How to Homebrew & Cut the Cost of Beer
Cut the Cost of Beer with Homebrewing
If you’ve been known to enjoy a pale ale with a burrito or an Irish stout with just about anything (we’re talking good beer here, not cheap watered-down urine that gets passed as beer by the case), you will have noticed that beer prices have climbed about 50% over the last decade from about $6 to $9 per six pack.
Meanwhile, at bars and restaurants, a pint can cost you $5 per glass before tax and tip (and sometimes you don’t even get a full pour).
Good beer is not cheap, especially when compared to a nearly free glass of tap water. Alcohol is never a necessity. And if you’re having trouble keeping your expenses down, it’s an easy line item to slice away.
However, when you cut back on gross over-consumption in other areas, it can leave you with considerable room to breathe in your budget for occasional guilty pleasures. I haven’t cut wine and beer from my consumption. Truth is, I really enjoy a good glass of beer (responsibly, of course).
But have I taken high beer prices as if it were poured through a funnel and hose? No! I started homebrewing about 8 years ago and at least half of the beer I drink now is my homebrew. If you enjoy beer and have a DIY mentality, I’d highly recommend you do the same.
How Much Does Homebrewing Cost Compared to Store Bought?
Let’s run some math:
- A common batch of home brewed beer is typically 5 gallons of beer.
- One gallon equals 128 ounces.
- One store bought beer equals 12 ounces.
- 5 gallons of beer equals 53 beers, just less than 9 six packs.
- A six pack of good beer will cost you $9.
- 9 six packs of beer would cost you $81.
There are some startup costs to homebrewing. Homebrewing supplies (not including ingredients) will cost you around $60. These supplies include a fermenting pale, airlock, siphon, spigot, bottle capper, and a few other things which are most often included in a supply kit.
Once you have your supplies, you have a few options. You can either buy your own ingredients separately or simply buy a pre-arranged ingredient kit. Ingredient kits will cost you about $35-40. They usually include grains, malt, fermenting sugar, hops, and caps for your bottles. With water and a little science, you’ll get your 5 gallons of beer. Of course, there is the expense of fueling the flame to brew your beer, but this shouldn’t cost you more than a dollar or two. Total cost per batch – just under $40, usually.
Continuing with our math, you’re saving about $40 (roughly 50%) by drinking your brew, vs. store bought and $200 per batch vs. equivalent by-the-glass at a local brewery.
If your household averages 1 consumed beer per day, you’d be saving $274 annually vs. store bought and $1,916 vs. a local brewery! But cost savings isn’t the only thing you’ll be gaining through your new found hobby.
Benefits to Home Brewing
Outside of costs, there are significant benefits to homebrewing, as there are with most DIY ventures. I’ve realized the following:
- You’re developing a new skill and hobby
- You can share in this hobby with your significant other, friends, and neighbors
- Your beer will usually taste great (I haven’t had an undrinkable batch in 8 years, but that might be a rarity)! Home brewed beers have natural carbonation from live yeast versus artificially added carbon, giving you more of the natural flavor of the beer
- Your friends will want to come over more often to try your home brew
- You can give away your home brew on special occasions as a “gift made from the heart”
- You know how fresh it is versus never really knowing the age of store bought beer
- No more annoying bottle returns, just re-use what you have
- You can experiment with your own concoctions
- Life is often too fast, homebrewing helps you slow it down a little
What you Need to Homebrew: Homebrewing Equipment & Resources
First you may want to read up on homebrewing to see if it’s something you’re interested in before you spend the money on a kit and ingredients. If you’re looking for an old fashion classic book to read, a classic book on the topic is The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian, a nuclear engineer turned homebrewer.
Also, some good homebrew websites:
- byo.com – home of Brew Your Own Magazine
- homebrewtalk.com – a home brewing forum
- homebrewersassociation.org – American Home Brewers Association site
If you think home brewing is for you, look around for a local retailer to purchase your home brewing kit. Homebrewing stores, if you’re lucky enough to have one nearby, are an excellent place to start. These guys/gals love brewing and are passionate to share the knowledge they’ve gained with others. A homebrewing supply store located nearby offers just about every type of recipe, with full ingredient lists, and then all of the supplies right there. I pick out the beer I want to brew, hand them the recipe, and they pull all of the supplies and print a copy of the cooking instructions for me. Couldn’t be easier.
If you can’t find a homebrewing supply store, look for a party supply or restaurant supply store and call around to see if they carry homebrewing supplies. If you can’t find a local store, you can find plenty of websites that sell supplies and kits. Separate from your supply kit, you’ll have to find a stainless steel pot to brew in and a ladle.
How to Homebrew
Entire books and websites have been devoted to teaching others how to homebrew. But if you’re looking for an over-simplification of how it is done to demystify the process:
- Step 1: Brew your wort (water, grain, malt, & sometimes hops) by boiling it on a stove. After it’s cooled (I place the pot in ice water, in the sink), add water and yeast
- Step 2: Transfer to and let it ferment in a food grade plastic bucket or glass carboy for usually 2 weeks
- Step 3: Secondary fermentation. This step is optional, but you can transfer the liquid to a clean bucket/carboy, while leaving the wort behind, to improve the beer clarity
- Step 4: Prepare priming sugar to mix in and bottle: wait 2 weeks for bottles to carbonate with the interaction between the yeast and sugar
The delayed gratification is the hardest part!
I will also say – you must be very diligent in your sanitation, or else you can create some beers with an off-taste if you get a funky strain of yeast or something else in your mix.
Best of luck in your homebrewing adventures!
- If you’ve homebrewed, what’s your favorite part of it?
- How much does a homebrew batch cost you?
- What’s your favorite beer to homebrew?
- Share your recipes!