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A Walkthrough and Cost Breakdown of Brewing Your Own Beer
February 27, 2009 @ 2:00 pm - Written by Trent Categories: Photo Diary Bookmarks: del.icio.us, reddit
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I’ve mentioned many times on The Simple Dollar that I enjoy brewing my own beer at home, and just as many times, readers have requested a walkthrough of this process along with some cost analyses. Recently, I made a batch of porter and took some photographs along the way to illustrate the process. Let’s dig in!
If your goal is simply to brew a batch of beer and consume it in one sitting with a group of friends, all you need is a brewing bucket, a bubbler, and a siphon hose, depicted below.
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These supplies are available at any home brewing store. When you mix up a batch of beer, it needs to ferment for a week or two, and this
bucket makes it quite easy. You simply put your unfermented beer in the bucket, put the bubbler in the little hole on top of the bucket (the bubbler allows gas to escape without contaminating the beer), and let it sit. When you’re ready to drink the beer, just open the spigot and drink a glass - the hose can make it easier to pour. Most home brewers tend to want to bottle their beer for long-term storage. If that’s the case, you’ll need to accumulate roughly fifty empty, clean beer bottles and also a simple bottle capper, again available at your local beermaking supply store. This equipment, all together, will cost $20 or so and are often available in kits. When making beer, I use a few optional items:
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The large glass jug is called a carboy. You can use it for long-term storage of the fermenting beer - it doesn’t last too long in the bucket. Also, I use an auto-siphon (which makes it very easy to siphon beer out of the carboy) and a bottling tip (which makes it very easy to put beer in the bottles). You may also want a hydrometer, which you can use to calculate the alcohol content of the beer you make. You don’t need these things to make beer, but it does make it easier in some ways. You can leave the beer for a very long time in the carboy and bottling is a much easier process with the auto-siphon and the bottling tip. The only additional items you’ll need to make your own beer can likely already be found in your kitchen. You’ll need a large pot (one that can hold four gallons of liquid or so), a large spoon to stir it with, a thermometer, and a funnel (if you’re using a carboy). You’ll also need to carefully sanitize any equipment you may use - I use a bleach solution to make sure everything is as clean as possible.
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As I mentioned earlier, I planned to make a porter. I found an interesting recipe on the internet: 6 pounds plain amber malt extract 8 ounces crushed crystal malt (60 L) 4 ounces crushed chocolate malt 4 ounces crushed black patent malt 1 ounce cluster hops (bittering) 1/2 ounce Williamette hops (finishing) Along with these ingredients, there are a few standard items you’ll need for any beer making journey: a grain steeping bag (essentially a teabag for steeping the grains in the water), priming sugar, yeast, and caps.
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All of these items are available at a beermaking supply store. I acquired all of the above for roughly $35. A big part of the fun of homebrewing is that you can experiment with the recipes as much as you want. For example, my wife and I made an oatmeal stout that went off the recipe quite a bit and it turned out sublimely delicious. Most beer making recipes follow a pretty standard procedure. Just pour two gallons of water into your large pot, heat it to 160 degrees F (80 degrees C) or so, put the grains in the grain bag and tie it off, then drop the grain bag in the water to steep for twenty minutes or so.
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Above, I took the picture just after dropping the “tea bag” into the water. The steeping will cause the water to change color, usually to some shade of brown. Here’s what it looks like after the steeping.
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Once the steeping is finished, you simply bring the pot up to a low boil and add the malt extract (a brown liquid) and the bittering hops. Leave this at a low boil for an hour (stirring it regularly), then five minutes before the end, drop the finishing hops into the mix. Once it’s finished boiling (it’s now called “wort”), you’ll need to cool it down to 70 degrees - I usually do this by dunking the stock pot into ice water in the sink. I then pour this into the carboy, though you can also do it in the bucket if you don’t have a carboy, then I add two to three gallons of filtered water. I then drop in the yeast, stir it a bit, then put the bubbler on top and let it ferment. Here’s a picture of my porter in the carboy at the start of fermentation.
