Homebrew Voodoo Economics

Hamm's Beer drawing

Behold my MS Paint skills — Hamm’s Beer: No really, it’s not that bad.

There are two types of homebrewers; those who start homebrewing because they’ve heard it’s cheaper than buying commercial beer, and those who stick with it because they enjoy it.

A while back, a friend of a friend tried one of my homebrews and became momentarily intrigued with homebrewing. He eventually mentioned that he’d heard it was cheaper to homebrew rather than buy commercial beer.  Our conversation went something like this:

So if I wanted to brew this beer, how much would it cost?
That depends.  Do you have any brewing equipment?
None at all?
Well, if you’re starting from absolute zero, it’s going to cost you somewhere around $130 to brew your first batch.

His interest in homebrewing died on the table after hearing this, and to be honest, it’s probably for the best.

There’s compromise in everything
I’m frequently asked if I save money by homebrewing.  This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on your perspective and comparative quality standards. For instance, I can walk to Quick Trip, and buy two cases of Hamm’s for $17.98 (before tax). That’s about $0.37/beer.  But this is only meaningful if you’re a huge fan of Hamm’s, or down to your last $20. By comparison, the last batch of beer I brewed cost me a little less than $1.00/beer — and this is just for ingredients. But quite frankly, my Saison is a lot better than Hamm’s, so I’m alright with this.

Using a slightly more “apples to apples” comparison, my goto APA recipe costs just shy of $30 for 2 cases of beer. Compared to buying two cases of Schlafly APA or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, I’m coming out ahead.  But then again, I can go to the grocery store on a moment’s notice to grab beer.  I need 6 – 8 week’s notice for homebrew.

The reality is that ingredients are only one cost when it comes to homebrew. Stuff like new vinyl tubing, StarSan, and propane tank refills are recurring costs. In addition, things break or wear out — racking canes, hydrometers, airlocks, and even fermentation buckets inevitably need to be replaced. Maintaining and upgrading your brewery is an ongoing process that never really ends.

Bottom Line
If saving money is your only motivation for homebrewing, you’re never really going to be satisfied.  Stop worrying about cost benefit analysis, and just brew your beer because it’s objectively awesome, dammit!  I brew my own beer because I enjoy the process and experience just as much as the beer. This is why I’ve allowed myself to get sucked into this endless rabbit hole of an obsession.

On a side note, I actually like Hamm’s beer.

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