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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brewing + Saving Money

I've seen this topic come up repeatedly. Let me first state this: Barring equipment, you will probably save money per beer. Yes. But if you factor in equipment and amortize it, you'll soon realize that it will take quite a while (with nothing breaking/upgrading) to truly save money.

To really drive this point home, let's look some hypothetical numbers here.
Equipment cost, we'll say $500 as a good mid-range guesstimate.
If you 5 gallon batch of beer costs $25 in ingredients (low end) and you get (for ease of calculations sake, we'll say) 50 bottles.

So the goal is to "save" $500. Cost per beer at this rate is assumed 50 cents per beer. That's a thousand beers before you hit the amount of beers brewed to equal the initial investment in equipment. As long as you don't break anything. Or find a new toy. Or upgrade. Or brew bigger more expensive batches...

But this isn't actually saving anything. To quantify an amount saved you would need to show that you reduced expenditures on other things like buying beers. It would require considering so many variables to truly show any kind of savings that it is far easier to simply limit waste rather than try to save money. I would say the same is true of any hobby, frankly.

I'm not saying it can not be done. If your objective is purely to save money, it can be done. It just isn't pretty, and likely isn't as "optimal" for creating truly good beer. I'm not here to debate whether or not it can be done, I fully recognize that it can be done. I'm just not of the belief that it's the way to make the best beer possible. I will not debate this matter, as it is a matter of opinion more than fact as taste is subjective. But that is how I see it.

Now that said, there is a significant difference between not saving money, and wasting money. Some examples of waste that come to mind:

1) Buying a kettle that is simply too small.

I kinda did that, but because of my friend Bret and his wanting a mash tun cooler along with a deal from NorthernBrewer.com the purchase of a larger kettle is no longer necessary. My current 9gal kettle is sufficient for a HLT and BK (Hot Liquor Tank, fancy way to say pot that hold water as it heats. BK = Boil kettle) as I do five gallon batches. Saved money by not buying a bigger kettle at this point and instead investing into a cooler mash tun with Bret. Hazzah!

But this is one of the biggest things I've seen personally. People get into homebrewing, and they get some equipment. Maybe a 5 gallon pot, because for extract partial boil recipes, you don't need bigger. But then you want to do a full boil at 5gals? Nope. Gonna need bigger. So maybe you get a 7gal. Cool. Then you want to do BIAB? Sorry, gonna need more room for the grain! See how that keeps adding up?

There is nothing wrong with getting a bigger kettle to start. Frankly, if you're getting into the hobby you really really should invest in a 10gal kettle at least. Go for 15 if you have any inkling about doing BIAB in the future (or if you're going to start that way).

The cost difference between a 9gal and 15gal kettle can be as little as $20. Don't skimp on something like this, especially if you would like to brew "big" (high ABV) beers all grain.

2) Reusing yeast.

This is a huge one in my personal opinion. It's a very simple concept, and while a lot of people do this, not a lot of people start off aware that they can do it and how simple it is to do.

I could do my own write up of this, but there is no need. Brulosophy yeast harvesting method.

Yeast will cost anywhere from $2.99 to $7 (or more)  per batch. Not a lot, right? But if you could reduce that... why wouldn't you?

Consider this: Cost of ~12lbs of grain, say $21 (assuming buying per batch, not bulk). Plus hops, probably another $3-4 depending on style/hoppiness (easily more than $3-4 but I'm not a hop head so I stick to that) so you're at say $25. Then yeast. If you spend $7 on the yeast, you're at $32 for the batch instead of $25. This is a significant expenditure.

I'm guilty of not doing this due to laziness. I've seen the light, and this problem is one of the past for me personally. Is it for you? Because it should be a problem of the past. It's too easy not to do, and the savings are 100% real. You don't need fancy equipment, you can do a starter however you want to do it. With or without stir plate, etc.

3) Buying empty bottles.

Seriously, there are many, many easy ways to avoid doing this. I admit I did it when I started out, and I don't regret it. I needed bottles at the time and hadn't yet sorted out where my pipeline would come from.

Do you have friends that drink beer? Then you have an immediate source for bottles. Have them save the bottles for you and pick them up as is convenient.

In my case, my brother and one of our good friends pooled bottles for me. Now I have ~200 bottles that I plan to have all full in the near future. At least for a while. Those bottles cost me precisely nothing, unless you count giving my brother and friends beer in exchange for their work. Which I don't count, because those bottles also find their way back to me.

If you don't have friends that drink beer, or for some reason don't feel like talking to local bartenders about holding bottles for you to pick up (another oft cited resource that people forget about), you can also check out recycling centers. Often very cheap bottles to be had there.

The final (and for some, most appealing) option is also the simplest. Buy bottles with beer already in them. I bought 12 packs of this craft beer "sampler pack" from Trader Joes a couple times. The beer itself was pretty tasty, though nothing I'd consider remarkable. But it was $9.99 for a 12 pack of bottles that I could also drink the beer out of before using.

Just remember to get the pry off, not the twist off.


At the end of the day, it's important to remember this simple fact: This is a hobby.

The definition of the word is "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure." If you enjoy it, then enjoy it. Everyone has their hobbies. Some people buy clothes, shoes, and makeup because they enjoy it rather than need it, and that would count as a hobby. Others work on their vehicles, some spoil their pets. Some do anything at all on this list, and that shits just crazy. But if it's something they do regularly in their leisure time and enjoy it, it counts. So as long as you can balance your hobby and your daily life and you don't end up overextending financially for the sake of any hobby, just enjoy it for what it is. A hobby.