A question I get asked often is, “How much does it cost to brew your own beer?” Typically my answer is something like, “It depends…”
There are a lot of factors in the cost of making your own beer. Not only do the costs of your ingredients vary from batch to batch, but there are also other factors that people typically don’t think about. Things like the cost of propane, up front equipment cost, or bottle/keg cost are typically not really talked about much and in turn not as quantifiable.
One of the components that I’ve recently tried to improve my per batch costs for has been the grain bill. By volume and cost grain is the largest component of your average beer. Since I began doing all grain brewing this past fall my grain bills have been in the 15 to 20 pound range per batch. Roughly 70%-80% of that weight is the same base malt that gets used in many different kinds of beers. The other 20%-30% are specialty grains that change from beer to beer. That being said, trying to save money on the base malt is something worth looking into, but first you need a couple things to do it.
Typically home brew supply stores sell grain by the pound or a 50-55lb sack. Buying a full sack of grain is where you see the savings. Buying it by the pound will typically cost you anywhere from $1.25 to $1.50 per pound. Buying a 50lb sack can lower the per pound price closer to the $1.00 range, and sometimes even lower with group buys. Over time this difference can really add up.
Buying considerably more grain than you need for a single brew does present a few challenges. The first is that you need some place to store it. Grains need to be crushed before they can be used in the brewing process. Crushing your grain starts a count down of it’s life expectancy for a variety of reasons. Grain that has not been crushed and is stored in a cool, dry place has an amazing shelf life. To store it properly you need to provide a large enough sealed, food grade container. One common container a lot of home brewers use may already be in your house right now. Vittles Vaults are very common in the home brewing scene. Even though they are designed to hold pet food they are made from FDA approved food grade plastic and their Gamma seal lids keep moisture and critters out. Recently I acquired two of the 60lb bins.
They are very well constructed and I foresee many years of use from them. I just noticed too that on Amazon the 25lb non stackable version is only $15.99.
Thanks to my Amazon Prime membership, something I’d highly recommend purchasing if you do a lot of internet shopping, one will be here in 2 days. This is where I will store my specialty grains.
After your grain has found a good place to be stored you will probably want to brew with some of it from time to time. Here is where the next challenge for bulk buying comes into play.
When you purchase grain by the pound at your local homebrew store you will typically get it crushed at the store. If you are still doing kit beers and you only have a pound or two of specialty grains to steep you can get a little creative and crush the grains with a rolling pin or something similar. However, if you are doing a 18lb all grain recipe you will want to have a better method, for both time and improved grain utilization. You need a grain mill.
I currently use a Barley Crusher grain mill. Not only is this mill made in the USA, but it is also made in Michigan, which is a big plus for me. It’s a very simple device that allows you to split open the malted grains, but not crush them into dust. It comes with a crank handle, but you will quickly put your cordless drill on it instead. If you keep the RPMs down a bit it’s a perfect way to make short work of the grain.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, “I’m spending over $100 to save a few cents per pound on grain. What the heck?”. Over time it is something that would pay for itself, but the up front rewards are two fold. First, crushing your own grain gives you better control over your process. I am by no means an expert brewer, nonetheless an expert all grain brewer, but from the few batches that I have done recently my efficiency was considerably higher using grain that I crushed versus grain the store crushed. The second reward is convenience. You now have a good portion of your brew day supplies at your home, ready to go. Storing a little extra specialty grain along the way, some extra hops, and maybe an extra yeast packet now makes for a great spontaneous brew day without needing to make a trip to the store.
Hopefully this post will help you decide if buying bulk grain is for you or not. Now go out and see what your local brew pub has on tap for Firkin Friday!