The Beer Hacker: Brewing on the cheap: Costs by style

This is the second part in a series of articles about the economic impact of brewing your own beer at home.

In the last (introductory) article, I set out baseline prices for ingredients and established a base price for an American Pale Ale. In this article let’s expand on that and figure out some base prices for a variety of other styles.

Bear in mind there are always ways to shave costs off the estimates I’m giving here. Switching from liquid to dry yeast, for example, can save you $5 or so. Different varieties of hops vary in price, and you may save money buying hop pellets rather than whole flowers. If you only use one ounce of hops from a two-ounce package, you can use the other ounce in another recipe and split the cost of the hops between two batches. And so on.

Also keep in mind these are all estimates, both in price and approximate recipe for the style. Your mileage may vary.

(In fact, I’ll even debunk some of my own numbers at the end.)

American Pale Ale: $32.90. (Based on last article.)


English Bitter:

  • 5 lbs. light dried malt extract (DME): $19.50
  • 0.5 lbs. 40°L Crystal malt: $0.95
  • 0.5 ounces chocolate malt: $0.07
  • 2 ounces Willamette hops: $5.50
  • 1 ounce Goldings hops: $5.50
  • Yeast: $6.50
  • Corn sugar (for priming at bottling time): $1.25

Total: $39.27

Here we see a bit of an anomaly: pound-for-pound dried malt extract is more expensive that syrup. But DME comes in smaller packages and is easier to measure out say, a pound and a half than syrup (not to mention is lighter in color), so it’s a trade-off.


India Pale Ale:

  • 7 lbs. light malt extract syrup: $18
  • 2 lbs. light DME: $8.50
  • 0.5 lbs. 10°L Crystal malt: $0.95
  • 0.5 lbs. 20°L Crystal malt: $0.95
  • 2 ounces Chinook hops: $6
  • 2 ounces Cascade hops: $5
  • Yeast: $6.50
  • Corn sugar: $1.25

Total: $47.15


Double/Imperial IPA:

Based on my “San Diego Pale Ale” recipe that I brewed, the approximate total cost would be $59.92. (In reality I believe it cost me in the neighborhood of $46-48.)


Brown Ale:

  • 7 lbs. light malt extract: $18
  • 0.5 lbs. 20°L Crystal malt: $0.95
  • 0.5 lbs. chocolate malt: $1.12
  • 2 ounces Willamette hops: $5.50
  • Yeast: $6.50
  • Corn sugar: $1.25

Total: $33.32


Porter:

  • 7 lbs. light malt extract: $18
  • 1 lb. 40°L Crystal malt: $1.90
  • 0.5 lbs. chocolate malt: $1.12
  • 0.5 lbs. roasted barley: $1.12
  • 2 ounces Galena hops: $6
  • 2 ounces Willamette hops: $5.50
  • Yeast: $6.50
  • Corn sugar: $1.25

Total: $41.39


Stout [basic]:

  • 7 lbs. amber or dark malt extract: $18
  • 1 lb. 80°L Crystal malt: $1.90
  • 0.5 lbs. roasted barley: $1.12
  • 0.5 lbs. Black Patent malt: $1.12
  • 0.25 lbs. chocolate malt: $0.56
  • 2 ounces Galena hops: $6
  • Yeast: $6.50
  • Corn sugar: $1.25

Total: $36.45


Imperial Stout:

  • 14 lbs. amber or dark malt extract: $36
  • 1 lb. Special B malt: $2.25
  • 1 lb. 80°L Crystal malt: $1.90
  • 0.5 lbs. roasted barley: $1.12
  • 1 lb. Black Patent malt: $2.25
  • 1 lb. chocolate malt: $2.25
  • 4 ounces Galena hops: $12
  • 4 ounces Chinook hops: $12
  • 2 ounces Willamette hops: $11
  • Yeast: $6.50
  • Corn sugar: $1.25

Total: $88.52

Yes, this is a big recipe, probably bigger than it should be. There’s a lot of leeway in these “guidelines” I’m laying out—in particular, also remember that you will not be using all of the hops you purchase here—so you can spread out the cost (and use previously purchased hops) between batches.


Hefeweizen [basic]:

  • 7 lbs. liquid wheat extract: $18
  • 0.5 lbs. 10°L Crystal malt: $0.95
  • 2 ounces Mt. Hood hops: $5.50
  • Yeast: $6.50
  • Corn sugar: $1.25

Total: $32.20


Cream Ale:

Based on my Cream Ale recipe that I brewed, the approximate total cost would be $30.40.(In actuality my batch cost me in about $23.)


Belgian Witbier:

  • 5 lbs. dried wheat extract: $19.50
  • 0.75 lbs. 10°L Crystal malt: $1.43
  • 2 ounces Mt. Hood hops: $5.50
  • Yeast: $6.50
  • Coriander: $2 ?
  • Orange peel: $2 ?
  • Corn sugar: $1.25

Total: $38.18

I’m making a guesstimate on the spices (coriander and orange peel) here, because I have no idea how much you might find them for. Many brew shops will stock these in 1-ounce packages, but you may find quality spices at a health food store or some other source.


