The cost of homebrew beer is something people often ask about when I talk about brewing. Isn't it more expensive to make quality beers at home? My answer is always, "It depends." There are lots of variables, depending on how much equipment you want to buy, what you want to make, and what type of beer you typically buy. Beautiful Girlfriend thought it would be interesting to make some comparisons on this subject, and I agree.
When people ask me what they should get as an introductory equipment kit, I recommend something like MoreBeer's basic kit. This is perfect for a few reasons. First, it has everything you need, aside from bottles and a stock pot, to get started making great beer. You likely already own a good stock pot that can hold a couple gallons of liquid, and you can get your buddies to save you their beer bottles – pry-offs, not screw-tops – so there should be no extra expense.
Second, it is pretty cheap. $70 is not a lot of money to spend on getting started in a hobby you may very well find rewarding. This low price also means that you won't be out a lot of money, in the event that it is not something you enjoy doing. If you buy an ingredient kit at the same time, you will be in the hole for about $100 for your first batch. You can certainly buy more equipment than this initial kit has, but you do not need it. You can always add more later if you want to get more advanced. I say keep it simple, at least to start.
I went to the store to price some popular retail beers to do a price comparison. I looked specifically at 12-packs and assumed a 5% sales tax in my calculations. I also assumed that a new homebrewer would buy $70 of equipment and supplies, and then would buy $40 ingredient kits. You can certainly pay much more for ingredients, but you can also pay quite a bit less, so this is a good estimate. For reference, an ingredient kit comes in a box with all the consumables you need, including bottle caps.
The cost analysis I made is not meant as an argument to get people to make their own beer. If you have read this far, you are probably already interested. This is simply an explanation of the cost breakdown between making beer yourself and buying it from a store. It also does not take into consideration the difference in making a light beer, like Bud Light, versus a more complex beer, such as Guinness. I am including a copy of my spreadsheet, in case people want to see what I did and manipulate the figures themselves.
|Brand||Retail for 12-Pack||Tax||Price With Tax||Five-gallon units purchased before aggregate cost is at parity with cost of Homebrew|
|Miller High Life||7.99||0.05||8.39|
Note that Miller High Life does not have a figure for coming to parity with homebrew beer. This is because Miller High Life is cheaper than my estimate for homebrew. MHL came in at something like $35 per five-gallon batch, much less than homebrew costs to make. The comparison I made is between a five-gallon batch of homebrew and 4.44 12-packs of the commercial beers listed above to get the same volume.
The Straight Dope
So is it more expensive to make your own beer? Again, it depends. Ingredients and equipment cost money, and these are the biggest variables. In addition, some people buy beer at discount stores or in states with few taxes. The best answer I can give to this question is that the cost of homebrew beer can be much lower than buying beer at retail stores. If you look at homebrewing as a substitute for buying beer, then it will almost always be cheaper in the long run. If you like drinking what many people consider higher-quality beers, the kit pays for itself after only a few batches.
The final thing to consider is the non-monetary value of homebrew beer. I have written before that it gives you the opportunity to make the beer you want, rather than what someone else thinks you should want. To me, that makes a big difference and makes it all worthwhile.