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.
That's great, it's also more self gratifying as well being able to drink what you make. If you end up with a really good beer formula maybe you could even start your own beer business right from your basement - interesting thought.
One of my sweetest memories was making homemade muscadine wine with an older neighbor when I was 11. He's also the fella who taught me to play guitar. We picked the muscadines, washed them and I did an old fashioned smashing with bare feet in a big metal tub, ala Lucy and Ethel on I Love Lucy. My friend bottled the brew and at Christmas the adults had a glass. I was too young to imbibe but my goodness it was FUN!
I know, kappy. I'm already starting to think about going AG. That's why I'm only going to present budget brewing here. After that, readers are on their own as to how deep then want to get into it :D
Brewing beer is an excellent hobby (I've been all-grain brewing for about a year now), but if you are trying to live a frugal lifestyle let me warn you, it can be highly addictive and expensive once you get into it a bit. Sure if you use the bare minimum of equipment you'll be saving some cash, but then you'll go all grain and you'll need a mash tun and a turkey fryer, then you'll need a temp control fridge, then a keggerator, then a conical fermentor, then a stir plate a and a lab. I build a lot of the tools myself with stuff I buy at home depot but I still find myself spending more money on equipment every month. It goes on and on. Again I highly recommend this as an excellent rewarding hobby for beer lovers, but like any hobby, it can end up costing a lot, not to mention all the premium beers you will buy as "inspiration" (trust me you won't be able to go back to water like lagers).
Scott, that's why I mentioned that you "may" be able to save money, because it can be a pretty addicting hobby and it's easy to go overboard with equipment and time. I started out very simple, but after brewing my first batch I was already online looking for more equipment, instructions for making my own wort chiller, and the whole shebang.
If you really stick to the basics there is definitely some money savings. But if you're like most people, you soon realize that it's just too fun and delicious and saving money isn't much of a concern :D
Savings Accounts Girl, I have had some of the home brews already. They are really good! Sure, they might not be winning any beer competitions just yet, but when you compare it to most of the mass produced stuff that's out there, I'd rather drink what I made every time.
Quite a setup there in the picture. I know a lot of people have been asking me about the best way to start home brewing. You can save money, sure, but there's also a time investment. Its a labor of love though and def worth trying!
This is awesome! - I definitely like this post. Have you had a chance to drink it yet? Let us know. Maybe you could even do a contest and send us some of your home made beer :)
Funny thing, I was talking of the cost of beer over the years and its effect in your personal finance. I will suggest your blog to those who want to save a buck and still want to enjoy a delicious beer. Feel free to read my blog at: www.youngandemployed.com
Sounds like a cool deal for anyone who is a beer lover. Didn't realize the costs involved are not as high as you would expect. With the initial investment and some playing around with style, would be a great hobby to have.
A friend of mine brews his own beer and I have been itching to do it myseld. He says that it saves some money if he is not counting the time he is putting into it. But like you say in your post, this is more about pursuing a hobby than saving a ton of money. If I keep reading posts about brwewing my own beer, I may pick up the hobby very soon.