The faltering economy could have folks around the country dreaming of drowning their sorrows with a nice cold brew.
Too bad beer is one of the legions of products with a price tag rising faster than a hot head of foam. According to government statistics, beer prices are rising at an annual rate of about 4% due to the increased costs of hops, malted barley and energy. And with microbreweries, who find it harder to absorb cost increases because they brew in small quantities, forced to drive up prices 15%-40%, fans with a particular palette are thirsting for relief.
So for those looking to tighten their financial belts (no advice here on how to rear in that beer belly) without sacrificing their hoppy IPAs and crisp Belgian tripels, consider the financial benefits of brewing beer in your own home.
While the increasing prices in hops and malted barley still affect the home brewer, the overall process can lead to big savings. "You can get started in the homebrewing hobby for under $100," says Todd Frye, owner of The Home Brewery, a brewing distribution center based out of Ozark, Mo. "This is a basic kit and the ingredients to do the first batch. The typical batch size is 5 gallons. This nets you about 48-50 beers."
Considering that buying two cases (48 beers) of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale online at Beverages and More will cost you over $60 (before shipping and taxes), homebrewing could be too good a deal not to guzzle.
After you’ve made the initial investment, it only costs about $25 to brew each subsequent batch. So once you pound your way through the initial set-up costs, you will have made your money back by the end of the third round of brewing. From the fourth batch on, you'll be in the black thicker than a midnight Guinness. Even if you're more of a Budweiser (BUD) drinker ($40 dollars 48 beers on BevMo.com), it will only take you another two batches to start saving money.
Of course, you can choose to upgrade your system beyond the basic kit, once you get the hang of it. But indulging in the extras can seriously impact the bottom line. A plastic fermenter (which Frye includes in his $100 beginner's estimate) runs about $15, but a stainless steel fermenter can jump to almost $600.
If homebrewing sounds like something practiced only by bearded guys in Oregon and Vermont, think again. While it does take 3-6 weeks for a batch to brew, the amount of time spent by the brewer is minimal. "Brew day will take a couple of hours and bottling day will take a couple of hours, but everything in between is just waiting," says Frye. And you don't need a ton of space for this process. "The cooking part on brewing day will take up the stove and some counter space, as well as the sink. After that, the space requirement shrinks to the size of a 7 gallon bucket." This means even city dwellers should be able to find space to start saving on suds.
But don't think the benefits of bathtub brew are purely economic. Thirty-one year old attorney Benjamin Hanelin brewed in his two bedroom apartment in Santa Monica, Calif. for two years and appreciated the craft itself. "Brewing is really part science, part cooking and part creativity." And he also appreciated the payoff. "After all the work and waiting, there is nothing better than cracking the first beer from your first batch." (And don't forget the green advantage to not buying from those big trucks that spew gas up and down the highways.)
So whether homebrewing is a hobby or a wise economic choice, your road to master brewer is just a few short steps away. Whatever your motivation, Frye warns to be wary of one thing. "You had better plan on storage space for a couple of batches, or about four cases of beer. This way when your friends find out you are brewing, there will be enough to go around."