Economics of Homebrewing Part 2



About 6 months ago I wrote the first entry, in what I’ve now decided will be a series of articles, about the economics of homebrewing. The point of the original article was to see if homebrewing was actually a way to save money. Since then I’ve brewed 7 more beers and collected even more data that I’d like to share!

Where I live, in Ontario, Canada, the average price of a case of 24 beers is $34.95 or roughly $1.46 per 355ml beer. If you want to drink some craft beer instead you need to be prepared to pay quite a bit more.

Economics of Homebrewing

After I wrote the first post I made two big changes to my brewing process. The first is that I’ve started to brew using reverse osmosis (RO) water instead of my tap water. I find this gives a better taste to my final product but it does come with the additional price tag of about $3.60/5 gallons where I live.

The second change goes hand-in-hand with the first and it is that I also started to adjust my water chemistry. While this has had a big positive result for the taste of my beer it also added a very small amount of consumable cost to my process.

Just a reminder right off the bat that my numbers below might be completely different from yours and that’s perfectly OK! With that out of the way let’s get to the interesting part!

The Highlights

Overall Totals
Equipment Cost$733.09
Homebrew Cost$468.71
Total 355ml Beers Brewed718

My total spend over my first 18 brews was $733.09 for equipment and $468.71 on homebrew ingredients (gain, hops, yeast) and consumables (StarSan, muslin bags, salts, bottle caps, etc.). This is an increase of $58.37 in equipment and $75.52 in ingredients and consumables costs since my last post.

Where I live in Canada we don’t have as much access to low cost equipment and ingredients as, for example, those who live in the United States might so my equipment costs may be a bit higher than what you might expect. Additionally I’ve received a few gifts here and there and upgraded my equipment beyond what is required to actually brew beer. While these quality of life upgrades have been free to me I’ve included their full costs here just to be fair.

To be clear – before anyone posts otherwise below – yes, it is 100% possible to brew beer without spending nearly as much money on equipment! You could cobble together left over containers and jerry-rig something to get the job done for next to nothing if you were so inclined. Even looking at my own equipment costs I could have gotten away with spending less than $300 if I had just stuck to the basics… but where’s the fun in that 😛

Per Batch Averages
Average (Ingredients) Cost$27.31
Average Yield40 x 355ml bottles

This is an increase in $0.79 per batch but also an increase in yield of 2 bottles as well. Like last time I’ve decided to show the volumes in standard 355ml bottle sizes because I find that easier to understand.

Per Bottle Averages
Average 355ml Bottle Cost (With Equipment Cost)$1.93
Average 355ml Bottle Cost (Without Equipment Cost)$0.65

The per bottle averages went in the cost saving direction with a decrease of $0.62/bottle including the higher equipment costs or a $0.05/bottle decrease without. I’m actually really happy about this because it means that even though I added a lot of expensive equipment my production costs are still going down!

Other Tracked Items
Reused Harvested Yeast$21.49 saved

Reusing harvested or overbuilt yeast continues to be a good spot to save money. Since the previous post I’ve saved another $8 in reused yeast alone!

Breaking it Down

Interested in seeing what these numbers look like on a per batch basis?

ItemHomebrew Cost(Yield) # of 355ml BottlesAverage Cost per 355ml Bottle
Equipment$733.09N/AN/A
Consumables$184.14N/AN/A
Baldwin St. Bohemian Pilsner$31.9830$1.07
OBK Irish Blonde Ale$21.8540$0.55
OBK West Coast IPA$40.6535$1.16
OBK Witbier$22.5535$0.64
OBK Irish Stout$23.0137$0.62
OBK Irish Red$23.4944$0.53
OBK Cream Ale$21.8538$0.58
Goose Island IPA Clone$41.2648$0.86
Simple Apple (Juice) Cider$20.9032$0.65
Boddingtons Clone$25.0437$0.68
Centennial Blonde Ale$19.1743$0.45
Bohemian Pilsner$22.2548$0.46
English Honey Brown Ale$13.5643$0.32
Summer “Leftover” Ale$14.5537$0.39
True Believer$45.8943$1.07
Belgian Table Beer$18.9148$0.39
OBK Barleywine$30.1332$0.94
OBK American Amber Ale$31.6848$0.66

Comparing it to the Big Guys

Alright so with all of that out of the way how do things compare against the “big guys”? What would it have cost me to buy the equivalent amount of beer from the store? What, if anything, is my break even point?

Just another small reminder before I get into the numbers… Where I live in Ontario the average beer price is $1.46/bottle so my numbers are based around that. Each row in the table below (apart from the first, which is the upfront equipment + non-ingredient consumable costs) represents the commutative yield from each successive brewed batch. I then added the equivalent commercial cost to get to the same amount of beer for comparison.