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Then you wait. Usually, you’ll wait for roughly two weeks. What you’re looking for is whether or not there are bubbles coming through the bubbler. Watch it for a minute if you see no bubbles, wait another three days and you’re ready to finish it up. When you’re ready to finish it, you simply add the priming sugar to two cups of boiling water, boil the priming sugar/water solution for a few minutes, then add that to the beer. You can then bottle it - if you’re not going to bottle it, you should serve it in
the next couple of days. Bottling is similarly easy. You just thoroughly clean 50 to 60 beer bottles, fill each one carefully, then put a cap on each one with the capping tool (basically, you just put a small disc on top of the bottle, put the capping tool on top, and squeeze). Let the bottles sit for a few weeks and then it’s ready to drink.
Is This Cost Effective?
The $64,000 question, indeed. Is home brewing a cost effective hobby when compared to just stopping at the store and picking up some beverages? If you are comparing the cost of homebrew to the cost of well-made craft beers at the store (which is what most homebrews are comparable to), then homebrewing is actually quite cost effective. In the above example, I used $35 worth of ingredients to make seven six packs of porter, a cost of roughly $5 per six pack. This doesn’t include, of course, the cost of the equipment, but this cost is pretty small per six pack if you make many batches. Comparing this to my favorite porter at the local liquor store (Fuller’s London Porter, which cost $8.99 per six pack), homebrewing is substantially cheaper than the craft option. On the other hand, if you are comparing the cost of making that same porter to the cost of a case of Old Milwaukee (or a similar very inexpensive beer, which can be found for less than $10 per 24 pack), homebrewing isn’t cost effective at all and is in fact more expensive than such beer. Admittedly, recipes for mainstream beers are less expensive than recipes for top quality porters - I called a homebrewing supply store and was quoted about $24 for the ingredients I would need for something approximating Old Milwaukee - but the homebrew is still more expensive. So, the real question is what kind of beer are you replacing with homebrew? If you’re replacing great craft beers with your own homemade beer, your costs will in fact go down - and you’ll have found a very fun new hobby. However, if you’re content just buying some Miller Genuine Draft, homebrewing isn’t going to save you much money (if it saves you any at all).
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I hate beer myself, but that was a very interesting tutorial. I might save some money if I learned how to make wine, though. Do you have any experience with that?
Kristen @TheFrugalGirl @ 2:16 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #1)
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I’ve been dying to try this, but I just haven’t found the room. I feel this would be a
cost-effective replacement to feed my Sam Adams addiction. Thanks for the inspiration.
Corporate Barbarian @ 2:18 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #2)
Great walk-through Trent! I’ve yet to try brewing at home, but I have been to a Ubrew facililty. The facility is essentially a place, which has all of the equipment, ingredients and a book of recipes. You’re free to follow a recipe or create your own. You do all of the work yourself and come back 2 weeks later to bottle; and you can enjoy your wicked creations. The cost savings between purchasing good quality beer and going the U-brew route is pretty substantial; you roughly get 120 pints for $150 CAD (one kettle of brew). Add on about $20 for bottles the first time in and re-use them. It’s a great way to get a group of friends together.
Jesse @ 2:25 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #3)
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This would be fun if I drank…but since I don’t drink that often, it’d just be wasteful on my end.
liv @ 2:25 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #4)
You Should do a Review of Coopers Kits made with 2.5 Lbs of sugar thats really cheap and how many homebrewers make beer in Australia .This beer will taste similar to commercially made beer because they use about 40% of other brewing ingreedients like Sugar , Rice or Corn a Can of beer concetrate costs about $18. But you can get Coopers complete ingredient kits with the Brewing Sugars and Corbonation Drops for $27 from your local Homebbrew Store , Makebeer.net or Amazon and its as easier than making a Betty Crocker cake . http://www.makebeer.net/category.asp?idCategory=112 http://www.amazon.com/Coopers-Australian-Hopped-Concentrate-3-75Pound/dp/B001D6KP14
Matt @ 2:28 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #5)
Wow! This is something I have always wanted to do, especially at a Chicago Bears tailgate.
