Saving Money by Homebrewing is Making Me Poor!

My head is spinning.  It all started when Don was given the opportunity to use an acquaintance’s gear to home brew.  As many of you know, I’ve been wanting to start brewing as well, so I thought now is the time.  Don’s (probably) going to brew soon, and it’s something we can do together, with him brewing in Idaho under the tutelage of an experienced brewer, and me brewing in New Jersey with my wife using books and blogs as a guide.  Sounds simple enough and could lead to some neat posts on this here blog of ours.

What I wasn’t ready for was the startup expense.  Homebrewing might save you money on beer if you look at the cost of ingredients for a batch versus the cost of bottled beer, but that doesn’t include the equipment cost, which is what has me reeling right now.

So here’s what I’ve bought so far (I’m considering this my Fathers Day, birthday and Christmas gifts for 2010, BTW).  It began with a starter kit.  Peter from Simply Beer pointed me towards the Better Basic Starters Kit at Northern Brewer. It was a great kit for sure, but all the beers I want to brew require secondary fermentation, so I upgraded to the Deluxe Beer Starter Kit which includes a secondary fermentor and some other useful geegaws.  Total price: $156.99.  I also got their Bourbon Barrel Porter Extract Kit with the liquid Wyeast upgrade for $48.24.  With shipping, I’m on the hook for $ 213.22.  Okay, a little painful, but I’ll keep the gear for years, so that’s okay.

Then I realized that I don’t have a brew kettle.  This is where things got a little out of hand. After looking across the Internet and reaching out to Twitter for guidance, I decided to get the cheapest 10 gallon pot I could find.  Then, like an idiot,  I talked myself into a much more expensive one.  I wound up getting a MegaPot 10 gallon kettle with a built in thermometer and a ball valve on the bottom.

This decision was driven mostly by fear – fear of wrecking my first wort by not having a good temp reading, and fear of spending $75 to $100 on a plain kettle only to wish I had bought the good one to begin with.  So I bit the bullet, clicked the link and spent another $237.98 (with shipping) on a pot with a hole in the bottom and a dial on the front.  It makes me sick to type it!  I looked into converted kegs as well, but a pre-made one (I’m not handy with metal) ran roughly the same price as the MegaPot, but was made by some dude in Pennsylvania.  I decided to go with the safer vendor and a known brand instead.

Add in the $40 bucks for the Bayou Burner I had to purchase to provide the heat (I have a ceramic cooktop in the house which will struggle heating the wort) and I’m in for $491.20.  And I haven’t brewed an ounce!  My first batch should yield 5 gallons, so that puts me at $98.24 a gallon,  or $9.21 for each 12oz bottle!!  It better be amazing beer.

Now my rational side tells me that I’m making an investment and it will pay out in many ways in the future.  I’ll save money on beer, learn more about my favorite thing (beer), brew with my wife which’ll be a blast, have pride of craftsmanship, and everything I’ve purchased is durable and expandable to accommodate me wherever my brewing journey might lead.  But that doesn’t do a lot for the little knot in my stomach that says I just spend a significant sum of money on something I don’t know how to do.

I’m hoping I’ll look back on this and feel that I made smart choices. I’m also praying that my wife never learns how much I paid for that stupid pot.  Because if she does, I might not live long enough to ever see a return on my investment.

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Categories: Beer

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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24 Comments on “Saving Money by Homebrewing is Making Me Poor!”

  1. February 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    You guys always give me a chuckle. It is painful, but think of it as Golf Clubs. Instead of JUST getting the enjoyment of the game, when you are done playing (becuase brewing is fun) you get to drink your beer. You don’t get to eat your scorecard.

    Brewing can be as simple as we make it. For an experiment, I am planning on doing a post that shows how someone can make a beer with ONLY stuff they have lying around the house. I think it might be interesting. I’m going to actually brew up the beer, and I’m only going to buy the ingredients.

    • February 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

      Thanks McGuyver-Nate, your post on how to brew without spending money like a moron is sure to make me feel better about all of this. 🙂

      I do like the golfing analogy, and I hope brewing isn’t as frustrating as I’ve heard golf can be. But still, I kinda feel like the guy who buys a set of carbon fiber Calloways before his first lesson.

    • February 24, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

      Nate, interesting. I guess the things you’d need to figure out how to get around buying are bottle caps & a capper (you could probably reuse soda bottles), plus tubing and a racking cane. The brewing equipment can all be existing kitchen wares, and for fermentation you can use a large spring water jug if you already have those or a food-grade bucket if you happen to have one lying around. (I’ve also heard of people lining buckets with unscented trash bags.)

      • February 24, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

        @Brad…yeah…I thought of the bottling problem. Saving up soda bottles seems to be the way to go…that was the only idea I’d had. Rubbermaid containers all the way for fermentation!

        @Jim…I played golf once and hated it, i brewed once and then brewed again and again. you’ll love it!

    • Don
      February 24, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      That sounds like fun! I’ll be looking for that post!

