About a week ago, I posted an article on how to save money with a board and card gaming hobby. That article came pretty directly from the heart, as board and card games are one of my primary hobbies (along with reading and… well, home brewing).
Naturally, several people wrote to me asking about my other interests. How do you cut back on the costs of a home brewing hobby? How do you make a reading hobby cheap? This week, I’ll address that first question (and tackle the second one later this month).
So, let’s dig in, right from the beginning.
What Exactly Is Home Brewing?
Home brewing is simply brewing beer at home. You start with basic ingredients – water, yeast, and some sort of grain – and allow the yeast to feast on the grain, producing a small amount of alcohol right in the water. That’s what beer is, at the core. All of the different varieties – and there are tons of them, all of which are simply variations on that core recipe – boil down to that core mechanism. Just put some grains in water, add yeast to the mix, and wait for a while and you’ll have some kind of beer.
Of course, you’re going to want to make something that’s palatable, and that means using particular grains and particular types of yeasts and particular additional ingredients to make something tasty. You’re also going to need containers for the stuff to ferment in (it produces gas while fermenting and you also don’t really want to leave the surface exposed to air, either) and containers to store the beer when it’s finished. Depending on what you’re making, other equipment is needed as well.
The truth is that home brewing is definitely one of those hobbies that can be as expensive as you want it to be. I can make decent beer in a plastic bucket. On the other hand, I have friends that have their entire garages devoted to elaborate home brewing setups with thousands of dollars worth of equipment, kegging systems, and other things that push them right up to the edge of being a microbrewery business. (You can make 200 gallons of beer per year for personal use in a household with two adults, which adds up to an astounding 2,133 bottles of beer.)
For me, it’s firmly a hobby for personal enjoyment. I enjoy the process of making small batches (around five gallons) of beer once in a while, mostly to be shared with family and friends. I definitely do things on the cheap side, but it could get really expensive really quick if I allowed it to.
So, how do I keep it relatively inexpensive? Here are some strategies that I use.
Start With Very Simple Gear and Upgrade Only When You Have a Reason (or Need a Gift Idea)
My first several batches of homemade beer were made in a five gallon plastic Culligan water jug that someone gave to me. I attached a one inch piece of clear rubber hose to the top to serve as a blowoff hose. I bottled the beer in bottles I saved over a long period of time and capped them using the cheapest caps and cheapest bottle capping tool I could find from the home brewing supply store.
All told, my initial gear added up to about $10 for the cheap capper and the little bit of rubber hose. It was far from perfect, but it did the job just fine.
Over time, I slowly upgraded that equipment. I moved to a glass carboy from the plastic Culligan jug. I started using an airlock instead of the blowoff hose. I got a better capper eventually (after breaking the first one) and added a few additional pieces of equipment here and there.
The key thing to keep in mind is that all of these upgrades weren’t strictly necessary. As I became familiar with the process, I began to see how certain upgrades were useful and I eventually made those upgrades. However, many of my gear upgrades came as a result of my wife searching for Christmas gifts for me, to tell the truth. Home brewing has provided many, many gift ideas over the years.
Use a Lot of Kitchen Gear You Already Have
Many useful items for home brewing are things you already have in your kitchen. As long as you thoroughly clean them both before and after using them for brewing, there’s no need to buy separate equipment.
For example, I often use a stock pot for cooking my grains (for those unfamiliar, heating grains up causes them to brew like tea, emitting much of their sugar and other compounds into the water, some of which the yeast later transforms into alcohol). It’s just an ordinary kitchen stock pot that you can get at pretty much any store, and we use it for other things, too.
You don’t need to duplicate anything that you already have in your kitchen. When you’re learning how to home brew, look for things you already have and use those. Just make sure to keep everything very well cleaned.
If you already have a stockpot at home, there’s no need to buy a separate one for home brewing. Photo: Colby