Is Brewing Your Own Beer Cheaper Than Buying? Yes, After 261 Beers!

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:

  1. It’s pretty badass to have a kegerator in your backyard.
  2. 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.
  3. Better temperature control, carbonation control, and shelf life for the beer.
  4. I can make other fizzy drinks, or buy kegs direct from breweries.
  5. 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,

– Joel

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20 Comments

  1. The Millennial Money Woman January 18, 2021 at 8:21 AM

    Joel,

    What a great read to start off the new week! I’m not really well versed in beer so this was a great sneak peek behind the curtains to see the amount of work that goes into brewing beer. Looks like it’s a pretty intense and time-consuming process, but I can see how it can be a blast brewing your own beer at home and then drinking it too!

    Enjoy!

    Fiona

    Reply
    1. Joel January 19, 2021 at 4:29 PM

      Yep, it’s more time consuming than most people think. The other thing I should have mentioned is the amount of space it requires. I’m lucky to have a small backyard and a spare room to store equipment. Home brewing is not an ideal hobby for people who have a small living space 🙂 Cheers Fiona, have a great week buddy!

      Reply
  2. Corinne January 18, 2021 at 8:59 AM

    My husband already does homebrewing but has been considering kegging instead of bottling. Do you have directions or link for how you built Jeffrey?

    Reply
    1. Joel January 19, 2021 at 4:39 PM

      Hey Corinne! Dang, I really wish I kept better records of my parts list, etc! Unfortunately I don’t have the plans I used.

      But, this link here is the best I can find online that’s similar to Jeffrey. https://rogueengineer.com/diy-keezer-plans-chest-freezer-kegerator/

      The reason I went with a chest freezer/fridge was for easier access in/out with kegs. And, I could also fit more tap handles. The one thing I read over and over in forums is that 1 or 2 tap handles might seem like enough to start with, but eventually you’ll grow out of it and want more. So I started with 4 off the bat. You can easily downsize, but you can’t upsize once the keg is built. Here’s a few more photos of Jeffrey in the building process 🙂 https://5amjoel.com/bwg_gallery/diy-kegerator/

      Good luck and feel free to email me with questions if your hubs has any!

      Reply
  3. Angie Pannkuk January 18, 2021 at 9:46 AM

    I’m 44 and have never taken a drink. Don’t understand the appeal of alcohol at all.

    I hope you are making gluten free beer and using non gmo sugar and corn. If you like to drink it, you mine as well make it somewhat “healthy”.

    Reply
    1. Joel January 19, 2021 at 4:43 PM

      Hey Angie! Congrats on the no drinking. I’ve never tried making a gluten free beer, maybe that’ll be a new challenge for me one day. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Impersonal Finances January 18, 2021 at 2:53 PM

    This is awesome! Short of brewing my own, I wonder if I should start purchasing kegs of beer instead of picking up a 6 pack a couple times a week. The answer is probably that I should drink less beer, but probably cheaper to buy in bulk (though it would probably encourage me to drink more haha). Thanks for giving me some food (or drink) for thought!

    Reply
    1. Joel January 19, 2021 at 4:46 PM

      From my experience, if you’re buying at places like Bevmo, the cost roughly works out the same for keg beer vs. cans/bottles. The other issue is a much smaller selection and range of beer to choose from. Some larger craft breweries sell kegs directly from the tap room which can be a teeny bit cheaper, but I’ve only done that a few times.

      You’re definitely right about the more you buy, the more you drink!

      Reply
  5. Aaron January 19, 2021 at 11:24 AM

    You said to brew good beer over the years, you need good quality tools. No you don’t.

    A cheap thrift store stock pot, or one you might already have is sufficient, and any HDPE 2 5+ gallon (6+ is preferred) food grade bucket will work fine. I’ve used white buckets from Home Depot and Lowe’s before with no problems.

    What matters the most is cleaning. Even the best stainless steel equipment is useless if you have a brewer who doesn’t clean and sanitize properly.

    Your time frames are not very accurate. You said 8-9 hours minimum. It depends on what brewing method you are using. Extract, partial mash, or all grain.

    With malt extract, you can be done brewing in about 2 hours, with all grain, 7-9 hours, so it totally depends on which method you use. Fermenting takes 2+ weeks. Racking does not take an hour. Going from fermenter to keg is about 15 minutes for me.

