Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Cost of Homebrew

"If anyone ever tells you that you'll eventually save money by making your own beer, tell them they're full of shit." - Colin L.

Seems like it's easy to break even if your average cost for a "store-bought" six-pack is $12 and you brew seventy-five gallons per year. At that rate you'll need to drink eleven or twelve pints per week to keep up, but you can cover your hardware expenses pretty quickly. I dunno, I don't drink nearly that much and it still seems like I should still be able to get to break-even somewhere along the way. Not that I always brew from a recipe that looks like this, but I can brew five gallons of a pretty decent beer for twenty bucks.
Item/Ingredient Percentage Cost
10lbs. 2-Row Malt 32.5% $6.50
2lbs. Specialty Malts 12.5% $2.50
4oz. Hops 20.0% $4.00
Dry Yeast 20.0% $4.00
Misc.(Whirfloc, Gypsum) 5.0% $1.00
Production (Cleaners, Propane, etc.) 10.0% $2.00
Total 100.0% $20.00

Those are my actual costs, based on my "inventory" as I start 2011. I probably have about 80 pounds of malt, five pounds of hops and half a dozen yeast packets on hand. My cost of ingredients used to be about twice that much when I was buying per recipe. The two things that keep the costs down now are:
  • I shop around. I could go to any of half a dozen homebrew stores, but the bulk of my purchasing is done where I get the best deal.
  • I buy in bulk. Base malts by the bag with a discount to homebrew club members, and hops by the pound.
I've since heard about an even less expensive source for all sorts of stuff. Unfortunately for me, it's 200 miles away, so it will need to wait for my next trip to the Portland area.

Let's say the commercial version of the same beer is about $7.50 a six-pack. We're looking at more than $60 for five gallons that way, so the cost of homebrew is about one third of the commercial cost. And let's also say that I brew a batch of beer every other month. We're looking at a savings of $40 per batch times six per year, or $240 annually. As long as I keep my equipment costs under $200 per year I'm at least forty bucks to the good, which I can spend on a couple of pints at a local pub.

I could cut my costs down to $11 per batch (about $5 per case) if decided to go as cheap as possible. It's funny to note that adjuncts like flaked rice actually drive up the cost of my beer rather than lowering it:
BobweiserTM (Lite American Lager)
Batch Size: 5 Gallons
Original Gravity (OG): 1.039 (°P): 9.8
Color (SRM): 2.8
Bitterness (IBU): 9.1 (Tinseth)

6.25lbs American 2-Row
1lb Flaked Rice
14g Hallertau Tradition (5.4% Alpha) @ 60 Minutes (Boil)

Multi-step Infusion mash. Boil for 60 Minutes
Ferment at 50°F with Saflager W-34/70
Keg rather than bottling to save on capping costs.
I've been brewing beer for at least six years, so my equipment investment should be around $1,200 right now to make all of this work. Is it? If you count the keggerator and the lager fridge, I'm a bit over. But I've gotten most of the stuff I need/want, so my equipment purchasing should slow down a lot from here on out. I might go for welded cart to replace the metal shelves I have now, but that's probably the last major purchase for Finn Hill Brewing for a long time.

Here's another interesting way to put things in perspective: The cost of ingredients is roughly 15% for large-scale brewers. This is eerily similar to the costs of engineering for a software company I used to work for. They spent more than double that in marketing. I always wondered, if we put twice as many dollars in to making it, wouldn't it be twice as easy to sell?

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