RJ Weiss @ 2:37 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #6)
Great article. On my to do list. On a side note, I have my doubts that people who drink old milwaukee have much interest in brewing thier own beer.
jrock @ 2:48 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #7)
That’s so funny that you posted this today! I got a homebrew kit for Christmas (I’m a wicked beer snob and kind of a foodie, so I thought it’d be fun to make my own) and just got my brew kettle this week. I’m planning to start my Continental Light (similar to a Heineken) tomorrow afternoon! Still laughing at the timing… great post! Maybe I’ll try your recipe not too long down the road :)
Leah @ 2:50 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #8)
Looks to be a fun hobby … I tend to like to try different styles of beer every time I buy (I typically go through a six pack a month), so I don’t know that I’d want to brew so much. I’d always assumed that the supplies cost more than you mention. This could also be a nice homemade gift if it turns out well — and I’ve had some homebrew that made Old Milwaukee taste like a fine microbrew …
J @ 2:54 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #9)
Any idea how things shift if the government didn’t tax alcohol?
Colin @ 2:58 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #10)
Great article. I help one of my buddies brew about 8 or 9 times a year and we find it to be very worth it. He invested a bit more going in because he converted an old garage sale fridge into a kegerator. However, now, in addition to drinking great homemade beer, we can drink it on tap instead of having to deal with bottles. The conversion process takes a bit of knowhow, and purchase of some equipment, but it still is not too expensive and it saves a lot of work on the bottling later on. Also, it means that when he does not have time to brew he can bring his Keg to a local Micro Brew and have it filled with great quality local beer at somewhere around 35 or 40 dollars, which is also a great deal and requires no more work than stopping by the bar. Either way, if you like to purchase specialty beers as opposed to PBR, Bud, etc… it is well worth it to look into the brewing, and it is loads of fun.
Josh @ 3:00 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #11)
I think the better question Trent, is: Why would you homebrew just to save money on beer? Homebrewing is about experimenting with ingredients and techniques. It’s about developing a palate capable of detecting subtle changes in flavors. And yes, Homebrewing is about enjoying the fruits of your labor. But while you *can* save money homebrewing (if you like Good beer, that is), the best homebrews come from people who are brewing for the love of it.
Jeff Craig @ 3:00 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #12)
I’d love to do this but living in a one bedroom apartment means space is at a premium. So in reality, it’s probably cheaper for me to continue buying the six packs. Have you considered making your own alcohol? I’m thinking limencello or alcohols steeped in various spices/fruits? I’ve also heard of bourbon being steeped with vanilla. Now THAT I could probably do, and would love to try.
Arlene @ 3:00 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #13)
My husband has brewed quite a lot of beer. He’s actually quite good at it. One thing that is crucial is the sanitation/sterilization procedures. You don’t want miscellaneous bacteria and whatever to get into the brew. This is especially true if you reuse bottles. Now when he brews, he doesn’t put it in bottles. Instead he has some kegs. Brewing your own beer is definitely a cross between chemistry and art. He enjoys creating a variety of brews and according to others, it’s quite good. I personally don’t drink beer, but my husband and I have a pact- I don’t drink his beer and he never has to wear anything I knit! We each enjoy our own crafts and encourage our spouses to do the same!
sharyn @ 3:02 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #14)
My boyfriend brews mead. In the summer, when it’s blackberry season, we’ll try for a blackberry wine. You know you’re REALLY into this when you start distilling your own whiskeys…
Jules @ 3:03 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #15)
You would drink the beer right from the bucket? Uncarbonated? Or do you use the priming sugar to carbonate it in the bucket?
ben @ 3:04 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #16)
@Ben Keg your beer . But Keg Kits cost about $150 bucks ,then you need a fridge and CO2 but it ends up than drinking at the local bar over time .