Barleywine:

I’ll cheat a bit on this formulation, because you could basically take by Double IPA recipe, reduce the hops, and have a Barleywine. Likewise, you could scale back the dark malts and the hops a bit on the Imperial Stout recipe above. If we split the difference, let’s call it $75 total—though you could range anywhere from $58 to $88.


Now, the fun part—after building this list of costs by style, I’m going to go through and debunk a bunch of it and prove why these numbers are wrong. (At least, partially wrong.)

→ First of all, corn sugar: you will simply not need to buy a pound of corn sugar for every batch of beer simply for priming bottles. To prime a five gallon batch of beer for bottling, you will use about ¾ of a cup of corn sugar; at this rate, one pound will last you about three or four batches of beer.

Spreading out the cost per batch, you will use 31 to 42 cents of corn sugar.

→ Next, let’s look at hops. As I mentioned above, you may very well only use a fraction of a two ounce bag of hops for a batch of beer, and be able to save the remaining hops for future batches. I do this all the time; many of recipes I’ve brewed use hops that are amalgamated from what I have already purchased and left over.

So bearing this in mind, aside from the initial investment in hops (for instance, you have none in the house and need to buy three new bags for the variety), you can cut the cost of hops in these guidelines in half.

The use of hop pellets may or may not be cheaper, depending on the price at your local brew shop. I believe for me, they are about the same price—and there isn’t as wide a variety available to me as whole flower hops.

Of course, I live in Oregon, a major hop-growing region of the country, so it could very well be an availability issue. Last month in San Diego, I visited a home brew shop (also a Ballast Point Brewing tasting room), and whole hop prices there seemed much more expensive than here—and the pellets were cheaper. So it all depends on where you are.

Yeast: Of course, I’m quoting prices for liquid yeast, based on Wyeast Activator packs. I couldn’t tell you how much White Labs liquid yeast costs, but I would guess it’s similar. For some people, using liquid yeasts (cultured specifically for beer styles) is a must. There’s no doubt, you get quality results with these—but don’t overlook the dry yeasts either. They will brew quality beers and are much cheaper per batch.

The last two beers I brewed were with dry yeasts: a packet of Coopers for $1.75, and another (I forget which brand) for $1.25. Both produced good beers. So right there I’ve knocked the price of yeast down in these guidelines by $5.

A more advanced technique—one I freely admit I have never yet done—is re-using your yeast. I’ve known homebrewers (in person, not just what I’ve read about) who have used the same batch of yeast through three or four batches of beer. If you can spread the cost of one packet of yeast across four beer batches, then that reduces your liquid yeast cost to $1.63 per batch, and dry yeast to about 38 cents per batch.

(I’ll cover this and more in an “Advanced money saving” article later.)

→ Finally, some miscellaneous ideas: the costs of malts, sugars and grains (the main fermentables in the beer) are pretty static, but you might think about using adjuncts to “stretch” the fermentables and save some money. Some styles even call for such: think molasses, honey, and raw sugars. Maybe these items aren’t cheaper by themselves, but check your pantry: a jar of molasses bought for last Christmas’s ginger snaps? That will add character and color to your beer and might save you from buying an extra pound of dark malt extract or several dollars’ worth of specialty grains.

Keep these cost guidelines in mind when you’re formulating recipes and comparing against the costs of similarly-styled commercial beers: also keep in mind that you can shave off $10-15 of these prices depending on what you already have available.

And, considering these costs in comparison to our price point of equal amounts of microbrew ($46): many will be as much in cost or higher, but our price point is only an average. If you’re looking to buy two cases of an Imperial Stout, for instance, you’ll be paying considerably more than $46.

But if you’re not, tell me where you bought it, ’cause I want some!

3 Responses to The Beer Hacker: Brewing on the cheap: Costs by style

  1. David says:

    Very in depth article! Thanks Jon!

    I’m going to keep this article handy as a sort of ‘style guide’ as well and look forward to the Advanced money saving article too!

  2. Jerry says:

    All-grain can save you money but it does take up more time, that is one reason I prefer to do 10 gallon batches, so consider volume when switching from extract to all-grain, also yeast propagation saves about $13 per 10 gal. Growing your own hops will take awhile but I’ve made some good brews with fresh hops from friends hops wildly growing in their yard. Cheers!

  3. smitti79 says:

    Including equipment costs, over the four years I’ve been brewing, my total cost per pint is $0.63! I bargain-shop, buy bulk DME, started out with my little Mr. Beer cask on the cheap from EBAY…but, 63 cents a pint comes from tracking every last expenditure: $177 spent total for 35 gallons of beautiful ales!