What are the reasons for brewing at home? There are many and varied possibilities, such as making exactly what you want to drink, the fascination of this melding of art and science and the chance to show off at competitions. The last one has no interest for me although both of the others factor in to some extent. However, a key reason that applies to me and, I believe, many other home brewers is cost: the perennial quest for cheap beer.
But how much does a bottle of brew cost me? For a benchmark, the cheapest supermarket beers you can get in this part of the UK at the moment are about £1 per 500ml bottle, the cheap ones are about £1.30 and £1.50 a bottle is still considered inexpensive enough to count as part of a buy four for £6 deal. Can I beat that?
The raw ingredients are fairly easy to cost up. My recent 26/- beer had 10,080g pale malt (£1.89), 30g crystal (6p) and 30g black (6p… although I am still working through the pack I bought over five years ago!). I also added in 95g brewing sugar (21p), 17g East Kent Goldings hops (67p) and a pinch of Irish Moss (10p). Finally, I used about 6g yeast (£1.15) and a bit more sugar for bottling (3p). There were also some cleaning materials, made up into solutions so just a few teaspoons full, and nine bottle caps. Let’s call that £4.50 for materials used up. I got nine bottles so that gives a convenient figure of 50p a bottle.
Is that a clear win for home brew? Not so fast. I used 10l of water in the brew but probably over 50l when you add in all the rinsing and washing. Water is pretty cheap but I used a combination of electricity and gas for heating it through the process. There’s also the equipment I used, some of which is used for other purposes but much of which is dedicated to brewing. Most of it will last for a very long time though, so let’s set that one side.
Finally, there is the time cost. From pre-prep to final clean up, there’s probably at least 5-6 hours of attention needed (although how do you count the time when mashing and boiling where you are mainly sitting around keeping half an eye on the temperature?). If I billed myself for the time, it really wouldn’t be worth it. However, it is a hobby and it isn’t costing me other income by investing that so I’ll leave time out.
So, I’ll go for a nominal cost of about 75p a bottle, which ought to cover fuel costs and still puts me below the lowest supermarket costs. On average, I get at least ten bottles a brew (£7.50) so, if I pit myself against the £1.30 / bottle mark which reflects the supermarket price point I normally buy at, I’m making at least a £5-6 saving per batch. I guess I’ve probably racked up at least twenty brews so far so, as long as I resist the temptation to keep buying new kit, I think I can cover my costs on that side (or will do over the next few years).
In conclusion then, from these very rough sums, home brewing is a cheaper way to get your beer if you can afford the time and if you stick with it long enough to recoup the equipment costs.