Economics of Homebrewing Part 3



Welcome back to the series where I track (most of) the costs associated with my hobby of homebrewing delicious beer! Writing these has been a fun exercise for me to not only see just how much I’ve spent on the hobby – so, so much 🙂 – but also to compare it to buying the equivalent amount of commercial beer in order to see if you can really “save” money homebrewing. Plus the last time I wrote a post about this was way back in January so we’re definitely due for an update.

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

Before we get started I wanted to provide you with an idea of what my current brewing process looks like in order to give some context to my numbers. Beyond the normal ingredients – like grain, hops and yeast – I do have a few other minor things to note about my process. First off I start by using reverse osmosis (RO) water which I buy from a local store. I then make some minor water chemistry adjustments, following the excellent guide here, by adding in some salts. Finally near the end of the boil I toss in some Irish moss as a fining agent. I also (still…) haven’t purchased a grain mill and so there is a nominal milling fee charged by my LHBS in each batch. Buying these “extras” adds approximately $6 to each brewed batch, most of which is the cost of the water.

I do not track costs associated with my time, propane, non-brewing water used for things like cleaning, etc.

Since the last update I also added one new piece of expensive equipment in the form of a Blichmann Hellfire Burner. Like all other equipment, this has been added to the overall “sunk costs” total for equipment as you’ll see below.

And one final note before we get into it – 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$939.79
Homebrew Cost$1,017.57
Total 355ml Beers Brewed1,107

My total spend over 28 brews was $939.79 for equipment and $1,017.57 on homebrew ingredients (gain, hops, yeast) and consumables (StarSan, muslin bags, salts, bottle caps, etc.). This is an increase of $206.70 in equipment and $548.86 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.

Economics of Homebrewing Part 2
Per Batch Averages
Average (Ingredients) Cost$28.18
Average Yield40 x 355ml bottles

This is an average increase of $0.87 per batch since last time. As I become more experienced in the hobby I’ve decided to branch out and try more complex, and therefore costly, recipes. Two examples of this are the kettle sour and hop heavy NEIPA I recently brewed.

Per Bottle Averages
Average 355ml Bottle Cost (With Equipment Cost)$1.77
Average 355ml Bottle Cost (Without Equipment Cost)$0.92

The per bottle averages went down with a decrease of $0.16/bottle including the higher equipment costs or an increase of $0.27/bottle without. This basically means that even though my per-batch price has been rising I’m also still realizing some of the “savings” from my previously sunk equipment costs.

Other Tracked Items
Reused Harvested Yeast$26.99 saved

Reusing harvested or overbuilt yeast continues to be a good spot to save money. Since the previous post I’ve saved another $5.50 in reused/overbuilt 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$939.79N/AN/A
Consumables$228.43N/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
Vienna Lager$26.0429$0.90
The El Morillo$46.8837$1.27
Centennial Blonde Lager$20.1543$0.47
German AltBier$29.9940$0.75
Corona Extra Clone$29.4137$0.79
SFBC – Lando Saison$26.5043$0.62
OBK Hefenweizen$25.6148$0.53
Berliner Weisse Sour$32.7832$1.02
Summer “Leftover” Ale II$26.6937$0.72
Avg. Perfect Northeast IPA (NEIPA)$56.3943$1.31

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. Yes it’s true that craft beer would cost significantly more than the average but I’ve picked this number to give a good middle ground.

Each row in the table below (apart from the first, which is the upfront equipment + non-ingredient consumable costs) represents the commutative yield+costs 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$1,168.22$0.00
30$1,200.20$43.69
70$1,222.05$101.94
105$1,262.70$152.91
140$1,285.25$203.88
177$1,308.26$257.76
221$1,331.75$321.83
259$1,353.60$377.17
307$1,394.86$447.07
339$1,415.76$493.67
376$1,440.79$547.55
419$1,459.96$610.17
467$1,482.21$680.07
510$1,495.77$742.69
547$1,510.32$796.57
590$1,556.21$859.19
638$1,575.12$929.09
670$1,605.25$975.69
718$1,636.93$1,045.59
747$1,662.97$1,087.83
784$1,709.85$1,141.71
827$1,730.00$1,204.33
867$1,759.98$1,262.58
904$1,789.39$1,316.46
947$1,815.89$1,379.08
995$1,841.50$1,448.98
1027$1,874.28$1,495.58
1064$1,900.97$1,549.46
1107$1,957.36$1,612.08

So when will I break even? Well according to Excel’s handy FORECAST function it looks like it’ll be around 1,498 x 355ml bottles of beer (an increase of 373 bottles since last time due largely to my new propane burner).

