The Cost of Homebrewing

Brewing your own beer can have numerous benefits. You can make your favorite style exactly how you like it. You can be part of a large and growing community of like-minded beer fanatics. And you always have something to bring to a party. But what is the true cost of homebrewing beer?

Can you actually save money by homebrewing? The answer: it depends. It’s hard to beat the price of most American macro lagers, which typically sell for much less than $1 per 12 ounce can or bottle. If you’ve acquired a taste for craft beer, however, then you could be in luck.

Personally, I find homebrewing to be a rewarding hobby, and any cost savings is just an added bonus. But let’s dig deeper into the numbers.

The Cost of Homebrewing

The total cost of homebrewing breaks down to two main sources: equipment and ingredients. There is an inital investment required to assemble a homebrewing equipment set, but this is largely a one-time cost, and should last you indefinitely. I bought a starter kit when I began brewing about 5 years ago, and I still use most of the same components today.

As for ingredients, you’ll need malt, hops and yeast for each batch you make. You can purchase your ingredients as a kit, or you can piece together a custom recipe of your choosing. Your choice of style and ABV will also affect your cost, as detailed below.

Equipment

For a comprehensive resource for setting up your home brewery, check out my Homebrewing Equipment Guide. It should answer any questions you may have on the basics of homebrew, and give you some more information about the equipment required for each step, with some beneficial upgrades.

If you want to start homebrewing with minimal up-front cost, here’s how you can do it for less than $150.

First, buy a kit  (like this one) from MoreBeer. This starter kit will provide you almost everything you need to start brewing, including the following items:

  • large spoon
  • siphon and tubing
  • hydrometer and test jar
  • thermometer
  • airlock
  • bottle brush
  • fermentation and bottling buckets
  • cleaner and sanitizer
  • bottle capper and caps

 

Next, you’ll need a kettle. If you have a 6-7 gallon stainless steel or aluminum pot already, then you’re all set! If not, you can pick one up for about $40, such as this one on Amazon.

For those planning on doing extract brewing or partial mash, then no extra equipment is needed. If you’d like to dive straight into all-grain brewing, then I recommend the brew-in-a-bag (BIAB) method, which will require purchase of a mesh bag for holding your grain.

Finally, you’ll need some bottles for packaging your beer. I would recommend just saving up bottles from store-bought beers for a couple months, stripping off the labels, and reusing them for your homebrew.

One more point– make sure to check out the secondary market for used equipment (craigslist, Facebook Marketplace etc…) . You can often acquire perfectly good parts for pennies on the dollar from people who dropped the hobby or upgraded their setup. I’ve picked up numerous buckets, carboys, kegs and other accessories for next-to-nothing over the years using this method.

Ingredients

buying in bulk!The majority of the cost of homebrewing will be in the consumables. Namely, recipe kits and/or individual ingredients. You will need grains/malt, hops, and yeast in order to complete your recipe. Recipe kits, which normally include all the required ingredients as well as brewing instructions, can be purchased for ease of use. However, these kits cost more than putting together your own recipe and buying ingredients individually. Designing your own recipe is relatively easy, and there are many resources as well as clone recipes available on the internet.

In the following sections, I will give some basic information on the main brewing ingredients and their costs. I will also give two generic recipes to demonstrate the approximate range of costs you could expect to spend on your homebrew ingredients.

 

buying in bulk!

Malt, Hops and Yeast

Malt is the source of sugar, proteins and other nutrients necessary for the yeast to make alcohol. It’s also a large component of the flavor and body of the beer. Malt can be purchased as a liquid or powdered extract (for extract brewing) or in grain form (partial mash and all-grain brewing). The cost can vary according to the type of grain, malting/kilning process, and country of origin.

Generally speaking, you will require 8-12 lbs of malt for a typical beer recipe in the 4.5-6% ABV range. Extract costs $4-5 per pound, while most grain costs $1.00-1.50 per pound if bought in bulk. However you will need roughly 70% as much extract as grain, so it’s not actually 4X as expensive.

Hops were originally added to beer as a preservative. Nowadays, we rely on them to impart bitterness, flavor and aroma to our beers. Hops, like malt, are also diverse, with a wide range of bitterness and oil content. Hop pellets tend to cost $15-35 per lb, and you can expect to use anywhere from 2-5 oz per 5 gallon batch of beer, although some hoppy IPAs can require as much as 8-10 oz or more.

Yeast is arguably the most critical ingredient in beer. The primary job of yeast is convert sugars in the wort to ethanol and carbon dioxide. But it does so much more! The strain of yeast and fermentation conditions can affect the aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, alcohol content and many other factors of the finished product.

Yeast can be purchased in dried form for ~$3-4 per pack. Liquid yeast strains cost between $7-10 each. One pack is normally sufficient for an average 5 gallon batch of homebrew.

Sample Recipe Cost

For demonstration purposes, the following table summarizes the generic design and costs of two 5 gallon beer recipes. I chose a Blonde Ale (~5% ABV) and a Double IPA (~8% ABV) to represent a relatively inexpensive beer recipe and more costly recipe.

Two generic homebrewing recipes and cost

The specifics of the grain, hop and yeast variety are not critical for this exercise because they won’t significantly affect the cost. For reference, I picked this Blonde Ale and this DIPA recipe kit from Adventures in Homebrewing.

As you can see, a cost savings of roughly $10 per batch can be achieved by designing your own recipes and buying ingredients separately. By purchasing in bulk and employing such techniques as yeast harvesting, you can save an additional $5-10, but this might not be necessary for most.

Time Cost

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the time cost of brewing as one more factor to consider. In the process of homebrewing, there are multiple steps spread over at least 2 days to get from grain to glass. Preparation work comprises recipe design, weighing/measuring ingredients, and cleaning/sanitizing equipment. Brew day will require about 4 hours, although you do have some down time during the process to multitask. Finally, you’ll have to bottle or keg your beers, which includes more sanitization and cleaning. All-in-all, I estimate that a normal batch of beer will cost you roughly 6 hours time. If you don’t enjoy doing it, then I imagine this could feel like a laborious task, and is probably not worth your time.

Summary

Here’s the bottom line: brewing your own beer purely from a cost savings perspective is probably not worth it. You can definitely save some money when compared to the cost of craft beer, but you have to expend time, effort and planning in order to make it happen. I find homebrewing to be an enjoyable hobby, so I don’t mind working to make my beer. It’s a labor of love! Ultimately, though, you will have to decide if it makes sense for you.

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