Is it cheaper to brew your own?

The Simple Dollar website breaks down the cost of homebrewing in the post “A walkthrough and Cost Breakdown of Brewing Your Own Beer.”   This is a great article that includes a step by step process of the most basic extract brewing process.

As most of you know, Kevin, Sarah and I all homebrew.   I had always wanted to try it, and after watching Kevin and Sarah brew once, I was hooked.   I didn’t really do it for the cost savings, I did it more because I was fascinated that you could actually make good craft beer at home.

Over the past year, I’ve been working on perfecting my techniques, and have really made some good beer.  I’ve been told (and maybe people were just being nice) that some of my brews are just as good as any big brewery.   While that’s a great compliment, there is no magic I’m performing in making good craft beer.   It really is very easy to do and the results can be fantastic if you follow the right steps.   Before I started brewing, other brewers told me  “If you can boil water, you can homebrew..”   Now I catch myself saying that to others interested in trying the hobby out.   Once you brew your first batch, you’ll understand.

So is it actually cheaper? I guess it depends on what you’re making and what method you use to brew.   I started off doing extract recipes.  Every one of them turned out fantastic.  But it was killing my wallet to go buy the batches.  It seemed each one I bought, cost me around $40 to $50 for a 5 gallon batch.   Malt extract is pricey, whether you use dry malt extract (DME) or liquid malt extract (LME).   Hops are another thing that have gone up in price.  Don’t let this discourage you though, I was brewing big IPA’s and with everything I needed for my batches, it really added up.  A basic 5 gallon kit would run you around $30.

After several extract batches, I started researching all grain brewing.   I remember reading that all grain brewing is a bit cheaper and you have more control over your results – because you’re basically making that malt extract yourself from the grains.  After reading books, and inviting myself to several all grain brewing sessions, I finally decided to make the leap.  I picked up all of my equipment on Craigslist.  I lucked out and found a guy that was desperately trying to sell off his stuff to make rent.  Two mash tuns, a grain mill, carboys, etc.  for around $75.00.   I had a couple of kegs donated to me, and it cost around $100 to get the welds put in them (Adventures in Homebrewing has a guy that does it for them).  And that was it, I made the leap to all grain.

My first batch cost me around $60 for a 10 gallon batch.  I did a Cream Ale.   It was just as easy as extract and came out great (though it does take longer).  My only problem was, I hadn’t learned how to control my OG yet, and the beer came out to around 8% abv.  I should have called it an Imperial Cream Ale!  My friends sure did enjoy it though.  Two pints is all you needed.  🙂

So already I was seeing a savings.  I quickly learned that every beer uses a base grain.  Quite a bit of the recipes I wanted to make used American 2-row grain.  I bought a 55 lb. bag for around $45.   This is where the real savings started coming into play.  I can’t remember how many batches I made off of that 55 lb. bag, but each 5 gallon batch I would do used around 10 or so pounds, then a pound or two of specialty grains ($1.99 a pound).   So my trips to the home brew store (for a 5 gal. batch) started costing me $10-$20 depending on hops, yeast, etc.

Anyone that knows me, knows I’m a frugal person, so I do appreciate the little savings here and there on homebrewing.  But again, I still don’t brew because I save money.   I think cutting costs with homebrewing could get dangerous.  There are methods you can do to save money, like re-using yeast, growing your own hops and making lower gravity styles, but I think if once you start to homebrew, you’ll want to make the best beer you can make, and costs of the batches shouldn’t be a big factor in the process.

Do I buy less beer now that I’ve started homebrewing? No.  In fact, I think i buy more.  I have a closet that’s overflowing with beer. The thing is, and I think most homebrewers I know are exactly like this, you  tend to want to try all of the new craft beer that hits the market.  Doing so, inspires you on future batches.  So, this past month, I picked up some Lagunitas Hop Stoopid, Darkhorse’s Double Crooked Tree and of course, a bunch of Short’s beer.  It may take me months to finally get to trying them, but at least I have them for when the mood strikes.

Anyhow, I didn’t mean for this to turn into a rambling post – my main reason was to send you over to The Simple Dollar website to read that article.  If you haven’t already, check it out, it’s very well done.

To see more on my brewing journey, check out my brewing journal at http://daytonroadbrewing.blogspot.com/

5 thoughts on “Is it cheaper to brew your own?

  1. I agree, home brewing is a hobby more than a money saver.

    I take issue with the Simple Dollar post for 2 reasons. One is a common mistake folks make all the time- the opportunity cost of your time. That was never figured in at any level.

    Second is the transportation/shipping costs of the supplies. The nearest home brew store to us is in Chicago – 40 miles round trip plus 10% sales tax! If you need a wider selection, you have to order online and pay S&H.

    And I’d be remiss if I didn’t shamelessly self-promote my money blog/way of life
    http://cheapogroovo.vox.com :-))

  2. When I first started I would tell people that I was saving money on beer by making it. I now realize I’m saving everyone else money by making my own beer and having them drink it! I’ve come to the conclusion that homebrewing to save money is like buying a boat to save on fish. Although, I must saying buying the grain in 55lb bags, harvesting/reusing yeast and buying hops by the pound definately make a good arguement for savings. That and depending on how big your batches are, you might EVENTUALLY save some money. But by then, you’ll have some new piece of gear you want to purchase.

  3. To save money on internet ordered supplies, you must shop around. Look at DMEmart.com for DME at a bargin – and free shipping…

  4. I’ve been brewing beer for must be getting on for over 35 years. Here in the UK I think it may be a little cheaper than the US and the savings are very considerable indeed.

    I can brew real ale from grain with my home grown hops for as little as 15 to 17 pence a pint (with a Original G at 1048) (at an exchange rate of say in the region of about 1.46 that would be 22 to 25 cents per pint) to buy a pint of real ale bitter (cast conditioned beer from the hand pump) in our local village pub would cost you about £2.40p ($3.50). The same beer In the highlands of Scotland in a local hotel would set you back about £3.70 ($5.40) In Ireland it’s even dearer!

    I use a 36 litre insulated cool box that has been converted to a mash tun by running a 22mm copper pipe in a loop with slots cut into it with a hacksaw the exits out via a tap. I had mine made to order, but after seeing how it was made I could have easily made one myself saving quite a bit.

    I purchased a stainless steel 7 gallon wash boiler to boil the wort’s with the hops.

    I have brewed Guinness type stout, using 7 pounds of crushed Pale malt barley, 2 pounds of flaked barley 1 pound of crushed roasted barley 1 once of bullion hops and 3 ounces of northern brewers hops and yeast from a Guinness bottle (if your lucky I had to settle for a stout type yeast) for a 5 gallon brew. I have substituted goldings Kent hops from time to time.

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