I’d like to introduce you to Jeffery, my kegerator…
I built Jeffery back in 2014. He cost about $1,500 in parts to make and is the cornerstone of my homebrew operation. I’ve been brewing my own beer, cider, and hard seltzer for about 7 years now, and while I still like sampling local craft beer and buying the odd case from the store, most of what I drink these days is brewed by yours truly. :)
People often ask me, “Is brewing your own beer cheap? Like cheaper than buying at the store?” In some aspects, yes! In other ways, definitely not. The answer really depends on your brewing methods, quality of ingredients, and the amount your household drinks!
Today I’m going to run through some beer math with y’all, and we’ll compare the cost of homebrewing vs. buying craft beer at the store or at a bar.
Oh, and for those curious… Currently at my house on tap we’ve got a Session IPA, Bavarian Hefeweizen, a pomegranate hard seltzer, and a non-alcoholic cucumber/lime sparkly water. Something for everyone!
How Much Does It Cost to Brew Your Own Beer?
Let’s first simplify by removing gas and electricity from the equation, as well as the time and effort it takes to home brew. (I’ll address that later below)
Brewing Equipment: Beginners will want to start out with a basic brewing kit, which costs about $200. Something like this starter homebrewing kit by Northern Brewer is perfect, and includes all the equipment needed. (Yes, there are some cheaper kits available out there, but trust me – if you truly want to brew *good* beer over many years, you need good quality tools! It’s worth a bit extra $ upfront.)
Recipe Kit: Then we need a beer recipe and ingredients. A recipe kit ranges from about $35 all the way up to $80 for really fancy recipes. In my experience, the quality of your beer depends more on the brewing method rather than the fanciness of the ingredients. For this cost exercise I’m gonna use $45 as the average good craft beer recipe cost.
Beer Quantity: Each batch makes about 5 gallons of beer, which equals about 50 beers of 12oz each. Technically it’s 53 beers, but I like rounding down to 50 because some liquid is lost due to siphoning, spilling, and taste testing! 😉
Total Home Brew Cost Per Beer
First batch: $245, yielding 50 beers = $4.90 per beer.
Second batch: $45 for recipe only = $0.90 per beer.
All beers going forward = ~90 cents per beer.
Again, this is an average cost. There are certainly ways you can reduce this, both the start-up cost and ongoing beer recipe costs. For equipment, try Craigslist! Many people sell or give away their old equipment because they don’t use it, or they’ve upgraded to bigger and better brewing techniques. When I built my kegerator, I gave away my bottling bucket, bottle filler and caps cause I didn’t need them anymore.
For recipe kits, I buy all mine online from Austin Homebrew. They have ongoing specials and seasonal promotions year round. For Halloween last year I got a Pumpkin Ale kit for about $32, and each summer I brew cheap hefeweizens for about $36 per kit. If you’re a master homebrewer, you can also buy single ingredients in bulk, like malted barley, hops, yeast, malt extract etc. and store it at your home.
Several recipe kits – I buy in bulk!
Homebrew vs. Store Bought vs. Brew Pubs Cost
Beer at the store also has a huge range in price. You can grab 30 cans of Bud Light for like $15 these days (but, can we really call that beer? 🤷♂️). And some of my favorite high end beers like Delirium Tremens costs $20 for a 4-pack! BTW… When did the 4-pack become the new 6-pack!?
Anyway, if we’re going with the average, I’d say most beer at the store is about $10 per 6-pack, or $1.67 per beer.
If you frequent bars and brew pubs, the cost of a beer ranges from $4 at happy hours, all the way up to $10 per pint at fancy breweries. Live sporting events are the worst… The most expensive beer I’ve ever bought was $18.75 for a 24oz Golden Road Wolf Pup at Dodgers Stadium a few years back. Ouch!
For regular drinkers, let’s assume we’re buying restaurant and pub beers at an average of $6 per beer.
Now let’s look at the comparisons…
So, Is Brewing Beer at Home Worth It (Financially)?
Purely looking at the finances, yes, the cost per beer is the cheapest for home brew. But, to cover the equipment and start-up costs, you’ve gotta pass the breakeven point of ~260 beers.
If you’re like me (I drink about 1-2 beers per day on average), your initial homebrew kit costs will be covered in less than 6 months! Or, if you and your friends pool money together you can hit this breakeven quite quickly.
Just for giggles, in the comparison above I calculated 1 beer per day x 7 years I’ve been homebrewing. Looks like after 2,557 beers brewed and consumed I’ve saved over $1,700 compared to store bought! That’s enough to cover the cost of Jeffrey!
But in reality, building and housing a bar at your home is very expensive. I’ve upgraded equipment many times, experimented a lot, wasted entire batches due to spoiling, and given away thousands of pours to neighbors, friends and family.
