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.
on Flickr”>My good friend Jason recently told me about a drink called kvass, prescription
which he had many times when he lived in Russia. He said everyone told him it was made from black bread. Neither of us really understood what that meant, so I went to ask the Internets, who knew exactly what I was looking for, of course. Jason had been reminded of kvass as we sipped my somewhat sour Munton's Irish Stout. He said the tang was definitely similar. It sounded intriguing so I knew I had to find a homebrew recipe for it.
Kvass is a fermented drink very similar to beer, except instead of being made from grain, it is made from bread, which, of course, is made from grain. Typically a person might wait until bread got hard and stale, rendering it virtually unusable for normal bread purposes. Then you mix it with hot water and add whatever flavoring you want, whether mint, honey, hops, spices, or herbs. Strain it, let it cool, and add yeast.
I sent a recipe to Andy to see if he had heard of such a beverage before, and he said no, indicating that it seemed too much like prison hooch for his taste. As demonstrated before, I am not above prison hooch. It's not what I care to drink, but can be palatable enough if made right. If nothing else, I have a skill to trade, should I be locked up for something. It never hurts to be prepared.
I am about to try my hand at making kvass. Here is the recipe I am using for a one-gallon batch, found online as Kvass Recipe 4:
Ingredients for 1 gallon:
1 loaf dry dark rye bread (approx 24 slices)
1-1/2 gal boiling water
3 c sugar
2 pkgs yeast
1/4 c golden raisins
Put bread in a tea towel & tie bundle securely with string. Put bundle in crock & pour in boiling water. Cover & let set until water is lukewarm. Remove bundle & let drip into clean pan. Pour drip water back into crock, making sure no bread is in the water. Add sugar, then yeast, stir & cover. Set in a warm place 10 to 12 hours. There will be a slight yeast settlement. Pour the clear liquid into a jug & add raisins. Cork the bottle or put a lid on the jar, but not too tightly, or the cork will blow. Refrigerate for 5 days, then strain before serving. Yield will be about a gallon.
Be sure to use air locks on your bottles or jug. After a few days, fermentation will have ceased and you can rack it as much as you want until it is your preferred level of clarity, or drink it immediately.
Another page you can go to for kvass recipes is on Metafilter. Have you ever tried this drink? Better yet, have you ever made it? Any guidance would be helpful!