Homebrewing Can be a Rewarding and Frugal Hobby
Have you ever thought about brewing your own beer? Did you come up with the idea because you love great beer, or because you thought it might be cheaper than buying it at the store? Homebrewing has experienced a recent surge in popularity, and it probably has something to do with the economy. People everywhere are looking for ways to save, so they think that they can make their own beer and save some money. The other reason is that craft or microbrews are becoming even more popular these days. These smaller, usuallly local, regional, or occasional nationwide breweries are finding their way into more and more grocery stores across the country. As more people try these different beers they realize that there’s more to beer than Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors.
But brewing your own beer must be pretty complicated, right? Not at all. At the very basic level all you’re doing is taking a sweet liquid (in this case, malted barley and water) and using yeast to convert the sugars into alcohol and balancing out the sweetness with hops. That’s just a few ingredients. Malted grains, yeast, hops, and some good ol’ H2O. Don’t worry, if you aren’t sure what malted barely is or what hops are, I’ll be giving you a primer on that in one of the upcoming posts in the series.
Can Brewing Your Own Beer Really Save Money?
Maybe. First, it depends on what kind of beer you enjoy. If you’re a fan of the mega corporation brews such as Budweiser, Miller, Coors, etc. then it’s pretty hard to compete with the price those are sold for. So if that’s the kind of beer you think you’ll be making, you might be disappointed and would probably be better off just buying it. But if you enjoy other full-flavored beers and local microbrews then it’s very possible to brew equally flavorful beers at a fraction of the cost. In many cases you may be able to brew a replica of an expensive microbrew for around $0.40 – $0.60 per bottle. When you compare that to the typical cost of a good microbrew that might run $8-$12 per six-pack (and let’s not even go into the outrageous prices you pay at a restaurant or bar!) you can see the potential savings.
You also have to consider equipment. First of all, you won’t have everything you need at home to start brewing immediately. That means you’re going to have to pick up some brewing equipment to get started. This is where you can get carried away. You can brew a successful beer with just a very few inexpensive items, but there are also enough speciality tools and equipment that can lead you to spend hundreds of dollars. So, in this series I’m going to show you how to put together a basic brewing kit that will keep costs down while still including enough of the helpful tools to ensure you make the best possible beer.
Don’t You Need Fancy Equipment or a Lot of Space to Brew?
Do you have a stove that can boil water? You can brew. Do you have some space in a closet, the corner of a room, or a basement? You can brew. Just to give you an idea, here’s my little corner of the basement dedicated to brewing. Everything I need for brewing fits on a few shelves in the corner of our laundry room in the basement. Right now I can easily have 5 batches (25 gallons) going at one time and there’s still room to spare.
Here’s a quick peek:
It might look like a lot of stuff going on, but we’ll highlight what some of the equipment is, what you need and don’t need, and where you can get it for cheap. Keep in mind that what I have there is enough to comfortably have 5 or 6 batches going at once, so just if you’re just starting out and will be doing a single batch you won’t need nearly as much stuff or space.
What to Expect in This Series
Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to have a series of posts that walk you through the entire home brewing process. I’ll also be keeping things very simple. There are a few different brewing methods, but for the sake of simplicity I will be discussing extract brewing. This just means that you will be using a malt extract rather than buying bulk grains and creating your own malted barley. Doing an all grain brew usually takes some special equipment so we’re going to keep things simple to start. You can always move on to all grain brewing in the future when you’ve learned the basic process and are comfortable with the additional work. And actually, if you ever do get to that point, you can probably save even more money over time since you can buy more ingredients in bulk.
- Introduction - You’re reading this right now. Covers a basic overview of home brewing and what to expect.
- Equipment - I’ll outline what you need to buy to get started, how to find some free equipment, and where to get the best deals.
- Brewing - Here I’ll talk about the bulk of the brewing process where you mix all the ingredients and create your very own beer.
- Bottling - After brewing and letting it ferment you still have one more step. You need to put it into bottles and let it carbonate.
Some Additional Resources
If you want to get a head start and learn a little more about homebrewing, there are two books that are a must. These books are the homebrewing bibles and you’ll be referencing them whether it is your 1st or 50th brew. Full of tons of great tips, recipes, and troubleshooting.
Even better, you can view John Palmer’s “How to Brew” completely free online at howtobrew.com. This is the entire first edition of the book. While the current print version is the 3rd edition from 2006 and will have some updated information in it, the online first edition is a great start.
So, be sure to bookmark this post.
Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle
My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.