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!
Love the topic, G.E.!
I’ve been homebrewing for the past three years, moving from extract kits to an all-grain system now bordering on a nanobrewery. I feel that the homebrew culture meshes very well with other frugal ventures. The average homebrewer (in my experience) has a DIY mentality is genuinely interested in helping others make better beer.
Another MAJOR benefit of homebrewing is the ability to craft beers to your personal palate. Think of it this way: if you really like banana bread you may buy a few different commercial loaves until you find one whose qualities (texture, sweetness, addition of walnuts perhaps) are close to what you enjoy in a banana bread. But if you took the time to learn how to bake, over time you could hone in a recipe that’s the pinnacle of what you feel banana bread should taste like. That’s a constant mission for the homebrewer, crafting a recipe that speaks perfectly to their (or a significant other’s, or a firned’s) palate.
Homebrewing can be as involved and as expensive as you want it to be. You can pump out good beer using kits and basic tools. However, I find it to be a very rewarding experience and have found myself investing in a lot hardware that has turned this frugal DIY task into a moderately expensive hobby.
Anyone who enjoys a pint of good craft beer owes it to themselves to make a batch of their own.
I started homebrewing earlier this year with a couple basic starter kit recipes. They were pretty good but really basic, so I decided to make my own recipes. Thankfully the place I buy my beer has a large homebrewing supply section, so I read a few recipes online, modified them and winged it with ingredients I bought at the store. I tried to make a juniper pale ale (inspired by Rogue’s) and an IPA which are both fermenting in the carboys now. I think I used way too much grain and/or steeped the grain for way too long because those things are really murky. I’m bottling them this weekend so I’ll know in a couple weeks how it turned out…..
I definitely want to read more and get to the point where I always have my own (good) beer on hand so I don’t have to buy any. As you pointed out, you can save a lot of money. To anyone just starting out, I suggest brewing 1 gallon batches at first. This way, if you really screw up a beer, you didn’t waste as much time and money.
I just did a pumpkin ale last night!
Brewing is a great hobby. I started doing partial boils with beer kits, now I’m up to all grain recipes. Its very easy to grow your equipment piecemeal as you get into new areas of brewing. When you get to all grain, ingredients are pretty cheap. You can do a light beer for $20. Heavier beers, especial hoppy bears are more expensive to brew, but still much cheaper than buying an equivalent microbrew beer.
Also thanks to the bumper apple crop this year, bulk cider will go for around $3/gallon which shockingly makes cider more affordable than beer.
I have been brewing my own beer and mead for about two years. I have made around 15 beers. I do all grain brewing now but started out with extract.
Homebrewing is amazing because you can craft your perfect beer. I am always bringing bottles to parties and my friends always have something to drink when they come over.
The biggest recommendation I have for anyone looking to get into homebrewing is to share the startup costs with some friends. You do not need all of the brewing equipment all of the time, only on brew days. Spend $15 on a fermentation bucket and 3 piece air lock for yourself. Share the costs of the kettle, mash tun, and other brewing supplies.
In terms of costs, yeast and hops are the easiest ways to save (or spend) extra money on beer. I highly recommend looking up how to save your yeast and how to hop beers more efficiently.
Contact me if you need help getting started. I am glad to help
K – my wife only drinks 3.2 % bud light from the grocery store (not the liquor store). she doesn’t like any heavy beers. is there a “home brew” recipe for “girly” beer?
You can look around for something lighter, but I don’t know of any “girly” recipes.
DO NOT GET INTO HOMEBREWING WITH THE INTENTION OF SAVING MONEY VERSUS COMMERCIAL BEER CONSUMPTION!!!!
That being said, homebrewing can be a lot of fun. I’ve been at it for around a year and a half now, have over 25 brews under my belt, and have made some damn fine stuff. I’ve met a lot of great friends in the local homebrewing community as well. It’s a great hobby but you will never end up being cheaper than buying commercial macroswill. And every homebrewer I know still spends a decent amount of money on craft beer because it’s just damn good stuff and interesting to try new things. Kind of like saying you’ll never go out to eat again once you learn how to cook. We know that isn’t true and it certainly won’t apply to brewing your own beer.