Tuesday 5 January 2010

Does it save you money?

I was recently asked the question "have you saved money by brewing your own?" After rather a lot of head scratching I've come up with figures that seem to suggest that I've not actually saved any money but just reappropriated it in the family budget.

This disappointed me initially as the main reason for taking the hobby up in the first place was that I couldn't justify spending £20 a week on bottled beer in Tesco. Now, before all you holier than thou unit counters start tutting, I'm talking about about 12 x 500ml bottles of real ale (none of this fizzy lager pish) and not three cases of cut price Stella; that's enough for a bottle of ale with my dinner each evening and a couple of extras on Friday and Saturday.

That works out at £1040 per year so, if your set up costs and the first year's brewing don't exceed that, you're on a winner, right?

Well, yes, but accurately calculating it is quite another matter. There are a whole load of items you have to factor in:

  1. brewing sugar, or spraymalt

  2. sterilising chemicals

  3. ullage

  4. electricity

  5. carriage charges

Brewing Sugar

If you brew using a 3Kg (two can kit) you'll only need sugar for priming (secondary fermentation) and ordinary household sugar (preferably cane) if perfectly ok for this and you'll only need between 85 and 100g for this deopending on how fizzy you like your beer so the cost is negligible.

However if you prefer the single can kits (1.5-1.8 kg) you'll need to add anything from 800g to 1.5Kg or fermentable. This may be cane sugar, brewing sugar or spray dried malt (spraymalt). Spraymalt comes in Light, medium and dark varieties which are either hopped or not. You can also use honey, treacle, golden syrup etc. I generally use golden cane caster sugar (about £1.30 a kilo), brewing sugar (£2 a kilo) dissolves more easily somne believe it gives a cleaner taste to lagers but I've never brewed a lager so couldn't tell you. In some darker brews I use dark spraymalt (£3.99 for 500g) and in the Geordie Kits I use their Beer Kit Enhancer which is 50% brewing sugar and 50% spraymalt (£5 a kilo).

Sterilising Chemicals

Most brewers use VWP a cleaner/sanitiser but I've never used it so can't comment. I personally favour soda crystals for cleaning and sterilising tablets like the ones you use in baby bottle kits. I think they're around 80p for 54 tablets in Tesco but you'll need 5 of them every time you sterilise a fermenting vessel.


Most kits are rated at a 40 pint or 23 litre brewlength yet one rarely gets the full 40 pints out of the kit. A little is lost when syphoning into the bottles/keg/bottling bucket and the last bit of the keg can be notoriously difficult to get out. And, of course there's always the odd cheeky snifter. I typically get 20 x 1 litre bottles out of a 40 pint kit which equates to about 36 pints.


The last one is really tricky to sort out and frankly I don't even want to think about it with 2 x fridges, 2 x tube heaters and lights and brewbelts all using up the juice in the shed.

Carriage Charges

Simple for this one - don't pay 'em. If you have a local Home Brewing Shop, use and support it. Take advantage of their expert knowledge and save yourselves up to £7 in carriage. Alternatively, most online shops offer free carriage for orders over £60, so stock up, plan your brews in advance. All brewers should have a rolling stock and am empty fermenting vessel is a heinous crime indeed.

So, having heeded all of the above, have I saved money. Well not quite. An inventory of the brewing equipment reveals I've spent £367 on equipment and £460 on beer kits. I've brewed 996 pints of beer (give or take) at an average price of 83p a pint. So, between March and Christmas (I'd like to think I've got enough to last until then) I've spent £827; during the same period I would have spent £780 on shop bought beer (39 weeks @ £20). However the home brew also supplied three rather large parties in the summer saving me a minimum of £30 per time on shop bought beer. Therefore by my rudimentary mathematics I'm just shy of fifty quid in front.

All of this, of course, is rather missing the point. How many hobbies give you ANY return on investment at all AND give you this much pleasure. Hmm thought not....

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