Conclusions

While the data is really interesting to look at I tend to always come to the same conclusion at the end of the day. Yes you can “save money” on brewing your own beer at home but will you? That’s a bit more complicated… If you’re anything like me you probably won’t break even quickly unless you really don’t give in to buying the fun, and somewhat expensive, equipment upgrades. Even then you probably will still manage to break even at some point, it’ll just take a while longer.

If you’re truly in it to try and save money you could look for cheaper recipes, continue to reuse your harvested yeast and of course buy your ingredients in bulk. Some people even go out of their way to roast their own grain instead of buying more expensive specialty malts. Those more creative then me will find the best ways to optimize for cost.

Like I said last time, 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!

With that said I hope you once again enjoyed reading through my latest update on the economics of homebrewing! If you want to read the previous ones you can do so by clicking the link here. 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 click on their individual links below or read about all of my brew days here. Until next time RDWHAHB!



6 Comments Add yours

  1. Glenn Simpson says:

    Great breakdown thanks for this looks like I better start brewing more to break even

  2. Andrew Wilson says:

    Interesting article. I do wonder if you are over depreciating your equipment though. I have equipment which I have used for decades and would think a depreciation cost of 7 – 10% per annum would be reasonable for what I have.

    Interesting how ingredient costs vary. I use tap water ( I do live very close to Burton upon Trent!) I pay approx £40 for 25kg malt, and approx £5 – £7 per 100g for hops. A standard 24l batch comes in at about £10, or approximately 50p / l ingredient costs. I would reasonably say that 30p / 0.3l bottle (reused bottle) is in the order of my costs.

  3. Marc says:

    Break even came quickly for me I see your ordering from OBK which has free shipping over 100. I also noticed you bought a brand name burner. 70000 btu turkey burner 100 16 gal pot anf a barley grinder, mash ton and 2 $20 4-5 Gal pots from superstore and i was going for around 700 bucks with 3 beer kits.

    I have gotten people started who do 3 gal batches with just the 20 pot and a grain bag for bag brewing and stuff off kijij inder 100 bucks!.

    That grain mill will pay itself off in 1 bag of grain which can last a year or more uncrushed. There are mills and direct sources there if you research amd can get a bag of grain under 30 for 55lb. Pitch on top of yeast cakes you stretch out a $5 pack of yeast, save liquid yeast in jars in the fridge and use in starters later to bring down yeast cost significantly. I rarely use RO anymore only lagers at best.

    Ave 10-13 lbs grain per batch 33 cents a lb if doing something not hoppy .5 oz of a strong bitter hop like magnum keeps you closer to 1.5 bucks 60 355ml for under 10 bucks is real with dry yeast and saves the 5 bucks if you pitch another brew on top of the cake after you transfer the last on off ( Barley wines and Imperials this is the only way to go to ensure enough yeast)

    Get that grain mill its the single most important piece you will ever buy.

  4. Marc says:

    Sorry 50c/lb ish more like 33c a beer was where i was going with that not 33c/lb

  5. Richard says:

    I guess we’re lucky here in Calgary, where the water is usually pretty decent for brewing ales straight out of the tap.

    Like others, I buy all of my base malts in 25kg sacks unmilled and most-used hops by the pound or half-pound – each of these practices typically knock 40%-70% off the cost. Combining those with yeast harvesting, I figure I’m spending about $.70 to $1.20 per 355ml, with none of those being simple-and-cheap beers and the more expensive ones being the peach or blackberry ales for my wife that require a lot of expensive fruit or canned puree. So it’s usually about 1/3 or less of what similar beers would cost at the store.

    A tip for saving on yeast – especially if you use liquid strains – always make a good-sized yeast starter about 3 days ahead, and save 1/3 to 1/2 of that starter in a sanitized container in the fridge for the next batch (the yeast sediment only, drain off most of the liquid). This way you keep a viable strain going for many generations with much less risk of contamination.

    I first started buying bulk malt and harvesting yeast just to make sure I would have what I needed when I wanted it, but scaled that up a lot when I realized how much cheaper and convenient it is. Especially if I factor in the money and/or time spent on shipping fees and/or driving around the city getting ingredients. I usually plan out my brew calendar 3-6 months ahead, so only have to make a trip for spec malts, etc every 3-4 months.

    Keep up the good work!

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