    Decent article, but some of your information is inaccurate.

    Source: Homebrewer for 16 years, assisted a pro brewer in a brewery.

    Reply
    1. Joel January 19, 2021 at 4:48 PM

      Thanks for all the corrections and details, Aaron!

      Reply
  6. Aaron January 19, 2021 at 11:31 AM

    To Angie:

    You said you have never taken a drink and don’t understand the appeal of alcohol. How would you know if you’ve never had it?

    My friends wife is a pot head. She grows and smokes it. I don’t get the appeal of cigarettes or weed. I don’t understand the appeal of coffee. I don’t like any of it.

    What one person likes another doesn’t. Simple as that. You don’t have to understand it.

    Reply
  7. Steve January 19, 2021 at 1:01 PM

    Thanks for sharing, Angie Pannkuk

    Reply
  8. Steve January 19, 2021 at 1:26 PM

    I am using a hopped malt extract system where I buy cans of basically wort concentrate, mix it with water, sometimes add extra hops or other ingredients (examples: mountain dew, vanilla, brown sugar) and let it ferment. Cuts down the brew day to only an hour or so. It’s still not worth it financially. Even if the ingredients were free, I value my time way more than $5 an hour, at least $15 and as much as $60 per hour (depending on how onerous I find the task). So numerically it’s a wash at best. Also, like you mentioned, sure you can start up for $200. But like any hobby, there’s always new or better equipment you end up buying. Regardless, it’s a fun hobby that I’ve been enjoying.

    Reply
    1. Joel January 19, 2021 at 4:58 PM

      Hey Steve, glad to hear you continue it as a hobby even after realizing it’s not financially beneficial. 🙂 Home-made beer also makes a great gift for others, as holiday treats or just to say thank you to people. One of the priceless joys of brewing is giving away samples!

      Reply
  9. Jason Gustav Scheuneman January 19, 2021 at 7:42 PM

    I love reading articles about how homebrewing can save you money. I’m a few brews in and the jury’s still out for me. Great post

    Reply
    1. Joel January 19, 2021 at 8:34 PM

      Cheers Jason! It’s definitely eye opening to put all the numbers down on paper! I wish I kept better records on homebrew costs vs. store bought alcohol. I my beer spending all in the same “alcohol” category in my annual budget, so it’s not broken down by type. Enjoy the brews and cheers for reading!

      Reply
  10. Tony January 20, 2021 at 5:43 AM

    Good stuff but I think brewing your own is far cheaper if comparing home brew to craft beer.. Your average price, I think, averages in other beer. I know a Sam 6pk here is $10. Your cheapest 4pk of craft is $16… so add another $8 to make that 4pk a 6pk. This brings your cheapest average 6pk of craft beer to $24. Nevermind something like KBS which can fetch $25 to $30 a 4pk.

    So let’s say on average your typical case of craft beer is, at the cheapest, $96 a case and that is for 12oz (Bourbon County 22oz is over $200 for a case of 12).

    If using those numbers, I’m willing to bet that even with great equipment, you recoup that cost quickly.

    I’ve got over $4K invested in my home brewery and the best feeling is winning 1st place and best in show for a home brew. That type of satisfaction is priceless.

    Reply
    1. Joel January 20, 2021 at 9:50 AM

      That’s awesome Tony, would love to see your set-up! You’re right that the more expensive craft beer you buy, the cheaper and cheaper home-brewing good beer is!

      Reply
  11. Chris@TTL January 24, 2021 at 9:42 PM

    Very nice! We’ve done hard cider a few times since Jenni is gluten-free (making beer a little harder to do or at least more limited). Cider production is pretty easy and CAN be pretty tasty.

    You’ve piqued my interest in considering beer production for myself and some friends…plus a reminder to give cider another go! 🙂 Really enjoyed the deep breakdown for each expense/part required. Hadn’t thought about Seltzer, so that’s a neat idea too!

    Cheers!

    Reply
    1. Joel January 26, 2021 at 6:02 PM

      Awesome, Chris! Let me know how it goes! The seltzer is pretty easy, but not as easy as cider (imo). I’m curious to hear how it goes for you!

      Reply

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