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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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The Growth of Craft Beer and Homebrewers

A Brief History of Brewing

Beer brewing is one of man’s oldest processes. No one is certain who invented beer or discovered the process of making it. What we do know is that oldest written documentation from Sumeria can be traced back to at least 6,000 years, “Hymn to Ninkasi.”

Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat. It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.

The ancient Babylonians, who are descendants of the Sumerian people, were brewing at least 20 different types of beer by 2000 B.C. Brewing initially occurred as a happy accident when barley loaves were left out in the rain. Once the brew was fermented, the beer was drinkable. In ancient Egypt, beer was imbibed daily by ancient pharaohs and used in religious practices. Beer was considered so valuable in Egyptian society that it was also used as a form of currency.

In America, Beer became a major part of colonial life thanks to Louis Pasteur’s discovery of yeast in the fermentation process, automatic beer bottling, and the rise of railroads made mass production and distribution of beer possible until the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1919 resulted in Prohibition. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the beer industry consolidated into a small number of large breweries, which today are owned by international conglomerates such as Anheuser Busch InBev and SABMiller.

Craft Beer Growth

As of 2013, there are 2,768 craft breweries (out of 2,822 total breweries in the U.S.). The Brewer’s Association defines craft beer as made by a brewer that is “small, independent, and traditional.” Bigger breweries primarily focus on American lager while popular craft beers vary in flavor. For example, Dale’s Pale Ale has a citrus base and bitter aftertaste, while Brooklyn Lager is a mellow, crisp amber. The U.S. has over 160 beer styles and 20,000+ brands, more than any other market in the world. The craft beer industry is seeing some major changes such as the larger, conglomerate breweries acquiring craft breweries. These acquired breweries get additional distribution, marketing, and sales support from the parent company’s existing networks (translation: more shelf space). While there are some constants within the industry, such as craft beer being most popular among Millennials and Gen Xers, demographics are changing. Craft beer consumers, typically thought of as a plaid shirt wearing bespectacled white hipster guy, are becoming more diverse. Women ages 21-39 compose 15% of craft beer drinkers, and Hispanic influence in craft beer markets is increasing. 45% of Hispanic customers order craft beer in restaurants and bars at least once a month.

In 2017, craft beer surpassed a 10% share of overall U.S. beer industry sales for the first time. New is the name of the game when it comes to craft. People don’t want to drink the same beer twice. “All beer drinkers are polygamous,” explains Jeff Browning, master brewer of Brewport brewpub, a massive brewery in Bridgeport, CT. Balanced craft lagers will continue to grow in popularity with experienced craft beer drinkers. People are experiencing beer fatigue with so many beverage options. India Pale Ales (IPAs) remain hot, and there are endless varieties even within this single category of beer: double IPAs, wet-hopped, dry hopped, single varietal, etc. Barrel-aging is also seeing changes in different types of oak, different yeasts within barrels, and different chars.

Because people are willing to pay more for quality beer, in the craft beer world, it will come down to quality, not quantity. Breweries that focus on making a unique, excellent tasting beer will be able to weather the ups and downs of the beer market just fine.

Breweries tend to focus on going big or going local, meaning they can either create a national brand or concentrate on the local market. Many people want to feel a personal and cultural connection to their beer and a place to socialize and a brewpub that brews local has the advantage of providing both.

DIY Beer: Homebrewing

Homebrewers are people that develop such a taste for craft beer they start brewing their own. Some homebrew to avoid the higher cost of alcohol. Some love the creative freedom that comes with making one’s own beer along with the knowledge that fresh, organic ingredients are going into it. Beginner brewers only need a pasta pot, malt extract, water, and hops to get started. Homebrewing often uses less packaging and transportation than commercially brewed beverages, and uses refillable jugs and bottles, making it appealing to the environmentally-minded. Baking bread and brewing beer are similar in that they share three main ingredients: grains, yeast, and water. They require multiple steps to achieve the best results. However, bread only takes a couple of hours to make whereas the fermentation of beer takes almost a couple of weeks.

Some homebrewers have even taken their skills to the championship level and entered the Homebrewer of the Year competition. Zach Kosslow from Wort City Brewers of Wilmington, NC took home the award this year. Fun fact: former President Obama is an avid homebrewer and is a member of the American Homebrewers Association. He makes his own honey porter and brown ale. Both recipes were posted on the White House’s official website.

Recently, a study in Forbes magazine indicated that homebrewing was on the decline as craft brew’s popularity continues to rise. Now that local stores are carrying the hottest new brews from all over the nation and world, there’s much less incentive for people to try their hand at making their own beer. Millennials, who make up most of the craft beer drinking population, are more likely to change jobs multiple times, so they are not going to commit to making homebrewing a lifestyle. However, just because there has been a downturn, doesn’t mean that homebrewing is on the way to extinction. There will always be those who take great pride in a DIY approach or those who want to brew their own beer because their brew of choice isn’t available in their town. Whether you make or buy your beer, it’s clear that craft beer is here to stay. So drink up, and remember that a beer growler chiller is a great way to keep all that homebrew fresh.