When we started making adjustments to our lifestyle in order to cut spending and increase savings, there were plenty of things that I was willing to sacrifice for the sake of our financial future. However, beer was not one of them. Consequently, in order to continue to keep beer in our lives, I opted for cartons of whatever was on special for around $40; and would only buy 6 packs if they were $10 or less.
Sure, this cut our fortnightly expenses and allowed us to continue to drink beer as we pleased on the weekends, but it wasn’t satisfying. This was because, the problem with setting a limit on the cost of beer means that you sacrifice the quality of beer consumed as good craft brews are rarely around the $40 mark per carton.
Consequently, I decided that it was time to take matters into my own hands (quite literally) and try my hand at cheap beer brewing. I had read that home brewing was quite a bit cheaper than buying commercial beer and was more satisfying from a self-achievement perspective, so I thought “bugger it, let’s have a crack”. So I did…
The Nitty Gritty Of Brewing
I have been home brewing beer and ginger beer for 7 months now. I’m currently only using the one 30 litre fermenter (plastic carboy) for my very basic brewing operation and am producing 23 litre batches at a time. So far, I’ve made one ginger beer, two pale ales and two pacific ales… With the pacific ale being the all round winner for me.
My primary reason for starting to home-brew was to save money, however I am also quite time-poor and have therefore had to figure out which type of brewing suits my wallet and time. So far, my brews have been either all-grain from a 15 litre fresh wort kit (the easiest way to make beer yourself) or extract brewing from a can.
There are benefits and detriments to each type of brewing (i.e. cost vs quality vs time), however for me, brewing from a fresh wort kit wins hands down. It’s the quickest and easiest way to brew as someone else has already done the hard part for me (producing the wort). Therefore the only requirements are for me to pour the wort into the fermenter, add 8 litres of water, aerate and pitch the yeast. I intend to dry hop in the future, but so far my brews have been sufficiently hoppy for my taste buds.
I’ve tried extract brewing using a basic Coopers Australian Pale Ale kit and Morgan’s Ginger Beer kit. Both of these brews turned out nice enough, but I found that the extra effort, limited flavour, higher sedimentation and reduced mouth feel in comparison with my fresh wort brews just isn’t worth it to me for the cost savings.
Finishing And Packaging
As my primary reason to start home brewing was to save money, I am determined not to turn on an additional fridge to accommodate my brews. This means that kegging is out of the question for us. Consequently, I am currently bottling all my brews.
Bottling has its benefits, such as being cheaper, allowing for easy transportation to events and providing the ability to give beer away as a gift or as a form of bartering currency. However, bottling also has its detriments… I.e. it’s a bit of a pain in the arse.
If I was all-grain brewing from scratch plus bottling, I don’t think that home-brew would be a suitable hobby for me due to the time requirements. But, because my brewing days are so quick due to fresh wort kit or extract brewing, I’m not that bothered by bottling at this stage.
From a finishing perspective, as I’m not kegging, I don’t wet hop my brews. I’m not undertaking secondary fermentation either (i.e. transferring from primary fermenter into secondary fermenter to finish, dry hop at the end of brewing, etc). Consequently, finishing my brews is pretty basic and quick.
Whilst I’ve found that my beers have been hoppy enough so far, I’ll admit that I haven’t been dry hopping as I’m a bit scared of introducing potential contaminants into my brews during fermentation.
To prime my bottles, I’ve been using pre-made carbonation drops. These have worked well for the all-grain ale brews, but do tend to make extract ales a bit too bubbly. Maybe one day I’ll start testing the waters with priming and measuring out sugar requirements myself. However, once again, as time is hugely important to me, I’m happy to stick with carbonation drops at this stage.
Learnings Of A Brewer
I have only been brewing for a short period of time. However, I have already learned a few things and made some mistakes along the way:
- Under carbonating your brew is worse than over carbonating… When I first started brewing, I read that using the full measures of carbonation drops per bottle type (i.e. 375 or 750 ml bottles) makes ales more like soft drink than beer. So, I halved the carbonation drops in my first pacific ale batch. This was a big mistake as I ended with tasty, but flat beer. From then onwards, I’ve stuck with using the full carbonation drop measurements and have had much more enjoyable beer.
- As outlined above, bottling beer is a real pain in the arse… But, worth it if you’re main reason for brewing is to save money.
- Temperature really does make a big difference with brewing… Beer is best brewed at 18 degrees Celsius, with a good range of between 16-22 degrees. This is primarily due to yeast productivity. Therefore, if you refuse to turn on a second fridge, be prepared for very busy cooler months.
- Brewing takes time and effort… But, there’s nothing quite like drinking beer that you’ve made yourself!
The Financials Of Brewing
Last, but certainly not least, here are the financials of brewing thus far:
- Set up costs are substantial, but not ridiculous. For my small brewing operation, my set up costs were about $120. This included one second-hand brewing start-up kit off Gumtree, cleaning and sanitising solution, two lots of 750 ml bottles, a bottle capper, bottle caps, and carbonation drops.
- On average, all-grain brews cost me 82 cents and extract brews cost me 48 cents per 330 ml bottle. This includes ingredients, cleaner, sanitiser, bottle caps and carbonation drops.
- High quality all-grain craft beer costs me $19.68 per 24 bottle carton.
- Good quality, more commercial extract brewed beer costs me $11.52 per 24 bottle carton.
Given how much I love beer, home brewing is awesome. DIY beer is cheap to make and great to drink. I’m now saving $28-$35 per fortnight on beer. This equates to $728-$910 per year.
If you’re thinking about getting into brewing… Do it! My only warning is that it does take a lot of time and effort. So, it’s probably not a good hobby if you value your time more than the potential $ savings you’ll make.