  2. February 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    I don’t even know how much I’ve spent on homebrewing. Luckily it’s come in chunks, but some of those chunks have been fairly large (several hundred dollars).

    As with any hobby, you can always go bigger, bigger, bigger.

    Good post.

    • February 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

      Thanks, Brad. I guess I just blew way past my comfort zone on this one. But once the sticker shock fades, I hope to have a sweet setup that will serve me well. for quite a while. On to smaller chunks!

      But then again, I agree that you can always go bigger. I have my eye on a 14 gallon conical fermentor… 😉

  3. Marvin
    February 24, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    Craigslist is a good place for brewing equipment, I got what was about 500 dollars worth of equipment for about 100 bucks. Also in the kettles, just ask the community for help converting them. I don’t know how many people will convert kettles and kegs for payment of beer. If you buy them already converted you pay a premium.

    Take this like you would anything else, shiniest isn’t always the best. sometimes the homemade beat up stuff you get second hand makes the best beer because the guy using it can tell you how to brew on it, which you will have to learn with all the shiny new stuff. Things like boil off, trub loss etc that once you learn will be just for your system as everyone is different. buying used you already have someones insight on how that system will handle.

    • February 24, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      That’s good advice, Marvin. I know NOTHING about brewing, so I looked for the simplest, quickest way in (but obviously not the cheapest). I think I have everything I need to give it a go, and I think I’m about to learn a ton about brewing.

      As I move forward, I’ll probably build out my rig (that’s what the big boys call them, right?) with used equipment. Right now I don’t know enough about what I’m doing to really understand what I need. Hopefully that will change and I’ll have the insight to judge what’s a good used piece, what’s junk, and what’s going to leave me screaming empty-handed in the middle of my brew day.

    • Don
      February 24, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

      See Jim, my way is better! Just ask Marvin! He knows. Thanks for the tip Marvin, I’ll check Craigs list to fill any holes I might have in the equipment I get from my buddy.

      • February 24, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

        I don’t think Marvin said “get all the gear for free and expert advice from an experienced buddy.” That’s a no-brainer!

  4. Don
    February 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    So she sounds a lot like Kathy. She doesn’t read the blog anymore either! If I want to make sure I hid something from her I post it! That way she will never find out!

    • February 24, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

      That’s exactly right, big bro. She tried to be polite at first, but quickly gave up. Now I guess I’m banking on her indifference!

  5. February 24, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    Jim, I’m glad your diving in feet first. hate to tell you with an extract kit you can get away with a lobster pot, 3 gal pot. For almost 5 years I used the plastic primary, glass secondary and 3 gallon pot and made some incredible beers with it. But, it did cost me more to move up to all grain when I did.

    Good luck, welcome to the obsession! 🙂

    • February 25, 2010 at 8:33 am #

      I needed something, because the extract kit i got makes 5 gallons. Its all good though- I’m already looking at partial and all-grain recipes, so I’m sure I’ll be using the gear to its full potential soon.

  6. February 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    Jim, I think your logic is sound. You’re a real beer guy and I think you’ll end up getting a lot of use out of the equipment over the years. If anything, this will motivate you to get started so you can see some returns on your investment! I’m looking forward to the posts on the new adventure!

    • February 25, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

      Thanks, Scott. I told the wife that I bought a brew kettle because we didn’t have a pot big enough for us to boil our 5 gallon wort. She said “Happy Father’s Day to you, and Happy Mother’s Day to me.” I said, “And happy birthday to me, and maybe Christmas, too.” She said, “That much, huh?” and I nodded. And that was that.

      Her being cool with it takes a ton of the stress off the purchase. I didn’t know it was a big deal to me, but it was. Now that the gear is blessed, I’m eager to get going!

  7. February 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    Jim,

    I know it was painful but it will be worth it. Starting with a 10 gallon pot is better than buying the tiny one and upgrading later…trust me. Some of the stuff you bought was certainly better than it needed to be but you have good stuff and I’m sure you’ll stick with it. You’re pretty much a gatorade/igloo cooler away from doing all grain. That’s where you’ll really see some money savings. I can brew a good beer for about $.30 a bottle now. Don’t worry, the equipment will pay for itself.

    • February 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

      /just ran out to buy a gatorade cooler…

    • Don
      February 25, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

      Don’t encourage him Mike, he needs some humility! I gotta see what I’m getting, Because I’m sure it will be the hillbilly set up for home brewing by comparison. I guess I’m jealous. Just be mean to him!

    • March 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

      You nailed it Jeff. That’s hilarious!

    • Don
      March 2, 2010 at 10:06 am #

      I now know what I’m getting my wife for Mother’s Day…The book, not the tomato…

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Help Me Kegerate This Puppy! « Beer & Whiskey Brothers - September 30, 2010

    […] in all, I want to do this right, but as cost-effectively as possible.  You might recall that I blew too much money buying my brewing gear, and I don’t want to do that […]

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