Brewing for me is a hobby, not a money saver. I like the math and science behind it all. :)
A peek inside Jeffrey. The clear hoses are beer lines and blue hoses are for Co2 :)
How Much Time Does It Take to Brew Your Own Beer?
This is the biggest surprise to a new home brewer.
I’d estimate 1 batch takes about 8-9 man hours minimum, spread across a 5 week waiting period. Most of the time is spent on the first brew day, like maybe 4-5 hours brewing the wort and starting fermentation. The rest of the time is spent transferring (1 hour), bottling (1 hour), and cleaning/sanitizing everything along the way (2-3 hours).
If you were to add your personal time into the equation, homebrewing is definitely not worth the cost. 8 hours at only $5 per hour adds an extra $40 cost to each batch of beer. That brings the cost to $1.70 per beer and is just as expensive as the store bought beers. My guess is most of you value your spare time more than $5 per hour!
There are some ways to cut down time, like brewing 2 batches at once (as long as you have the equipment to handle this) or by having a few friends help out on brew day. But, you gotta be careful about sacrificing *quality*. Mistakes are made when you take shortcuts!
No matter how cheap home brewing beer is compared with buying at the store, TIME is the main reason people don’t even try it.
Kegging, Kegerators & Buying Kegs at the Local Brewery
There are a few reasons I upgraded to kegging:
- It’s pretty badass to have a kegerator in your backyard.
- No more cleaning and recycling bottles! Bottling is the crappiest part of the home brewing process, and kegs save me a few hours per batch.
- Better temperature control, carbonation control, and shelf life for the beer.
- I can make other fizzy drinks, or buy kegs direct from breweries.
- Did I mention it’s badass?
Sometimes I get lazy and will buy kegs of craft beer from Bevmo. But, what I’ve found is that buying a keg of beer is pretty much just as expensive as buying it in cans or bottles. For example:
A 5 Gallon keg of Firestone Walker 805 costs about $75. Divided by 50 beers works out to $1.50 per beer. That’s about the same as what I can buy this same beer for at the store in a 12 pack.
Oh and as far as energy costs — the kegerator mini fridge sucks about $50-60 in electricity each year. It’s not a huge cost but definitely adds up over the years.
Pic from back in my bottling days
Cost to Make Hard Cider, Seltzer Water and “JoelClaw”
Using the kegerator, it’s pretty easy to whip up other types of drinks. Here are some costs…
Seltzer water takes about 10 minutes to make. It’s free. It’s just tap water and CO2 pressure. We can flavor with fruits, oils, or even pour juice in the kegs. Because I have 4 tap handles, it’s handy to always have one non-alcoholic beverage for kids and people who don’t drink alcohol.
Hard Cider takes almost the same time as beer to brew, and costs $15-20 per 5 gallon batch (about $0.40 per cider). Cider is just fermented juice, then you add sugar and champagne yeast. :)
Hard Seltzer is becoming really popular at my house! I’m experimenting with my own WhiteClaw replica recipe at the moment (my friends call it JoelClaw). I buy corn sugar, yeast, nutrients and flavors all in bulk to drive the cost down. It’s about $15 per batch – so about $0.30 per drink. Not bad considering WhiteClaw and other hard seltzers cost just as much as beer these days!
Here are some other questions I hear a lot…
Is Brewing Your Own Beer Hard?
Not really. If you can follow a recipe, you can brew your own beer. There are instructions included in every kit, and YouTube has millions of videos to help. It’s confusing at first learning new words like wort chiller, carboy, and krausen — but that’s what Google search is for!
Physically, you’ll need to be able to lift a bucket with 5 gallons of liquid (~40lbs), and for safety you should be old enough to work a stove.
Is Brewing Beer Legal? And How Much Can You Brew?
Yes, it’s legal to make homemade beer for personal consumption. But you can’t sell any alcoholic beverages without a license.
There’s a limit to how much you can brew at home. It’s 100 Gallons per person per year, or 200 gallons per household per year. I know that seems like a lot, but I am proud to say that I actually hit this limit in 2013! Me and a buddy brewed more than 40 x 5 gallon batches that year — and we gave away most of the beer. :)
Funny story actually… One of my neighbors offered us $10,000 as start-up capital to launch our own microbrewery. We turned it down, and this is one of my life’s biggest regrets. More on that another time!
Is Homebrewing Dangerous?
Brewing beer is like manning an open flamed grill. It’s dangerous if you are careless, forgetful, or have little kids running around. Other than that, it’s a harmless hobby.
Whelp, we’ve drifted way off the original topic, but I’m happy to answer any other questions if you’re interested.
Bottom line: Brewing your own beer is cheaper than buying at the store. But unfortunately, it’s very time consuming, which makes it less worth it for most people.
All this typing is making me thirsty! Cheers,