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The Costs of Home Brewing vs. Buying Craft Beer

Every craft beer enthusiast knows there’s quite a bit of expense in keeping up the hobby. Craft beer is delicious, but it isn’t cheap. In fact, it often costs double or more than the mainstream macro-brews. Such cost considerations can lead many to daydream about home brewing as a way to enjoy the flavor and originality of good beer without having to deal with the costs. The obvious question, then, is whether home brewing saves money or not.

The answer is sort of. Homebrewing can save money, but only under certain circumstances. Regarding upfront costs, home brewing is likely to cost a significant amount. To begin with, home brewing requires some investment. A beginner’s homebrew kit usually costs at least $100, and that is, as the name suggests, just for beginners. Just to get started, a new brewer will need, at a minimum:

  • Large boiler or another source for heating
  • Large pot for boiling (at least 5 gallons)
  • Fermenter bucket (at least 5 gallons)
  • Bottling bucket (at least 5 gallons)
  • Stirring spoon, long and sturdy
  • Measuring cup
  • Thermometer
  • Strainer
  • Airlock to release CO2 during the fermenting process
  • Bung to secure the airlock
  • Auto-siphon for racking your beer
  • Bottle or growler filler
  • Growlers
  • Caps
  • Capping device to seal the beer
  • Growler cleaner
  • Cleaner
  • Sanitizer

Not all entry-level home brewing kits will include all of these items, so some may have to be purchased later. The cleaning materials are likely not included in such packages, for instance, and will need to be purchased separately.

This is only the beginning. More advanced or high-quality instruments will make for added expenses. Then, there are the costs of repairs and replacements, new tubes, and other items.

All of that is before the purchase of the ingredients. While barley, malt, hops, and yeast are relatively cheap compared to some grains and products, the costs have been on the rise. This is partly the reason that craft beer is so expensive in the first place. Craft beers use more of those delicious ingredients than the mainstream macro-brews per beer, they also often lack the industrial-level production that can lower costs, thus placing a higher price tag on their bottles. The same is true, in a smaller sense, for home brewers. As barley, malt, hops, and yeast increase in price over time, the savings versus purchasing high-quality craft beer seem to dry up.

Some of these costs can be reduced through smart purchases. Buying grain in bulk, for instance, will save in the long run (even if it is a higher upfront cost), and buying dry yeast instead of liquid yeast can also save money. The benefit of both these choices is that the products can be stored for a long time, so there is no fear of wasted money.

Further costs can be incurred for those who are more experimental with their brewing. More exotic ingredients can make for unusual flavors, but also cost more to brew. For those who become genuinely invested in home brewing and dedicate themselves to finding a particular taste, the costs can quickly get out of hand.

The Home Brewer’s Association estimated that a brewer would need to make 15 batches per year to break even in the cost per bottle with simply going to the store for a six-pack of craft beer. At five gallons per brew, that is not an insignificant amount to drink. More to the point, those estimates factor in start-up costs, which are (aside from the upkeep mentioned above) a one-time investment. The more advanced calculation made by the Home Brewer’s Association found that over a longer term, a bottle of home-brewed beer would cost around $.96 per bottle.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to invest in home brewing besides the savings. First of all, the process can be fun. It can be an excellent hobby for its own sake, and one that can be shared with family and friends. There’s nothing better, after all, to provoke a sense of accomplishment than toasting a newly created brew with those who helped produce it.

Homebrewing can also allow for a way to express some creativity while enjoying a great brew. Homebrewing allows not just for great flavor but the adventure of discovery as new recipes are tested and new combinations discovered. While this can lead to more significant expense, it is also part of the fun, and when an excellent recipe is created, it is unforgettable.

On the other hand, home brewing is time intensive and not nearly as cheap as it might seem on the surface. For those who would instead put their time elsewhere, and who don’t mind paying a bit more, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to purchase beer from the professionals. In fact, there are some benefits to this as well. Experimenting can be fun, but it can also lead to waste when things don’t turn out well. Getting beer from the experts eliminates this worry, and you can rest assured that the quality will be the same, each and every time.

So, in the end, home brewing is cheaper in the long run, assuming the brewer drinks (or shares) enough. However, whether the time and effort are worth the savings depends on each person. If you have an interest in home brewing, there are financial incentives to encourage your pursuit of the habit, but if you were only interested because of the savings, they might not be enough to justify the effort. Regardless of which option you choose, craft beer aficionados on both sides of the debate agree on one thing: you need to invest in a GrowlerChill system to keep your craft beer cold and readily available at all times! Whether you purchased a growler from your local micro-brewery, or if you brewed your own beer at home, buying a GrowlerChill system is an essential investment that will keep your beer fresh, cold, and on hand whenever you need it.

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