Matt @ 3:09 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #17)
Thanks for this great post. I think my boyfriend would love to take up beer making as a hobby and you’ve given me some great ideas for birthday presents!
Hooked on Economics @ 3:24 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #18)
My husband is an avid homebrewer. I think it’s a GREAT hobby. -It does save money if you drink beer regularly and care what your beer tastes like. If you switch to all grain brewing and get a grain mill and an insulated bucket, your cost can easily go down to $15 for a 5 gallon batch. We have also tried making beer using a neighbor’s backyard grown hops-another cost saver. -It’s very shareable/gift-able. For example, we brewed all the beer we served at our wedding reception, and we give it as gifts and make up fun customized labels for the bottles. -We participate in a homebrew club where we have potlucks/barbeques and taste each other’s brews and offer feedback. -When we travel we enjoy seeking out local brewpubs and breweries to sample their beers. -We have found fun ways to use beer in our cooking-bread/dough recipes (it really makes pizza dough extra tasty!), stews, “beer can” chicken, etc. Two bits of advice: -Cleanliness/sanitation is important, as another poster stated. -If you use an outdoor propane burner to heat up the kettle, keep it outside and do not use it indoors. The fumes can be very bad for you and it’s easy to catch your house on fire.
Susu @ 3:43 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #19)
I brew about four times a year. Like most hobbies its as expensive as you let it be. I also like microbrews and at those prices I figured out I broke even on equipment after three batches.
Kevin @ 3:49 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #20)
Anyone else have numbers on how many batches it takes to recoup your equipment cost?
Steve @ 4:15 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #21)
My fourth homebrew (a cranberry wheat) is finishing up in bottles this weekend. All in, the equipment Trent shows is about $80-$90. You can get beginner, premeasured ingredient kits for $30-$45 depending on the style you like. You’ll want the carboy and bottles, as beer is totally uncarbonated after fermenting. The bubbler lets all the CO2 out while alcohol is being made, but you have to put it somewhere where no air can escape in order to force the CO2 to be suspended and have a nice bubbly brew. The true cost of homebrew is patience. You have to be willing to say “I’m going to make something today that will involve a significant amount of effort on my part, for which I won’t know if I did a good job until sometime next month”. I love it!
Nicholai @ 4:19 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #22)
I started making wine at home back in January. I am on batch number 3. My first batch with equipment per bottle was about $8. This is about same cost as cheap bottle around here. After that the cost will go down. There is a good forum for wine and beer. finevinewines.com it is also where I purchase most of my supplies and equipment.
Bobby @ 4:40 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #23)
There are other cost savings to be had that make it more affordable too. For example, I know grow my own hops, cutting down the per batch cost (although I’ll still buy some, if I need a unique variety) and keep a culture a yeast going. Grain can be bought in bulk and you can malt it it yourself, although this is much more work than using extracts.
Jacob @ 4:41 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #24)
I don’t think it should even be considered as a cost-effective alternative to buying
beer (even if you find it’s cheaper than a comparable beer, it’s still up to personal taste). It’s more about enjoying yourself and having pride in your accomplishment when finished.
Dave @ 5:15 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #25)
Hey this is great! This looks like something that would be right up my and my hubby’s alley, but i have never considered it until now. There’s something about seeing it there in a real person’s house that makes it all look doable. (you should do something like this every friday- hint hint)
sara @ 5:44 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #26)
A brewing Kit costs about $100 including the Ingredients The fermenter will make 6 gallons of beer. 6 gallons of beer is the equivalent of 64 12oz bottles. 64 bottles for $100, comes to about 1.56 a beer. At homebrew store or online you can buy a beer ingredient kit for between $27 and $40, and they have everything you need to start another 6 gallon batch. The most expensive beer kits brew 64 12oz bottles of beer which comes to 63c a beer. And on the cheaper end it is 42c a beer. If you go for a can of Hopped Wort and Dextrose or even table sugar you can get the costs can get down to 30c a bottle .This is cheaper than buying a carton of Budweiser and dare I say better and you get the satisfaction of knowing you made it yourself. Full mash brewing and buying Grain and hops in bulk will lower your ingredient costs but your equipment costs will go up as will the time needed to make beer, but by then it becomes hobby or in my case its a profession.