# of 355ml BottlesHomebrewCommercial
0$917.23$0.00
30$949.21$43.69
70$971.06$101.94
105$1,011.71$152.91
140$1,034.26$203.88
177$1,057.27$257.76
221$1,080.76$321.83
259$1,102.61$377.17
307$1,143.87$447.07
339$1,164.77$493.67
376$1,189.80$547.55
419$1,208.97$610.17
467$1,231.22$680.07
510$1,244.78$742.69
547$1,259.33$796.57
590$1,305.22$859.19
638$1,324.13$929.09
670$1,354.26$975.69
718$1,385.94$1,045.59

So when will I break even? Well according to Excel’s handy FORECAST function it looks like it’ll be around 1,125 x 355ml bottles of beer (a decrease of 12 bottles since last time). At the rate I’ve been going I’m more than half way to breaking even by batch yield.

Conclusions

So what did we learn this time? While it remains true that the equipment costs are the single greatest factor in whether or not you will save money, it doesn’t seem like that alone is enough to prevent you from eventually breaking even. As an example even though I added a significant amount of new equipment since last time my per-bottle costs have actually decreased!

The other thing I’ve noticed is that the more brews I get under my belt the more I’ve learned to look out for ways to save money. For example increasing my brewhouse efficiency, purchasing in bulk, picking recipes that have more impactful hop additions when I want that (e.g. whirlpool or dry hop vs 15 min addition if I want more of a “hop punch”), and of course continuing to save and reuse yeast!

So can you save money homebrewing? Absolutely! Will you save money homebrewing? Well… maybe. Homebrewing is a very fun but also a very addictive hobby that tends to have you always on the lookout for the next upgrade. As a result your millage may very on that one.

All that said this hobby is definitely about more than just the money involved. It’s about the fun experience of having full control over your entire beer making process. The screw ups and successes along the way just add to the enjoyment of putting your own personal stamp on things!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through this post and I plan to continue this series going forward as I keep tracking my homebrew costs. If you have any questions about the numbers I’ve presented above please feel free to ask 🙂 .

Below is a quick gallery of the brews mentioned in this post. For more information you can read about their individual brew days here.



7 Comments Add yours

  1. Interesting, love the graph!
    I did a similar breakdown for my first year of brewing, I found that for my first year, I’ve averaged $6.35 (US) for each 12oz bottle of homebrew I made. This was for 14 batched of 2.5 gallon. The killer for pricing was the kegging equipment
    Full write up:
    http://smallbbrewing.com/2018/12/09/first-year-homebrewing-summary.html

    1. Brewers Journey says:

      Nice! Great minds think alike 🙂

  2. Brewphyseod says:

    Great post – interesting to see!

    I had a huge decrease in my cost/batch when I started buying base grain in 55# sacks. Also, reusing yeast was a big savings, but I think the marginal costs were down to about 33 cents american per 22oz. If you are brewing frequently and in larger volumes, this can be a good idea.

    That said, if you end up brewing more frequently to use up your malt, you need to have a plan for what to do with the extra beer! I had a houseful of roommates who were enthusiastic helpers and would buy me a piece of equipment here and pay for a recipe there in order to have access to the all you can drink beer buffet.

    1. Brewers Journey says:

      Thanks for the comment! I’ve been thinking of picking up a grain mill so I can start buying in bulk. Maybe 2019 will be the year 🙂

  3. chasjs says:

    I like the effort you have put into your analysis. Are your dollars USD or CAD? I don’t know if the economics will ever be there for the home brewer. If you are doing it to save money there are better ways to save (or make) money.

    The sunk cost is what drives the price per unit way up. I think you will find that many home brewers has thousands of $ invested in equipment. If you take out the sunk cost you are probably saving money on every batch – assuming you are valuing your labor at zero. So the operating cost is where I focus. I buy my base malt and hops in bulk which cuts the cost of a batch in half. I estimate I am making my beer at about $5 per gallon and a good craft beer will run about $15 to $18 per gallon or more. On the other hand a beer like Coors or Bud I can get for about $9 per gallon. On an operating cost I can save money but I have so much money in my sunk cost I will never come out ahead.

    Yes, buy a grain mill. Talk to your LHBS and find out what they will sell two row malt for in a 50# bag.

    1. Brewers Journey says:

      Canadian dollars. Yeah I’ve been thinking of a grain mill lately but I’m not sure it’s actually cost effective with the price my LHBS charges for milling. The break even point (last time I checked) was somewhere in the hundreds of brews.

  4. Chasjs says:

    I purchased a Barley Crusher lightly used off craigslist for $50. I was paying $1.95 /pound at my LHBS for malt. I was able to buy a 55 pound bag of 2 row for $50 so I am saving about $1 a pound. I use about a 12 to 14 lbs of 2 row per batch so I figure I paid for the mill in the first 4 batches. In addition I purchase some of my more common specialty grains (carapils, crystal,etc.) 3 or 4 pounds at a time which last for several batches but is saves me time and a trip to the LHBS.

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