwave, then i remembered you can pull out the stove from the wall if necessary. In my case pulling it out only 4 inches from the wall allows me to use my "tall" brew kettle.
 
...am I the only one around here with a gas stove in their apartment? o_O
I've had no trouble boiling a nearly full five gallon pot, though it sometimes takes a while; I'm planning to put the 35-quart one I got for my imminent step up to all-grain across two burners. I can definitely see how it'd be rough using an electric stove, though...
On the storage issue: I recently bought a "TV Armoire"-type cabinet at a yard sale for $60; I've seen them on Craigslist for similar, though rarely with detailed dimensions. (This one is 79in tall, 36in wide, and about 24in deep). Two huge cabinets and a small upper one with glass doors, and after I removed the shelves and the TV swivel-stand-thing, the bottom two cabinets are currently holding: a 10 gallon cooler for mash tun conversion, 5 and 8.75 gallon pots, 6 and 5 gallon carboys, bottling bucket, big floppy "primary fermenter" bucket-thing that came with my original brewing kit, which I now use as a water bath for temperature control, lids to all of the above, gallon jugs and minor containers, funnels and strainers, and a 30-odd-quart bin with most of my smaller brewing things in it. I had to nest some of the larger things to make them all work, and I have thus far not managed to fit the partridge or pear tree, but I highly recommend this as a solution for my fellow apartment brewers: keeps it organized, out of the way, and the dust off it, with a fairly minimal footprint.
 
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