smart spending

Brew beer and save a frothy mug-full

For a premium domestic beer that costs $5.50 at retail, you break even after the fifth batch. If Rolling Rock is a favorite, you'd spend about $250 before breaking even on homebrew costs, but would save a bundle compared with the typical pub costs.

Here's where things get a little strange. If you wanted a discount domestic beer that retails at about $3.50 and is the kind of stuff you probably drank in college, you'd have to brew an astonishing 55 batches to break even. For example, to match the simple taste profile of Pabst Blue Ribbon, 55 home-brew batches later, you'd match retail costs at around $1,725, based on startup costs of $75 and batch ingredient costs of about $30.

The quickest path to break even is found with the trendy, pricey, hop-heavy craft brands that can retail for as much as $18 a six-pack. You'll break even on batch No. 1 if you're trying to match the biting and bitter taste of a Bell's Hopslam Ale with an alcohol content of 10 percent by volume.

Getting started

Most home-brewers do their brewing right in their kitchens because it doesn't require a lot of equipment. "If you have a big pot for making soup or stock, you're already halfway there," says Glass.

He recommends purchasing an all-in-one startup kit, which runs about $75 and has a six-gallon fermenting bucket with lid, a hydrometer for measuring alcohol and 144 bottle caps. Bottles can be purchased separately. Prices for beer-making supplies tend to be better online than at retail brewing-supply stores. Some sites to purchase beer-making products include Northernbrewer.com, Austinhomebrew.com and Morebeer.com.

Extract vs. all-grain

If you've picked your beer type, it's time to pick one of two brewing methods: extract brewing or all-grain brewing. For first-time brewers, experts recommend extract brewing. It requires less startup cost and can be done on a standard kitchen stove with a five-gallon stockpot.

In extract brewing, refined malt sugars processed from barley are combined with boiling water and hops, and steeped with other malts to create a wort, which is the liquid mixture boiled in a stockpot before yeast is added. It is then cooled and fermented. The entire process takes three to four hours.

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"The vast majority of people are content to do this and can still make great brew," says Erickson.

Even though all-grain brewing can save on time and supplies, especially if you team up with other brewers, startup costs to make 10 gallons run much higher -- as much as $204 for a startup kit and $90 for an outdoor propane burner. A turkey fryer can do the trick but you'll have to shell out another $120 for a kettle. All-grain brewing requires boiling the full volume of a batch and can tax a standard stove.

Saving time and money

If home brewing ends up too time consuming and the adage "time is money" rings true for your lifestyle, you might eventually want to go with all-grain brewing and buy a 15-gallon kettle for about $180 and an all-grain system startup kit for about $259.

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