Matt @ 6:33 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #27)
My husband and I homebrew a few times a year. We feel the quality of the beer is much better.The feeling you have when you take your first taste is really quite satisfying. That feeling has compelled us to try our hand at other culinary adventures. Every September it’s like a science fair in my kitchen. Simultaneously we will have a batch of beer brewing, wine fermenting,various crocks containing sauerkraut or pickles fermenting.My husband always says if it’s fermenting it’s September! I found a great mozarella cheese making kit on the http://www.cheesemaking.com site. One Superbowl Sunday I told everyone to bring a gallon of milk. I taught them all how to make mozarella. The kids loved it! Is it cheaper to buy these things? Sometimes…but it never tastes better.
shirl @ 6:50 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #28)
Any idea what the cost benefit would be if you also grow your own barley and hops? That is quite seriously my husband’s plan. I think it might even have been a significatn contribution to our decision to move out to the country and set up a little family farm (along with chickens and such). I think he’s planning on starting the grow your own beer experiment next year, though.
Kansas Mom @ 9:22 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #29)
I am sending this to my husband immediatly…know he will love it :)
Brandi @ 9:34 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #30)
We have been homebrewing for a couple of years now, and got started using the Mr. Beer kit that makes 2 gallons of beer at a time (3-4 6-packs of beer). It’s an allextract system of brewing but we had pretty good results, especially when we substituted different dry yeast styles from the homebrew store for the brewer’s
yeast that comes with the recipes. We’ve moved on to brewing 5-gallon batches and bottling about 8 6-packs at a time, but Mr. Beer was a great way to learn about the process of brewing. It’s also a fun hobby that has a product that’s great to share with friends at the end of the process. One tip - before you get started, ask family and friends to start save bottles for you, if you plan to bottle. You’ll need the kind of bottles with pryoff caps (no threaded tops), but most good beers come in these anyway. You can recycle the bottles many times… just note that if you give away your beer, you should let the recipient know that they won’t get any more until they return the bottles!
Sarah @ 9:35 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #31)
My favorite part about homebrewing was designing the bottle label. My least favorite part was the smell. I dislike beer and having to smell that stuff brewing is awful because it permeates the whole house. But my husband enjoys making it, and other people seem to enjoy drinking what he makes.
Sheila @ 11:22 pm February 27th, 2009 (comment #32)
There is a wine/beer homebrew store a few miles from my house near a hardware store I use and I sometimes stop in and ask lots of questions. I am close to give it a whirl . . . This post has served to stir me up again (forgive the pun).
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad @ 8:00 am February 28th, 2009 (comment #33)
Great intro article! We homebrew wine, mead and gluten free beer. I am a celiac, and good GF beer is hard to find and expensive… we’ve finally perfected a recipe, and are now in the tweaking stages - I must say, its been fun to try the different options or try to duplicate a regular beer into a GF variety… We figure the it costs us about $1 - 1.50/bottle of GF beer, and the varieties we make are not available commercially, so it is totally cost effective for us.
