The Economics of Homebrew

If you are a beer lover, at one time or another you might consider making beer at home. You also might wonder if you can save a few bucks by making your own beer. The answer could surprise you. And just to make it more fun, we’ll compare costs using the number of beers (BE) you can buy with that same money.

To get started your going to need a few things. First thing is a place to brew, and unless you really love the smell of malt in the morning, you’ll want a well-ventilated place to brew. At my house, this means doors open, range hood running full blast. If you don’t have the options of opening every window and door, you’ll probably want to brew somewhere else, so you’ll need a burner 100BE and some propane 15BE.

OK. So now, 115BE later, you’ve got heat. Great, let’s get some more supplies. You need something to boil your ingredients in, called a brew pot or brew kettle which you can get a good 5 gallon one for about 50BE. You’ll want some other supplies too. You need a place to ferment, a means to transport the brew, some supplies to help bottle, bottles and bottle caps, 100BE. This makes your total upfront investment 265BE.

The actual ingredients of beer are where people figure they can save the most money making beer at home. Pretty much all beer has the same basic ingredients: malt, hops, water, yeast. These ingredients come in a lot of different forms and depending on the type of beer come at different costs. For a five gallon batch ingredients could cost about 25BE.

What is your time worth? People who homebrew (more than once) generally speaking enjoy the time spent and the final product. Brewing a 5 gallon batch from start to finish, and getting it in the bottle is an exercise that will take between 3-6 hours of a homebrewer’s time. People have also been known to drink beer during this time (est 3BE) which helps it go by faster.

So, at a cost of 293BE you’ve got your first 5 gallon batch bottled and ready to drink. Your return on this should be about 48BE. This is where the economics start to move in your favor as with each additional batch, you’ll begin to recoup on your original investment by reusing equipment, bottles, etc. So let’s estimate a per batch cost of 30BE going forward and plot that out on a graph.

Homebrew-Cost-Analysis

 

As you can clearly see above, around batch 15 (or 720 beers) you are breaking even. For reference, at that point you’ve made roughly 23 barrels of beer and spent at least 45-50 hours making it. So, will you save a bunch of money homebrewing? Probably not. Will you have a great time, have something cool to share with your friends, and learn more about beer than you thought possible? Probably so.

If you are even remotely interested in homebrewing I’d recommend purchasing a book like The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. This is the book that I read when getting started and even if you don’t plan to homebrew, you’ll learn a ton about beer and beer making.

My advice: homebrew because you want to, not to save a few bucks. Or enjoy 720 beers made by someone else. My guess is that you’ll be satisfied either way.

2 comments

  1. Bob Floyd says:

    Of course, somewhere along the way you start upgrading your equipment which further raises your investment. Bigger kettle. Plate chiller. Extra carboys so you can do more than one batch at a time. More bottles. Kegs. CO2 rig. Kegerator. The list goes on and no where have you discussed the cost in time to brew beer. In short, this is not a hobby you pick up to save money. It’s a hobby you pick up to make the beer you and your friends like. It is something you do because you want to and you enjoy it and if you are getting into it for the right reasons I highly recommend it.

    • Zane says:

      Good points Bob! As with any good hobby, there is no end to how much you can put into it, or how much you can get out.

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