Jessica @ 10:21 am February 28th, 2009 (comment #34)
I’ve started making beer this past fall. When you’re into small craft brews, it’s definitely a cost saver. I don’t think it would work very well to drink your beer right out of the fermenting bucket as you initially mentioned, though…It would require a buildup of pressure in the bucket to carbonate the beer very well, even with the addition of priming sugar to the finished beer. I thought bottling would be a much more labor-intensive process than it turned out to actually be. We haven’t bothered with labels at this point, just write the batch number on the bottle cap.
tirzah @ 10:57 am February 28th, 2009 (comment #35)
I know I am never going to brew my own beer, but this was really interesting to read. This is the sort of post that can be very practical & useful. The photos add a layer of interest.
friend @ 3:11 pm February 28th, 2009 (comment #36)
I saved money by going to resturants and asking for long neck beer bottles, also my frinds saved them for me along with goush beer bottles there easy cap bottles you don’t need a capper.
John @ 5:40 pm February 28th, 2009 (comment #37)
Hi Trent, One beer making tip courtesy of my friend Eli. I don’t think he would mind my sharing it with you. Instead of putting your pot into an ice bath, then adding filtered water, you can do it all in one step. Buy several gallon bottles of water from the supermarket- Get bottles that can be re-closed. Put them in your freezer a few hours before you’ll need them, so they get close to freezing. When you need to
cool your wort, add this chilled water. Check the temperature, naturally, so you do not overshoot. Save money by refilling these bottles with your own filtered water the next time you make a batch of homebrew. If you buy your ice, then you will probably come out close to even in cost the first time you do it. If you have an ice maker at home, then you may have to chalk up the extra cost to more convenience. (I know, a terrible thing to say on a personal finance blog.) Anyway, just an idea that may work for you.
Jerry A., Frederick MD @ 7:28 pm February 28th, 2009 (comment #38)
My husband just made his first batch today. He saved his money to buy the equipment and we are both excited at this little expirement. I have a feeling we are done buying beer at the store though. Thanks for the walk through!
Jennifer @ 7:48 pm February 28th, 2009 (comment #39)
Amazing Homebrew Wine $2/bottle. We have been homebrewing wine and beer for a few years, and although the beer is fun, the wine is an amazing pay off. A medium quality wine juice kit is $60 and makes 30 bottles. Leave the wine sit for a year after it is bottled and we have the quality of a $20 bottle in our ‘cellars’. Wine has the ability to age moreso than beer, so adding the ingredient of time *really* makes this hobby pay off. AND wine is 70% easier than beer to brew.
Alison @ 9:32 am March 1st, 2009 (comment #40)
You beat me to it! We have our first batch of beer sitting in the fermenter right now. My husband used to homebrew, but we’re getting started again. We had to buy all the equipment because his was lost in a move. We spent about $200 to get set up, although $45 of that was the big pot — our canning kettle has rust in the bottom, so that won’t work, and we checked all the local thrift stores to no avail, but the pot will serve many purposes. In a metropolitan area, I would also advise checking different brew stores for prices. At one the “advanced” brewing kit (with a fermentation bucket, bottling bucket, glass carboy and all that you need, including hydrometer and bottling tools) cost $115; at one it is $175. If you save $3 a six-pack by brewing your own, and drink a six-pack a week (at home), most of the kit would pay itself off in a year. If you skip a trip to the bar now and then to drink your own, you could earn back the $200 and more in a year. We want to try wine, too. We met a brewer at a party the other night, and he said he loves making wine because you just toss it together and let it do its thing, comparatively.
Cheap Like Me @ 10:09 am March 1st, 2009 (comment #41)
Yes, it does work out to be cheaper… but don’t underestimate the time commitment. If you’ve ever had a corboy explode during fermentation, then you will know what I mean…
1WineDude @ 9:14 am March 2nd, 2009 (comment #42)
While slightly cheaper, I never really enjoyed brewing my own beer. I didn’t like the large quantities I had to make of one beer, especially an experiment. I also didn’t like having to wait a month just to find out I made 20 bottles of crap. I think it has to be something you just enjoy doing as a hobby as the effort will not make up for the $1 per six pack you save. I do enjoy roasting my own coffee. Now that saves a ton of money over premium roasted coffee and I can experiment with small batches.
Michael @ The Life Insurance Insider @ 10:56 am March 2nd, 2009 (comment #43)
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